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Derby Council set to approve demolition of Brutalist landmark

Controversial plans to demolish the 1970s Derby Assembly Rooms are recommended for approval by city councillors tonight, despite there being no firm plan for a replacement
Ahead of a meeting of Derby City Council’s planning committee this evening (8 April), the planning report acknowledges ‘demolition is likely to be the first phase of redevelopment, but this proposal does not seek redevelopment, only demolition. It does not provide any certainty in relation to the future permanent use of the site’.

A petition against knocking down the Casson Conder Architects theatre and music venue has received more than 1,400 signatures, while images produced of proposed ‘meanwhile uses’ for the site by design agency Katapult provoked anger on Twitter this week.
Architectural historian Otto Saumarez Smith called the council’s actions a ‘slo-mo car crash’ and the proposed meanwhile use a ‘grotesque failure of imagination’.

The planning report recommends that the demolition proposal is either approved with conditions or referred to Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick with a resolution that councillors are minded to grant such approval.

The report claims that the Assembly Rooms are ‘functionally and economically obsolete' and that the the vitality of Derby city centre is in urgent need of regeneration because it has been declining, a trend accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, it notes 38 objections, including the petition, which was set up by Derbyshire architect Robert Evans of Evans Vettori. Objections include the architectural merit of Casson Conder's building and the argument that demolition is wasteful and at odds with Derby City Council’s declaration of climate emergency in 2019.

Evans told the AJ: ‘The building is a fine example of 1970s architecture and, as the AJ [RetroFirst campaign] says, the building you've already got is the most sustainable one.

‘If you've got £20 million or £30 million, is it better to spend that on improving the venue you have, or on pulling it down and spending whatever you have left on building another from scratch? To me, it’s a complete no-brainer to retain this building, regardless of what you think of it.’

Others to object include the the city’s Conservation Area Advisory Committee, the council’s built environment team, The Twentieth Century Society and Historic England, which said last year that knocking down the Assembly Rooms would ‘completely remove the essential enclosure of a substantial part of the Market Place’ and would do ‘harm to the significance, character and appearance’ of the conservation area.

The current Assembly Rooms building was completed in 1977 to replace an 18th-century building of the same name that was destroyed by fire. In 2014 another blaze obliterated the plant room of the new structure, which has been largely vacant ever since.

The Assembly Rooms currently has a certificate of immunity from listing, which expires next month.

Meanwhile, separate plans are being worked up by AJ100 practice Corstorphine + Wright for a new 3,500-capacity venue in the Becketwell area of Derby.


293 Posts
Derby should take stock of the Arena/Assembly Rooms situation before demolition happens.

I am not a modernist or a fan of brutalist architecture however I do recognise that the Assembly Rooms have significant architectural merit. Perhaps the architecture is too recent to fully appreciate, I think in 20 or 30 years time it will be much more valued, or perhaps the desire to find a viable development for the Becketwell area has blinkered opinions, with the promise of a glitzy new arena. However surely any money spent developing the Becketwell arena would be better spent bringing the Assembly Rooms up to standard and back into use.

Demolition will inevitably lead to the dereliction of the Becketwell area being transferred to the Market Place area. It’s then difficult to imagine what development if any will come forward for the Market Place. The net result will be a lower quality build on the new arena and a site standing empty for many years right in the centre of Derby, or student flats.

Should the Becketwell development go ahead an alternative use should be found for the Assembly Rooms. Imagination will be required, but there will be ways to reconfigure the space as opposed to demolition, perhaps a food court, bars or other uses.

802 Posts
As a Derby lad I have always liked the architecture of the Assembly Rooms. Just ‘like’, I can’t say I love it though. I would say that I am in the minority as most Derby people I know hate it.

But taking aesthetics of the building out of the discussion for a moment, the Assembly Rooms has never lived up to what people want from it. It has always underperformed commercially. Promoters always saw it as the wrong size, too small for many acts, not intimate enough for others. Artists were never impressed with the acoustics and the back stage set up could never accommodate many of the touring theatre acts. It never became the cultural centrepiece that it was supposed to be.

I’m all for the reuse of buildings but any proposed refit of the building would need to deal with these inadequacies if it was going to remain to be leading performance venue for Derby. However none of the previous proposals to refurbish actually dealt with these issues and instead seemed to concentrated on the aesthetics, and all for more money than it would cost a completely new build.

I do agree in principal that reuse would be the best outcome. But what? I can’t imagine anything that would be economically sustainable.
It was designed as performance venue and I can’t see how changing it into something else could be achieved without screwing up the architectural integrity of the building which is the one thing it’s supporters agree it has.

I do also worry that demolishing it would bring dereliction to the market place. But the council has attempted to develop a meanwhile use plan, outdoor stage, food court etc , while a more permanent plan is developed. Looked a bit crap to me and I would prefer that it isn’t demolished until a permanent replacement development is identified.

For me it’s time to move on, accept it has had its day and get a new venue built at Becketwell.

what would replace it on the Market Place? A fantastic new hotel, apartments and Grade A offices.
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