Design winner for tea rooms

THE design for Belper’s new tea rooms has finally been chosen.

This week it was revealed that £400,000 has been set aside to build the new venue in the town’s River Gardens.

The bid to select a design for the building to replace the current run-down boarded up one has caused much debate in the town.

Amber Valley Borough Council has decided to select a plan submitted by York architect McNeil Beechey O’Neill for a two-storey Y-shaped building.

A planning application has yet to be submitted with building work not due to start until 2013.

The design was chosen from a short-list selected by a judging panel and after a public consultation on plans for the replacement building from a series of designs submitted by architects. There were claims from some quarters that the public’s preferred design by architects Lathams, which looked more like the original Swiss tea rooms that used to stand in the gardens, might be ignored in favour of the panel’s selection.

The full borough council meeting on the matter was a stormy affair with one Belper councillor urging members to ignore the public choice. Cllr Peter Arnold, who represents the Belper South ward, said: “The public only ever complicate matters.”

He made the claim after fellow Belper councillor and town mayor Alan Cox, who was part of the three-strong tea rooms judging panel, had lavished praise upon the proposals from McNeil Beechey O’Neill.

Cllr Arnold said the public had not seen as much information as the panel, so were not in a position to make the decision.

Cllr Cox told the meeting: “The public consultation was for what they preferred, not what would win.”

He continued: “People do not like change. They want something similar to what is there.”

He was on the judging panel with fellow Belper councillor Martin Tomlinson and Mark Suggitt, director of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site Partnership.

Against seven criteria, councillors Cox and Tomlinson scored the McNeil design 85 and 87 out of 100, respectively. Mr Suggitt only gave it 65, something Cllr Paul Jones (Labour) pointed out.

He said: “He had the relevant experience and is putting the panel’s choice in third place.”

Mr Suggitt scored Lathams in second place and Letts Wheeler in first place.

Cllr Cox replied: “The River Gardens has changed. It is evolving and has been evolving for years.

“The current building is not the original one. The new tea house will be the next step in the evolution of the River Gardens.”

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“We have got to look for a design that is commercially viable.

“Lathams is very much a copy of what we have at the moment. McNeil Beechey O’Neill gave lots of combinations and different designs. Their booklet was packed with ideas.

“The dining facilities were the most exciting part. I would hope to sit in there and have a meal on opening night with my wife.”

The new building would not just be a tea room, but it could be transformed into a bistro, wine bar and cocktail bar.

Cllr Cox also claimed that having the building open at night would improve security in the River Gardens.

But Trevor Griffin, chairman of the Friends of Belper River Gardens, this week slammed the McNeil proposal as a “poor quality design”.

He claimed it would be “out of character and damaging” for the River Gardens.