Labour insist The Friary should not be sold off to “line pockets of developers”

The Friary should not be sold off to “line the pockets of developers”, the leader of the local Labour party has warned.

The Friary building which currently houses Lichfield Library. Pic: Elliott Brown

The Friary building which currently houses Lichfield Library. Pic: Elliott Brown

Staffordshire County Council has proposed moving Lichfield Library to St Mary’s in the Market Square.

The current home at The Friary could then be converted into residential accomodation.

The proposals have sparked a public backlash, with an online petition organised by the Green Party who have also collected thousands of signatures in the city centre in recent weeks.

However, Cllr Sue Woodward, leader of the Labour group on Lichfield District Council says moving the library may make sense in the long term – but warned any changes to the ownership of The Friary should be carefully considered.

Sue Woodward

Cllr Sue Woodward

“Although The Friary site is an attractive one to house Lichfield Library, it simply hasn’t had the usage or footfall that it should have for a long time now,” she said.

“On the other hand, St Mary’s is much more accessible and visible and will hopefully ensure that far more people access library services. It also makes this prime city centre site much more viable and secures it for the future.

“I have been concerned, though, about The Friary just being sold off to the highest bidder. It’s currently a public asset and should be used for public benefit rather than flogged off to line the pockets of developers.

“I have mooted an idea with some senior members at both Lichfield District Council and Staffordshire County Council that it should be considered for extra care housing for older and disabled people.

“It’s an ideal site, close to shops and public transport routes,a ndw ould hopefully release other houses locally for families.

“They have indicated to me that this idea could well be considered and I hope it would get public support too.”

Cllr Ian Parry, deputy leader of Staffordshire County Council and cabinet member for strategy, finance and corporate issues, said providing the best value for taxpayers would be crucial – and warned work to transform it into a care home would be difficult to achieve.

“Instead of leaving buildings mothballed or allowing them to fall into disrepair, we have a county wide programme aimed at breathing new life into surplus and underused buildings to bring new jobs, homes and fresh investment into the county,” he said.

“This delivers best value for taxpayers, balanced with the building having an appropriate use.

“The proposed sale of the Friary will preserve the building’s appearance and safeguard its future in the heart of the city. I understand that the Grade II listing would make it very difficult to carry out the internal alterations necessary for it to be converted into a care home or something similar.”

He added: “It’s important to remember that this proposal not only safeguards the future of a building which needs almost £1.4 million in repairs, but safeguards the future of St Mary’s with a 30-year commitment to have a first class library in the middle of Lichfield.”

The Green Party’s petition has gathered momentum over the past week.

But Cllr Woodward has accused them of whipping up fear amongst local residents.

“The Greens really should arm themselves with the facts before they take to the streets and hype up public anxieties,” she said.

“I certainly share their concerns about the future of the Friary site and the need for proper consultation but what next? A petition against a nuclear energy plant in the district? A campaign to stop children being allowed to sweep chimneys again?

“These may be issues that are close to their hearts but their campaigns really do need to be based in reality.”

Founder of LichfieldLive and editor of the site.

27 Comments

  1. Mat Hayward

    22nd March, 2016 at 8:37 pm

    So our petition to have an open and honest discussion is now ” whipping up the public.” Our facts are clear. The public who you seem to hold such disdain for are quite frankly appalled that the first they heard about the sale of the library was a report in the media. A report, I might add that gave the impression that decisions had already been made. If this is not the case then there is no harm done, we will all look forward to an open, full and democratic consultation.

  2. In my opinion

    22nd March, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    I am struggling to understand why it would be difficult to turn into a care home but not difficult to turn into apartments???

  3. Michelle tearle

    22nd March, 2016 at 10:09 pm

    Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m sure I read somewhere that this building was left to the people of Lichfield indefinitely?

  4. #saveLichfieldLibrary

    22nd March, 2016 at 11:13 pm

    Hardly ‘whipping up fear’, more telling Lichfield what’s happening under cloak and dagger .. friary plots going up for sale.
    It’s our building, the whole of Lichfield not just the council’s.
    It will be harder to turn into a care home, as it would cost the council to keep up repair, where as a few flats and apartments will wash their hands of repairs and pass it onto the new owners.
    In the meantime rake in whatever a 300k band in council tax times by the number of plots.
    Trust labour to bib their horn *rollseyes*

  5. Nomad

    23rd March, 2016 at 8:11 am

    And that’s exactly what will happen and any one else involved in this despicable double dealing against the wishes of Lichfield people ,this building will no longer be available for all in Lichfield as it was intended ,why not move what is in St Marys to the Friary site make ita lasting monument to the Historic value of this beautiful city .

  6. Thornton

    23rd March, 2016 at 11:56 am

    If the building is not sold then the council will not be able to afford to keep it open and the building will eventually have to be pulled down. By using it for residential, the building can be repaired and used.

    Why is this so difficult for some people to see?

  7. mike

    23rd March, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    The Green Part were simply asking for open public discussion on the proposed sale of the friary building. How is that anywhere close to “hyping public anxiety”? Do the council have something to hide perhaps?

  8. Rob

    23rd March, 2016 at 11:35 pm

    “It’s an ideal site, close to shops and public transport routes,a ndw ould hopefully release other houses locally for families.”
    To be taken by those refugees due in September.

  9. Ken

    24th March, 2016 at 8:56 am

    I do wish people would stop using the phrase “sold off to the highest bidder”. If the Friary were indeed to be auctioned off we might see some transparency concerning the money involved in this iniquitous deal. As it is, the county council have probably long ago agreed a bargain price with developers and were hoping to quietly rubber stamp the whole deal while Lichfield slumbered. Well done the Greens for throwing a spanner into their nefarious works. And shame on Councillor Woodward for trying to hijack their train when she realised which way public opinion was going.

  10. Crispy

    24th March, 2016 at 11:21 am

    If the Friary needs £1.4m of repairs, where did the money go from the sale of the side that’s being developed for apartments??? Surely this would have raised more than the £1.4m needed! I feel that Cllr Woodward us out of touch with local opinion.

  11. Sue Woodward

    24th March, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    Just to put #savelichfieldlibrary straight regarding a previous post, on 22 March 1995 (exactly 21 years prior to the day of his/her post) the then Development Committee at Lichfield District Council recommended that the Chief Executive take all necessary action to secure the release of relevant covenants and the recommendation was accepted by Council on 11 April 1995. Labour took control of LDC a month later, in May 1995.

    As I said, it’s always better to arm yourself with the facts.

  12. Lichfieldian

    24th March, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    Check out the facts on Wikipedia. The Library building was not erected until after the new road was built and the clock tower moved all thanks to Sir Richard Cooper.

    “In 1920 the 11 acre estate was sold to Sir Richard Ashmole Cooper (MP for Walsall), who gave it to the city for the purpose of developing the area and laying out a new road. For many years since the invention of the motor car Bird Street and Bore Street were becoming congested with traffic due to their narrow layout. The west side of Lichfield was still very much undeveloped by 1920 and the city didn’t really extend beyond St Johns Street to the west.

    In 1928 the current road named ‘The Friary’ was built across the former Friary site. The building of this road necessitated the relocation of the clock tower, the demolition of buildings on the south side of St John’s Street and the demolition of much of the west range of the remaining buildings from the original Friary. Some of the remains from the demolition of the west range was used to build the public convenience located on the north east entrance to Beacon Park. The roads were declared open by Lady Cooper in April 1928.[1]

    The Bishops Lodging would be the only remaining part of the original Friary to survive. When the new Friary Girls School was built in 1921 the Bishops Lodging were incorporated into the south west of the building. The Friary School relocated to the north of the city in 1975 and the building now serves as Lichfield Library. The remaining part of the original Friary can still be seen today in the south west part of the Library building.”

  13. mike

    24th March, 2016 at 8:49 pm

    I notice Sue Woodward still chooses not to explain why Labour are only now expressing concern over the planned sell off. Are they flip flopping just like our idiot MP has been recently?

  14. Frustrated

    25th March, 2016 at 7:25 am

    “Although The Friary site is an attractive one to house Lichfield Library, it simply hasn’t had the usage or footfall that it should have for a long time now,” she said.

    Disappointing as a society, when we judge everything by footfall and how much money it makes.

    What happens if we move the library and it has further reduced footfall? Close the library?

    I am bored of the party political stuff, Labour did this… Conservatives did this….. it doesn’t matter which party did it. We still lose it.

    Interesting how it has been allowed to get into the position, where it needs £1.4 million of work. That doesn’t just happen overnight. Miss management by the council and Councillors. Incompetence or all part of a long term plan?

  15. Nomad

    25th March, 2016 at 8:26 am

    When to council spends 300,000 or so keeping a,relatively new building like the Garrick open each year of our money and crow about the fact they used to spend double that ,and increase our poll tax and provide less services,the friary building could have easily been maintained.

  16. AgitatorofPeople

    27th March, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    This is a bit of a massive embarrassment for Labour and Cllr Woodward, as they were “In Power” when they decided to change the Covenant that gave it to the people of Lichfield, and it cost LDC £15,000 of public money to make that change!
    http://lichfieldlive.co.uk/2016/03/23/documents-reveal-15000-price-of-ending-agreement-on-future-of-the-friary/
    And are the Green Party really whipping up fear Cllr Woodward? they are hardly forcing their politics into the situation and they have only exercised a democratic right to raise a petition for a “Public Consultation” you had your opportunity. The only people living in fear would appear to be residing in the Councils chambers, infact since they have started their petition Michael Fabricant MP and the Council top guns have been very vocal about, what on the face of it would otherwise be a very small story……I for one am very interested to see how this plays out.

  17. Sue woodward

    27th March, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    I’ll say it again, for the benefit of Agitatorofpeople, Labour were NOT in power when the decision was made to remove the covenants (see earlier post).

  18. Dinsmore

    28th March, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    Easy to see where the confusion has arisen though. The document confirming the changes to the Friary covenants is dated June 1st 1995 which was after power changed hands.

    Purely an overhang from the Tory administration that happened to be rubber stamped after Labour took over then? A genuine question – I honestly have no idea how these things work. Any clarification Cllr Woodward can offer would help everyone’s understanding, I’m sure.

  19. Sue woodward

    28th March, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    To clarify for Dinsmore, the decisions were made prior to May 1995 (please see my post of 24 March). This would have been the implement ion of a prior decision. Often happens when there is a change of political control of a Council. Any new administration has to live with decisions taken by its predecessor Council.

  20. AgitatorofPeople

    29th March, 2016 at 12:18 am

    So Cllr Woodward what is the LDC position on the 1926 conveyance and what other parties were also entitled access to the Friary site that has recently been hinted at, because if that has not been “bought out” by the council then surely that could have some repercussions on the present “ongoing” development and future use of the Friary Library/Records Office building?
    I am sure we would all be interested in your equally prompt reply on this.

  21. Sue woodward

    29th March, 2016 at 8:40 am

    You’ll have to ask the Leader of LDC.

    Somehow, my initial point about using the Friary site for public benefit has been lost……

  22. Steve Norman

    29th March, 2016 at 9:50 am

    Clearly agitator has little understanding of local government. The building is owned by the County Council. The Conservative District Council gave up the covenant in 1995 (it transpires).
    Labour officially opened the Three Spires CCTV control room a few weeks after we won the local elections but I, as Chairman of the relevant Committee, never claimed credit for its funding. In fact I accompanied the Conservative Home Office minister who had been invited by the previous administration to officially open it.
    Incidentally, Labour won the funding bid for the new Burntwood Leisure Centre in the last few days of our administration – but the Tories always want to claim credit for it.

  23. Nomad

    30th March, 2016 at 8:06 am

    Nothing the council in recent years has benefited the public yet they raise the council tax again ,give themselves a pay increase no doubt on the back of it ,we would like to keep our Library an asset to the whole community unlike the council which is gradually becoming a public liability ,libraries not liabilities has a ring to it.

  24. Darryl

    31st March, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    I wonder what the statute of limitations is to challenge the covenant decision? Were the people canvassed for their opinion or a referendum held?

  25. Thornton

    31st March, 2016 at 8:47 pm

    I don’t think the public have to be voting on every choice the council have to make. Surely it’s their job to make these decisions for the good of the area? If the public were made to vote everytime a choice had to be made then we’d be at the polling station everyday. I can’t believe moving a few books to a new building is still hot topic.

  26. Frustrated

    2nd April, 2016 at 9:42 am

    This is the start of the council cutting, all of its services.

    If anyone thinks that they have seen “austerity” cuts, they have not seen anything yet. George and Dave has massive cuts for central government and local government.

    Local government will soon lose all it central government funding. The changes to business rates, will make London more prosperous and destroy places like Lichfield.

    http://lichfieldlive.co.uk/2016/04/02/lichfield-district-council-confirms-plan-for-local-angling-club-to-take-on-stowe-pool-fishing-management/

    Another thing the council want to get rid of. Watch as local buildings, local services, parks, libraries all start to close and disappear. Developers will take over all of these, build more homes and let the council, struggle to fund the costs of all of the new residents.

    The “securing the future” of this building, that moves it to developers, is the start, not the end.

  27. Dr. Ian Heritage

    20th July, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    This is a disgrace and the people associated with it should be ashamed. This public building gifted to the city of Lichfield for the benefit of its people being sold off on the sly is typical of the short term profit gain of our local representatives. I recall when I was looking for a house in The Midlands, I was recommended to Lichfield and pretty much the fist building I saw was the library. I loved Lichfield immediately! Lichfield clearly now doesn’t need cultural aspects, just expensive apartments. The people involved disgust me.

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