So there we have it, the much-hyped Friarsgate development is put back…again.
The alarm bells should certainly be ringing given that no-one’s prepared to put a start date on a development that has been heralded as the key to Lichfield’s future. Given that the work was due to begin in Easter 2008 you have to wonder whether it’ll ever actually see the light of day, certainly in the retail/cinema/hotel/apartments vision that we have been sold.
There’s no doubting that the development shouldn’t go ahead at the present time if there’s any danger of it becoming a concrete white elephant saddling Lichfield with even more empty shops than it already has.
There’s also an argument that the development isn’t what Lichfield really needs to move the city forward. Getting a Debenhams – the key selling point of much of the Friarsgate scheme in the media – won’t see shoppers ditching their traditional haunts for our corner of Staffordshire.
What the city really should have looked at was how to give the shopping a unique flavour and make it an attractive draw and something that shoppers wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere.
In a city packed with history, it still amazes me that this isn’t built upon with a better traditional market and improved packages to attract independent retailers. It’s ironic that with history underpinning much of Lichfield – and placing restraints on the changing face of the city – that it isn’t incorporated and built upon more in the forward planning of our city.
Replicating every other building-by-numbers city centre isn’t ever going to be anything other than a short-term fix. Perhaps this delay could be a blessing in disguise if it forces the decision-makers to think again.