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Friday, 24 October 2014

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Calls for restraint over Rickergate facelift plans

Planners have been urged not to allow a “concrete monstrosity” to be created in the centre of Carlisle.

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Plans: The draft City Centre Development Framework gives options for change within Carlisle city centre over the next 15 years

The call came from members of the city council’s environment and economy overview and scrutiny panel, examining proposals to create a retail and leisure hub in Rickergate – potentially demolishing the Civic Centre in the process.

A vision for the area has been drawn up following expert estimates that 200,000sq ft of non-food retail space will be needed over coming years in the city centre.

The document that councillors were discussing – the city centre development framework – is currently out for consultation.

And, whether the ideas in that are ever brought to fruition or not, politicians were told they may soon need to examine their use of the Civic Centre – the authority’s headquarters.

Councillor Reg Watson, who represents St Aidans, called for restraint at any future development.

He said: “Architects will want to do something different to what the rest of us want; if they can’t make a bold statement saying something, then they do not want to do it.”

Mr Watson said he could remember early ideas for The Lanes Shopping Centre, which opened in 1984.

“The Lanes was going to be a concrete monstrosity along the whole length of Scotch Street, with car parking on top.

“But councillors visited other cities. They were criticised in the press for having this ‘jolly’ but what they came back with was a company (of architects) that was willing to think like them.”

He added: “We need to make a statement about what we would like to see.”

Councillor Heather Bradley, the Currock councillor who holds the economy, enterprise and housing brief, said: “We can do what we did for the Civic Centre and put it out to a national competition. This building was actually the winner of that design competition, which some people might find surprising to hear.”

Chris Argent, of GVA, the firm which created the design, said issues to do with the design would be discussed and clarified before any formal plans went into action.

Former council leader Mike Mitchelson, who represents Brampton, asked whether the city council would continue to use the Civic Centre if the proposals went ahead, saying: “I wouldn’t like to see anything that took the city council out-of-town.”

He felt the presence of the authority in the centre was important for the economy.

Darren Crossley, the council’s deputy chief executive, said: “We have 366 staff working here and about 25 casuals who work mainly in cleaning.”

He pointed out that given the size of the building – which has 11 storeys – members may debate its use in the future.

Jane Meek, the director of local environment, was keen to stress that the framework is still out for consultation and that no decisions have been made.

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