Developers say they are “hugely disappointed” after it was confirmed the Friarsgate scheme in Lichfield will not go ahead.
The long-awaited project failed to attract private funding to go ahead and a last-ditch move which would potentially see Lichfield District Council foot the bill has also bitten the dust.
The move means the local authority will now need to go back to the drawing board as the deal with the current developer U+I expires at the end of the month.
Tom Edgerley, development director at U+I, said: “We have been working hard, in partnership with Lichfield District Council, to progress the redevelopment of Friarsgate, which would bring an improved retail offer to Lichfield, boost the city centre and create new jobs.
“The scheme was granted planning consent in 2017 and U+I has spent recent months trying to secure funding. This has proven difficult, as during the lifetime of the project, market conditions have shifted and the retail industry is undergoing fundamental change.
“Despite approaching a number of sources and exploring a prudential solution with the Council, we have not secured funding within the required timeframe set out by the Development Agreement and the scheme will not be progressing further.
“We, like many local people, are hugely disappointed that despite all the hard work to get to this stage, this promising development cannot be delivered.
“Despite the difficult market, we were encouraged that the scheme had already attracted an array of potential tenants and would to thank everyone for their interest in the scheme and Lichfield.”
LichfieldLive understands The decision by Cabinet not to back the funding plan was made following an indication that the wider Conservative group would not support it at full council.
As a result, three members of the six-man Cabinet resigned, with Cllr Doug Pullen saying the current leadership group “cannot credibly continue”.
Cllr Mike Wilcox, leader of Lichfield District Council, confirmed that Cabinet has voted in favour of not funding the development, but the final decision will be made by full council later this month.
“When the Friarsgate development was first conceived the market was very different,” Cllr Wilcox said. “We know the local community has wanted us to deliver the scheme and we’ve been working hard to bring it forward. Prior to the credit crunch and Brexit all signs were positive
“On May 30 members of our overview and scrutiny committees considered a proposal for the council to fund Friarsgate, which is an approach some other councils have taken to kick-start similar projects.
“Committee members debated the proposal, and recommended that the council should not fund the scheme. On June 12, Cabinet members subsequently voted that the council should not fund the scheme. The final decision will be made by full council which will meet on June 26.”
Although the money will not be spent, the bill facing the council is likely to be substantial as it counts the cost of a decade long planning process and land acquisition project.
The collapse of Friarsgate is likely to heap pressure on Cllr Wilcox, with the opposition Labour group saying his position had been untenable.
Cllr Sue Woodward, leader of the Labour group at the council, said: “In light of the resignations of three Cabinet members – 50% of the council’s executive – I believe that the leader should now consider his own position and stand down,” she said. “You simply cannot lose half of your team and continue as though nothing has happened.
“It is regrettable in some ways as Cllr Wilcox and I have worked well together on a range of issues, as I have with the three now former Cabinet members, but I believe that his position is now untenable.”