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Lib Dem councillor warns plan for taxpayers to fund Friarsgate cannot be allowed to jeopardise financial stability of Lichfield District Council

A Liberal Democrat councillor says the financial stability of Lichfield District Council should not be jeopardised by a desire to get the Friarsgate project off the ground.

An artist’s impression of the new Friarsgate development

The local authority has drawn up a plan to foot the bill for the long-awaited city centre development after private finance did not materialise.

The move to use public money to underpin the scheme has drawn criticism from Labour councillors and local groups ahead of a first meeting about the proposals tonight – although members of the public and the media have been excluded from the debate at an overview and scrutiny committee meeting when it reaches the agenda item “Options for the future of Friarsgate scheme”.

Paul Ray

Paul Ray

Lib Dem councillor Paul Ray said that while he was generally supportive of Friarsgate, he too was uncertain about the plans for the funding.

“As I see it we have a duty as councillors to move our area on for the future,” he said. “Residents in our district often complain about the poor shops in Lichfield and lack of leisure facilities. We do need improved modern facilities in particular for young people and families.

“So this is an opportunity to give the district some up to date facilities which we can all be proud of – and importantly which will attract more visitors to Lichfield which will help grow our economy. That is a key strategic objective for Lichfield’s future.

“There are clearly concerns regarding the retail sector at present but my view is that Lichfield would really benefit from an improved retail offering. Also it must be appreciated that this development is not just a retail development. Friarsgate is a mixed use scheme with a large part being restaurants, a cinema, a gym and almost 100 town houses and flats.

“However as councillors we must ensure that the decisions made by the council do not jeopardise the financial stability of the council and so negatively impact on the residents of Lichfield and Burntwood in the future.

“I remain to be convinced on this.”

The agenda - with the section on Friarsgate to be held behind closed doors once again

The agenda – with the section on Friarsgate to be held behind closed doors once again

While the public are once more kept in the dark by the council about the discussions over Friarsgate – a tactic LichfieldLive reported on last year – Cllr Ray said even members of the local authority needed more details over the exact cost taxpayers would face if they do end up footing the bill.

He said: “Councillors have had an initial briefing on the finances and I await and will scrutinise the revised funding model when it is updated.

“I am excited about what Friarsgate could do for our district. But when I decide whether to vote for or against this scheme I won’t let my heart rule my head. I will need to be comfortable that the finances stack up.”

The Conservative leader of Lichfield District Council, Cllr Mike Wilcox, said that while no decision had been made, the funding would be the final piece in the jigsaw for Friarsgate.

“The majority of the major Friarsgate milestones are now in place, and we are working with U+I to assemble the final piece of the jigsaw, which is the funding to deliver the scheme,” he said.

“As part of this, councillors were informally briefed on the opportunity for the council to fund the scheme at a meeting on May 22.

“This is an approach that has been taken by a number of other councils across the country to successfully kick start major developments.

“No decisions have been made and the opportunity is being explored in greater depth as part of a programme of decision making.”

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2 Comments

  1. Steve

    30th May, 2018 at 7:18 pm

    This will happen. The council have gone too far, to back out now.

    Lichfield has lost its uniqueness. Small shops that you would not find anywhere else are gone. This development will just be large chains. The same chains, that appear numerous times in the local area.

    The council seem to think, we want the worst for Lichfield. Most of us want the best. We have chosen to live here, so we want to make it a great place to live.

    The council are out of their depth. They have been sold a project that seemed perfect 10 years ago. The financial world and the retail world have changed so much since then.

    Businesses need to make large profits. Lichfield will never have the footfall to make financial sense for 90% of companies.

    Look forward to council bankruptcy, or £3000 council tax bills in coming years.

    The developers have had a plan from day 1. It is not the plan that they sold the council. The developers will gain financially. Council tax payers will lose.

  2. Neil

    31st May, 2018 at 7:55 pm

    I think lichfield is still a beautiful city. Friarsgate has been a project that has seem to get caught in wider changes and stalls it. I for one is keen to see it developed whoever does it and it form it may take. Lived in lichfield all my life and have young family here and need a modern image to work with the heritage and show it continual development not keep it frozen in time.
    Councils across the uk invest in projects have property portfolios from housing to shopping centres and business parks and other investments. The group of manchester councils own majority of manchester airports group is that bad thing is it being out of the councils depth to consider doing it? Thats a matter of opinion

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