This is a long and considered response. Feel free to use part of it or refer to it if you decide to comment to the Council
The planning application 20220709 can be viewed here and where there is also a Comments link https://planning.leicester.gov.uk/Planning/Display/20220709
On behalf of Leicester Civic Society I am writing to object to planning application 20220709 for the demolition of the vast majority of the buildings on the former Corah Factory site on Burleys Way. While it is clear that the site is in need of redevelopment, the current plans will not achieve this in a sensitive manner. The majority of the comments will relate to the part of the site between Burleys Way and the Old Textile Building.
The former factory is possibly the most important landmark still remaining that marks Leicester’s industrial heritage, especially in regards to the hosiery and knitted garment trade. In their Design and Access Statement (Sections 1.1 and 2.1) the developers state that, “Balanced against the significant and wide reaching benefits of the redevelopment is the consideration of and sensitivity to capturing the former Corah Factory’s remaining built heritage and its cultural legacy.” and that their Masterplan Vision will “[create] New connections between the people of Leicester and its heritage.” In section 4.1 of the same document they reiterate this by stating that, “The site’s history is inexorably bound to the history of Corah, the textile factory, which is really a history of people. By understanding and appreciating the history of the site and the people that were responsible for bringing it into being and the people that worked there, we hope to realise a vision for the masterplan that respects and honours this history.” The truth is however that the plans that have been submitted will destroy the vast majority of the buildings on the site, leaving one façade (the south elevation of the 1865 factory) and two chimneys at the very rear of the site. The “history of people” will be lost.
In the Heritage Impact Assessment (Section 3.2.50) it says that, “The Site is of local to regional historical interest, associated with a significant local employer and manufacturer of hosiery that influenced the production of goods at a national level”. The following section states that, “The Site includes a number of buildings of local architectural and historical interest, illustrating a spectrum of development from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century.” These buildings and the historical context of the site as a whole will be lost if this plan is approved.
The factory site was developed over a period of roughly 100 years, with new buildings being added at various stages and using different architectural styles. Although the site as a whole doesn’t meet the criteria for inclusion on Historic England’s national list of protected heritage assets, it is on the City Council’s local list and this should be a consideration when deciding on this application. It also should be noted that the Heritage Impact Assessment states that some of the buildings within the site would warrant inclusion on the local list as individual structures.
As the developers deal with each building separately in the various supporting documents, I intend to follow the same method in addressing the next set of concerns.
Old Textile Building (building A in the supporting documentation)
This is the original factory building, constructed when the firm first moved onto the site in 1865. It is obvious that there is substantial damage to this building, but it is encouraging that the developers wish to retain the south elevation of this building within their design. Section 3.2.69 of the Heritage Impact Assessment states that the factory “is a fine example of its type, and typical of mid-19th century industrial buildings that emulated the aesthetic of fine country houses.” It goes on to note that later examples became more utilitarian in nature, as can be seen to an extent in later buildings on this site. Section 2.4 of the Structural Survey does not mention that the north façade is in a condition where it cannot be retained, and yet the developers want to replace it with a modern elevation in a drastically different style, which bears no relation to the façade that they intend to retain. In fact, section 3.2 134 of the Heritage Impact Assessment states that it would reduce “any sense of legibility between the building’s front and rear elevations”.
The design, materials and colour choices for the proposed north façade contrast so starkly with the older part of the building that the building as a whole would look very strange indeed. A more suitable solution would be to retain as much of the original north elevation as possible, but, if that is not possible, the developers should devise a plan which more closely matches the south elevation in design and materials. The developers obviously want this to be a key part of the overall design of the site, but their current proposal will not work, either in design terms, or in terms of reflecting the historical significance of the building.
Shipping and Printing Department (building E in the supporting documentation)
This Art Deco style building, built in 1919, will disappear entirely if the current plan is approved and yet section 3.2.92 of the Heritage Impact Assessment states that, “The level of the building’s local architectural and historic interest is high and sufficient to merit a material consideration in the planning process as a non-designated heritage asset”. The elevation facing the interior of the site is the main architectural point of interest for this particular building, as I can attest, having visited the site at the end of last year. Although the Structural Survey does note that there are some issues with the condition of the brickwork, section 2.13 does that that, “in general walls are in a reasonable condition”. Some of the issues noted for this building, for example a vertical crack and efflorescence on the brickwork due to water ingress, are also noted for the south façade of the Old Textile Building, and yet that is being retained.
This building is to be demolished to make way for the car park for the site and part of the residential block in OP2 on the Masterplan. As an alternative to this, would it not be possible to have the car park on the opposite side of the site, i.e. on St John’s Street instead?
Horseshoe building (building H in the supporting documentation)
This building, built in stages either side of World War 2, is what I guess most Leicester residents would have in mind if they were asked to picture the Corah factory. The long, relatively low façade facing onto Burleys Way with its unified design makes a significant visual impact for the area. Section 3.2.108 of the Heritage Impact Assessment states that, “The extensive phased building, which is in good condition and retains a strong degree of integrity, is of sufficient architectural interest to merit a material consideration in the planning balance in its own right. Historical associations with a significant but later phase of expansion and operation of the St. Margaret’s Works expansion in the mid-20th century affords it a degree of historical interest.” The current plan would see the removal of the entire building and its replacement with a less architecturally interesting building, including the 18 storey tower block, which will significantly and detrimentally affect this side of the site.
There are also other concerns with the current application which I’d like to address.
Natural daylight conditions
The supporting documentation for this application includes a report outlining the potential impact of on neighbouring properties, the adjacent Abbey Park and nearby heritage assets in terms of blocking natural daylight. What there doesn’t appear to be is much of an assessment of the impact on the buildings within the site itself. In fact the only mention I can see of this is in section 6.3 of the Design and Access Statement, where it states that the height of the block in OP2 nearest to what the developers intend to call Corah Green will be reduced in height to five storeys to maximise available daylight in the square.
This seems to be mainly an issue for the blocks which make up OP2 on the masterplan, apart from the apartments facing onto Corah Green and Burleys Way. As these are residential buildings, consideration should be made as to whether or not the apartments on the Thames Street side of these blocks will receive sufficient daylight.
One general point I would like to make is that all the indicative illustrations used throughout the various supporting documents show the site as it would appear in ideal conditions, i.e. bright, sunny conditions in the middle of summer. When reviewing this application, what I would like to see taken into consideration is what the natural light conditions would be like in the middle of winter on a typical, grey day.
Overshadowing and the elevation heights on Burleys Way
The same issue as I outlined above occurs with the impact of overshadowing, as no mention is made of how the site will be impacted by the two tower blocks, especially the 18 storey block on the corner of Burleys Way and St John’s Street. This block could have an impact on residential blocks planned in OP2 and The Old Textile Building. This building is significantly higher than any other building on the south side of the site and the impact would be greatest in the apartments facing it in OP2. The impact in terms of reduced daylight availability should also be assessed for these apartments.
In general, Burleys Way consists of buildings of relatively low height and it seems that the Corah Factory was not unusual for the area in only being three storeys tall where it faces onto the road. Mention is made in the supporting documentation of neighbouring buildings from the same period as the Horseshoe building, such as the former Pineapple pub, which is also in the same Art Deco style. It is inevitable that modern development in this urban area will involve new buildings which are several storeys higher than the current Horseshoe building and it has to be noted that there is a 17 or 18 storey tower block, the Equinox building, adjacent to the Corah Factory site. This, however, is an exception, and it should be noted that new developments in the vicinity, such as the Novotel Hotel and The Wullcomb on Vaughan Way, which have both been built within the last few years, are only 11 or 12 storeys high. If the 18 storey tower is approved, I believe that there will be increased pressure on the Planning Authority to allow taller buildings in this area, as 18 storeys may become the accepted norm.
The Former Corah site would obviously benefit from redevelopment and is in an urban area where this should be expected. Any such plans should, however, reflect the historical and architectural importance of the location in the local context. The current plans fall short of what the Civic Society believes is acceptable, but we would be happy to work with the developers to come up with what we believe would be a better proposal for this site.