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Report reveals Friarsgate funding black hole Lichfield District Council plans to cover could be as much as £49million

A report has revealed Lichfield District Council could need to fork out as much as £49million to ensure the Friarsgate redevelopment goes ahead.

An artist's impression of the new Friarsgate development

An artist’s impression of the new Friarsgate development

The long-awaited scheme was discussed at an overview and scrutiny meeting last night, with the public and media excluded from the section where the possible funding of the city centre redevelopment was debated.

But the local authority is looking into the prospect of paying for the project from its own coffers after private finance was not forthcoming – although it has so far remained silent on the potential cost of such a move.

However, a report from a meeting of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) in March revealed that only £6million of the estimated £55million cost of Friarsgate had so far been secured.

And with no sign of new private money on the table, the council could be left to foot the £49million bill itself if councillors back the controversial move to fund it in house.

The document from the programme delivery board of the GBSLEP – which has pledged £2.4million of the money found so far – also raised a number of concerns over the lack of progress on the project.

Among the items noted were:

  • A query over whether a proposed June 30 start date was realistic – and if it wasn’t why Lichfield District Council was still reporting it.
  • Concern over the continued revising of milestones on the project.
  • £49million of the £54million total project funding remaining unsecured.

The report also outlined that the council would need to report back in July to assess whether it had met “key” milestones.

The Friarsgate project is due to be delivered by regeneration specialists U+I, who list the scheme as a public private partnership – a form of PFI deal – on their website.

The company add that the project “has been provisionally awarded a grant of £2.66million from Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, with further grant funding of £2.4m from the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership”.

But despite the latest apparent financial about-turn from the council, the redevelopment scheme has a history dating back more than a decade.

An original planning application for the scheme was approved in 2006, with an amendment then made in 2011 which saw a minor reduction in the scale of the scheme.

But the latest planning application for the project was approved in 2016 – with a reduction of 9,215 square metres in terms of the the overall development from the original 2006 plans to the ones submitted in 2015. However, the residential portion of the scheme has jumped from a figure of 3,869 square metres to 7,564 square metres.

Lichfield District Council has been asked to comment on the potential cost of funding Friarsgate.

A volunteer wrote this. Say thanks with a coffee.

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Founder of LichfieldLive and editor of the site.

29 Comments

  1. Concerned Citizen

    31st May, 2018 at 1:17 pm

    Now we see this Tory Council for what it is – a group of naive individuals playing at running an important local council. Wilcox has misled the electorate about the funding of this project and now the chickens are coming home to roost. Roll on next year when we will be able to vote this bunch of muppets out of office.

    Wilcox and his colleagues need to explain to the citizens of Lichfield and Burntwood what they are playing at. How can the district afford £49m when it is cutting services to the elderly, infirm and others? Our grandchildren will end up paying for this vanity project.

    If we must redevelop the area then let’s consider what we need and downscale the size of the project – build more residential units on the land and redevelop the bus station and the Regal cinema. We have enough coffee shops and restaurants, shops are closing on any High St so don’t invest in shop units but use the brownfield sites for services wanted by the electorate.

    Let us hear from Wilcox who seems to have gone to ground as this project founders.

  2. Steve Norman

    31st May, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    It should be noted that one of the arguments put forward by the Conservative leadership in 2000 in favour of building the £5.5 million Lichfield Garrick theatre was that it would be a Conference Centre attracting business visitors during the week in the daytime.
    Motto: Careful what you use taxpayer’s money for.

  3. Steve

    31st May, 2018 at 2:20 pm

    I have never known such a scheme to come in on budget either. Add another 50 – 100% to get the final figure. Add in interest charges……..

    Why did they let the garage be demolished, if they did not have the money to fund it?

    It would be nice to hear from our MP, his feelings on the development.

    This is probably the biggest financial issue in Lichfield at the moment. If all this money is spent in Lichfield, then there is nothing left for Burntwood.

    Please end this scheme.

  4. Nodge

    31st May, 2018 at 2:25 pm

    Hahaha. What a bunch of incompetent buffoons. No wonder they’ve been keeping this debacle behind the curtain of privacy at meetings.

    Time to kill the project and go back to the drawing board.

  5. Darryl Godden

    31st May, 2018 at 2:43 pm

    Sounds like a right dogs dinner.

    “with the public and media excluded from the section where the possible funding of the city centre redevelopment was debated.”

    This is inexcusable.

    “And with no sign of new private money on the table, the council could be left to foot the £49million bill itself if councillors back the controversial move to fund it in house.”

    We foot the bill, this isn’t a magic money tree, as May keeps reminding us.

    And this is under the noses of the ‘scrutiny committee?’ What a sham.

  6. AnnS

    31st May, 2018 at 2:53 pm

    I agree Steve. It would never come in on budget, no matter what they say or promise. Somebody please STOP these idiots before they sign on the dotted line and leave a generation or more with a miserable legacy of debt and fewer necessary services. We DON’T need more retail units for restaurants, cafes or charity shops. Fed up driving to Burton or Tamworth so a cinema wouldn’t go amiss (like the idea of The Regal being brought back to life, as it’s another carbuncle on the city landscape) Whatever happened to the blokes that I believe had planning permission to turn it into apartments?) and although not a bus or coach user can see the merit in improving the current station for locals and visitors to the city. However, I saw the last plans for the bus station and was not impressed (it was a loooonnngg time ago, so forgive me if my memory does not serve me well) but didn’t it offer fewer bus and coach bays than the current one? How is that an improvement? In the 2011 census Burntwood had a population of just over 26,000 and definitely merits money being spent on it to improve residents lives, seems it’s always the ‘poor relative’.

  7. Philip Allso

    31st May, 2018 at 3:03 pm

    So the overall development is reduced by 9215 sq. meters and the residential area doubled to 7564 sq. meters. Sounds like yet another expensive housing estate to me.

  8. Ross

    31st May, 2018 at 3:03 pm

    From my perspective, Daryll, I can understand the role of internal scrutiny when it is actioned well, but as a journalist I would also suggest that some external, unassociated scrutiny is also hugely beneficial to the bigger, non political picture. Even covering Lichfield District Council over the last decade we’ve tried to ensure people are aware of what’s happening “in their name”, hence the fact we’ve pointed out the council’s inappropriate ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’ approach to keeping the facts about Friarsgate out of the public eye for the past few months. The changes to the chauffeur driven Jaguar and attendance of councillors prove that media scrutiny is effective in ensuring tax payer money is being correctly channelled in this area – not by LichfieldLive taking a position or stance, but by highlighting the numbers and facts and then letting those who pay for the council see what their elected representatives are planning.

    Personally, and in terms of this site, I don’t know if spending £50m on a shopping centre is a good idea. But while Lichfield District Council takes a Freemason’s approach to local decision making, people will make up their own minds based on an incomplete set of details. The answer would be for those in charge to open up the details and let them be analysed. Yes, there will be some commercially sensitive information that needs to be private, but experience says it certainly won’t be all of it. If it’s a good idea then people will be able to see the benefits and value for themselves. If it’s not good value, then people can speak from a position of knowledge and make an informed contribution to the debate.

    Unfortunately though, when you talk in hushed tones, people will always be suspicious of what you wanted to make sure they they couldn’t hear.

  9. Dave H

    31st May, 2018 at 4:47 pm

    All that is needed is a new Cinema , Bus station , some residential outlets and a bit of green space in between. Nothing else. And for Christ’s sake move the almost weekly food market mess elsewhere it does nothing for local business full stop.

  10. Alan Pitcher

    31st May, 2018 at 5:18 pm

    Remember, these self opinionated buffoons are elected often by flimsy margins.
    So, if you do not like what they are planning don’t vote for it!!

    Get together with your neighbours and so your objections at the ballot box have the desired result in unseating this bunch of lunatics.

  11. Steve

    31st May, 2018 at 5:30 pm

    What are the “developers” bringing to this project?

    They are not bringing the finances. So, why are we continuing with them?

  12. LetsGiveItASpin

    31st May, 2018 at 6:10 pm

    The shame about this is not the money they want to spend in the future but the significant amount over the last 10 years they have thrown at this project. You should ask just how much so far has been spent rather than what they intend to spend further…. the cost to the public is already significant ….

    The problem has always been lack of commercial skills within lichfield district council and it’s not just the councillors at fault either …

  13. LetsGiveItASpin

    31st May, 2018 at 6:12 pm

    Ps … and what will now happen to the police station , run down bus station and the former garage site ? The council has quite remarkably gone down a dead end and is unable to do a u turn ….

  14. AnnS

    31st May, 2018 at 6:17 pm

    I didn’t vote for them last time Alan but sadly l live in an area of Lichfield that will always vote blue, and there’s three of them in my ward.

  15. Bob

    31st May, 2018 at 7:37 pm

    I’m beginning to resent paying this bunch of buffoons £35 to collect my garden waste.

  16. Nellygb

    31st May, 2018 at 7:50 pm

    Well who Knew eh. It was never going to end quietly was it? and it’s not over by a country mile!!! Lets see how big his balls are now and get him in for an interview Ross. And the other muppet, lets hear his views, I can’t wait for the smoke, mirrors and spin.

  17. Neil

    31st May, 2018 at 8:18 pm

    Be damned if they take it on in whatever form it may become whether its as it is or is changed again but they be damned if they didnt do anything to the area people would complain, majority councils are not the most commercially minded but learn, others are very good at being commercial, owning vast range of property types etc. LDC already has property portfolio it owns, and uses it to generate income as an investments
    As for dave Hs comment i think lichfield needs a little more imagination than that. And i do quite like the food market and that in its central point funnily enough called the market square.

  18. AnnS

    31st May, 2018 at 10:16 pm

    It doesn’t take much imagination Neil to know that we don’t need retail units with so many empty premises across the city, but we don’t have a cinema, housing will always be needed and an improved bus station wouldn’t go amiss. So apart from blasphemy and comment about the food market he has a point.

  19. Neil

    1st June, 2018 at 8:32 am

    Id agree with fact that it would be better with fewer retail units, the retail world changing, and there will always empty units in lichfield same goes for every town across the uk no matter what. But its a large area so a good opportunity to be creative, in what is a let down part of town.

  20. Nodge

    1st June, 2018 at 8:51 am

    Say what you want about Lichfield Food Fest, but it’s doing so well they’ve expanded it into at least 5 different forms – the bottom line being they’re making a success of it, they’re making money AND bringing people into the City! LDC could only dream of being so successful at *anything*

  21. Darryl Godden

    1st June, 2018 at 9:31 am

    Hi Ross,

    I imagine this is as frustrating for you as it is for us, and on a side note, I know many are appreciative of your efforts to keep us informed as to what is going on, as it appears without Lichfield Live, we’d be even more in the dark.

    My point about scrutiny is that without or reduced public dissemination, it could be as arbitrary as a box ticking exercise or as complete as a full audit, who knows?

    If you can view reports into all sorts of government activities, the police etc. redacted where required, I find it deeply unsavoury this “underhand dealing” goes on with our money.

  22. Dave H

    1st June, 2018 at 10:39 am

    I will repeat what I have already said on other forums, the various Lichfield food festivals that are popping up on a regular basis are not helping local business,those attending the food festivals are only spending money on the aforementioned. Local established business is losing out , some are forced to close when a festival is running and others have shed jobs . LDC should be putting local established business first. There is now talk of charging said stallholders when a food fess takes place, perhaps LDC will then have the decency to reimburse local business for loss of revenue.

  23. Matt

    1st June, 2018 at 3:09 pm

    When this scheme was conceived the economy and the retail and leisure markets were very different. The council can not be blamed for that change.

    However, now the world has changed, so should the scheme. If private finance isn’t interested it tells you all you need to know about the future prospects of the current scheme.

    Change the scheme, more residential based.

  24. Graham Broadbent

    1st June, 2018 at 8:03 pm

    Another white elephant in the making. Along with that new industrial/retail park down at Trent valley shut the roag for a year build a new fantastic bridge to the same car park as before.. It appears that council is run by inadequate people who think they know what there doing but in reality they are idiots with little business qualities

  25. Rich

    1st June, 2018 at 10:41 pm

    I think Matt has hit the nail on the head. The market has changed – retail vacancies on the high street continue to rise and private equity funds are withdrawing from the restaurant sector. A much smaller scheme which still includes a cinema is more realistic along with city centre housing, particularly for first time buyers (we seem fixated with retirement schemes in Lichfield) would likely meet the needs of the city better.

  26. Steve

    2nd June, 2018 at 9:16 am

    Mike Wilcox is correct. Many councils have gone into the retail market. What he has failed to mention is, a lot of the companies they are now serving, are demanding long rent free periods, are getting government and council financial support help to stay open. Some councils are now stuck with huge loans, massive interest payments, paying companies to stay and virtually no income coming in.

    If they are going to mix retail, restaurants and residential. How long before the residential properties start to complain, the restaurants are too noisy and disturbing their sleep?

    This is a £49 million plus interest gamble.

  27. Linda Hurley

    3rd June, 2018 at 5:31 pm

    The project should be scraped and replaced with a housing plan to include a cinema which Lichfield has been sadly lacking for may, many years.

  28. Nick S (@NikolaiSzabados)

    5th June, 2018 at 11:39 am

    This article is misleading to say the least.

    I highly doubt that the council injecting £49m to cover the development costs is actually what is being proposed. They don’t have the money, no prospect of getting the money and no remit to raise it.

    The issue, I suspect, is not lack of funding to build the development – this type of funding is readily available from many sources. It is lack of a long-term investor to acquire the commercial units once built and let. These are often sold off to institutions such as pension funds, that want long-term steady income. The reason I imagine one hasn’t been found is, as others have stated, the retail environment has changed immeasureably over the last 10 years and investors will be well aware of the trials and tribulations of the Mulberry Walk development 8 miles up the road!

    In my opinion, a local developer should acquire this site from U+I and then should consult with the local community about what is needed. The scheme as currently proposed is not going to work and the City of Lichfield needs this to be resolved.

  29. Steve

    7th June, 2018 at 8:28 am

    If House of Fraser in Birmingham can’t survive. What chance do shops in Friarsgate stand?

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-44394948

    The House of Fraser stores identified for closure:
    Altrincham, Aylesbury, Birkenhead, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Camberley, Cardiff, Carlisle, Chichester, Cirencester, Cwmbran, Darlington, Doncaster, Edinburgh Frasers, Epsom, Grimsby, High Wycombe, Hull, Leamington Spa, Lincoln, London Oxford Street, London King William Street, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Plymouth, Shrewsbury, Skipton, Swindon, Telford, Wolverhampton, Worcester.

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