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Council leader insists funding for doomed Friarsgate redevelopment in Lichfield was always likely to be the final piece in the jigsaw

The leader of Lichfield District Council has defended the decision to clear businesses from land earmarked for the doomed Friarsgate project, insisting funding was always going to be the final piece in the jigsaw.

An artist's impression of the new Friarsgate development where Tempest Ford previously stood

An artist’s impression of the new Friarsgate development where Tempest Ford previously stood

Councillors finally brought the curtain down on plans for the redevelopment of the city centre at a meeting last night.

It came after funding was not secured in the private sector, while the council also opted not to plug a £49million black hole in the finances to allow the project to go ahead.

But after questions were raised about the lack of cash to underpin the scheme, despite it being on the drawing board for more than a decade and likely to still cost the taxpayer almost £7million without being built, Cllr Wilcox insisted the council’s approach had not been incorrect.

Cllr Mike Wilcox

Cllr Mike Wilcox

“It is usual that development schemes of this nature are designed, planning permission obtained and lettings secured before approaching the funding market,” he said. “This is because it makes such schemes more attractive as they are more immediately deliverable.

“Usually, securing funding is the last piece in the development jigsaw.

“Following a disappointing Christmas and New Year trading period for retailers nationwide, it was only in Spring 2018 that the council was asked to consider funding the scheme.”

Residents had also raised concerns about the decision to close businesses like Tempest Ford to clear the site, even though money to develop it was not in place.

But Cllr Wilcox said short term leases meant those businesses were aware that they would need to move at some point.

“Notice was served on Tempest Ford on the understanding that the development was set to progress to funding and construction imminently,” he said.

“Tempest Ford only ever had a temporary lease of the Birmingham Road site. The management team were made aware that the site was earmarked for development when they took the lease.

“As the lease was temporary, the team knew they would need to relocate their business at some poin, and that we would have released the from their lease with no penalty.

“As plans for Friarsgate developed, a team at the council worked closely with the team at Tempest Ford to help them find a new site. As part of this, the council granted planning permission for a new car dealership and showroom on the former Naturana site on Eastern Avenue in 2017.

“The other two tenants on the site approached the council asking to terminate their tenancies.”

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