It’s been almost a year since the first national lockdown, with Coventry seeing more than 22,000 coronavirus cases and deaths sadly surpassing 600.
The UK entered the first national lockdown on March 23, 2020.
Coventry – as has the rest of the country – has endured a turbulent 12 months since, but the vaccination programme is providing a pathway out.
Lockdown restrictions will be lifted on June 21 – if conditions enable – but exactly what impact will Covid have had on our city, and what will Coventry look like post-pandemic?
The face of the city centre has changed dramatically during the period of lockdowns in Coventry, both with a plethora of work taking place and with new additions and losses.
There is plenty to get excited about with HMV Empire opening in its new home on Hertford Street in April and The Telegraph Hotel finally able to open its doors on May 17 following £18m investment.
Coventry’s new-look station will be finished by spring as part of an £82 million revamp, while £11m work is progressing at Upper Precinct and will be finished by the start of City of Culture.
Ernest Jones however has closed as a result of the council works.
West Orchards Shopping Centre could also see change under new owners following a £4.85m auction sale in February – although flagship store Debenhams will be no more.
Debenhams is one of the high-profile stores in Coventry city centre to succumb to Covid with Thorntons the latest to be added to the list, while Clintons Cards will also close to be replaced by Holland & Barrett.
Elsewhere, Coventry Point has been ripped down and new art attractions have been installed including rainbow lighting in Greyfriars Green, with an upcoming rainbow canopy in Hertford Street, psychedelic art installations planned at Coventry Railway Station, and further work at Pool Meadow Bus Station.
Cabinet member for city services Cllr Pat Hetherton said: “People are being very patient while all of the works are going on and I think they will be very pleasantly surprised when we see the finished results.”
With two popular universities, purpose-built student accommodation in Coventry has increased markedly from 4,100 bed spaces in 2012 to 15,000 at the end of 2020.
The city centre skyline has changed as a result but Covid-19 has hindered demand.
A number of operators have been unable to fill buildings and have submitted bids to temporarily change the use to non-students – some for as long as August 2022, suggesting they fear the impact on the sector may last a little longer.
The Prestige Student Living at Parkside is one such student block to submit change of use plans to the council, stating Covid-19 has had “serious effects” on demand from overseas students who are its main target audience.
The picture is mirrored nationally with university students in the UK estimated by Save the Student to have spent nearly £1bn on accommodation left empty due to Covid.
Questions have been asked by opposition Conservative councillors as to what impact Covid-19 will have on the city’s vast student accommodation stock in the future.
However Coventry’s cabinet member for housing Cllr David Welsh believes drop in demand is “only a temporary situation”, adding: “There is still demand for student accommodation and purpose-built accommodation is important, particularly with the growth of universities in the city.”
Covid is also said to have played a role in a staggering increase in empty homes, according to the council.
As of February 2021 there were 3,212 homes in Coventry empty for six months or more, but that’s a 121 per cent rise on the 1,451 number in October 2019.
Coventry’s situation is not unique, with the number of empty homes in England rising for a fourth successive year and hitting a record high of 268,285 in 2020.
Coventry’s cabinet member for housing and communities Cllr David Welsh said Covid has had an impact on empty homes in the city.
He said: “Student properties have remained empty because they have been advised to remain at their home address and that’s why large student accommodation providers are experiencing lower than average occupation rates with many units having been unoccupied since July last year.
“We are working hard to bring unused and empty properties into use as it’s such a key priority for the council – and a home where families can move into is absolutely vital.”
Working patterns have changed during the coronavirus with employees now set up to work from home – but what impact will this have on the city’s offices long-term?
The city council made a statement show of confidence in the sector last year after pumping £17m into the new 12-storey office building Two Friargate.
Questions have also been raised as to whether demand is expected to pick up even when lockdown is lifted in June, but council chiefs have expressed confidence.
Cabinet member for jobs and regeneration Cllr Jim O’Boyle said: “Yes it’s true that the way people work is changing and altering but the conversations we are having shows that actually a lot of organisations that use space are still looking for space.
“They will be using it differently and might not be using it 40 or 50 hours a week and may be using it less, but still want it.”
Pubs, restaurants, shops and independent businesses have all been hit hard by Covid-19 in one shape or form and the business model at Plas Dol-y-Moch is no exception.
Coventry’s outdoor education service has been closed due to the pandemic and ran up an overspend of £500,000, with losses of £150,000 after grants and Furlough cash.
After Covid the Snowdonia site could look a lot different, with a council consultation on proposing job losses, a new ‘commercial model’ to provide revenue streams other than schools, and an ‘in-city’ provision for kids.
Changes at Coventry’s school provision since 1966 have raised strong concern from Friends of Plas Dol-y-Moch and Coventry Conservatives, however the council has said it must find new revenue sources.
Cabinet member for education Cllr Kevin Maton said: “As we are continuing to be in lockdown, and with restrictions on travel post lockdown, we have to be realistic about future deficits.
“In the meantime and short term, we must explore a number of options for the coming months so that the outdoor education centre can look towards a positive future and mitigate income losses going forward.”
The pandemic rapidly changed people’s cycling habits with quieter roads prompting more to get on their bikes.
Lockdown has accelerated cycling schemes in Coventry with a Coundon route already underway, and consultations on routes in Binley and Foleshill following.
Coventry’s Bicycle Mayor Adam Tranter believes Covid has changed the way people think of cycling and feels it will become an important part of post-Covid transport in Coventry.
He said: “The first lockdown in the pandemic has shown that everybody can get out and ride their bike safely when the right environment is created.
“In this country we often think of a cyclist as someone wearing Lycra and typically male and fit or whatever, when actually that’s not what any of this is about.
“It’s about having fun, popping to the shops or being able to cycle to school. There is a bigger realisation that there are actually quite a lot of people who want to cycle and what’s been stopping them is the hostility of the roads and individual behaviour of course.
“We are starting to see a network [of cycle lanes in Coventry] and if you combine that with the Binley phase two consultation and the work that is already being done in Coundon these are likely to be some of the best cycle lanes in the country.”
City of Culture
Prior to Covid, the City of Culture was expected to attract 2.5 million visitors, including 50,000 from abroad, and generate £106m for the region’s tourism sector.
Organisers have been keen to reassure that “following a year of chaos” the City of Culture is still going ahead, with an epic opening ceremony, Coventry Moves, kicking proceedings off on May 15.
Covid will likely have an impact on tourism numbers, but city leaders still hope it will prove an “exciting post-Covid event”.
Council leader Cllr George Duggins said: “What it could mean to the economy could be amazing as people will want to come to Coventry and we still have ambitions for that.
“It will be one of the most readily available, exciting post-Covid events which I think will attract people and it’ll be exciting for the city.
“A lot of people’s confidence has been knocked by Covid, restrictions and lockdown. I’m hoping City of Culture will help people gain some confidence.”
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