An artist's impression of the Friarsgate development

Council leaders pursued Friarsgate because they let their hearts rule their heads and had been attempting to “sell a dream” without the necessary funding, it has been claimed.

An artist’s impression of the Friarsgate development

The redevelopment was finally axed last month after more than a decade in the planning.

It came after private finance failed to materialise and Lichfield District Council opted not to spend £49million to prop up the doomed project, although it has admitted to having already spent £7million on the doomed scheme.

But in minutes from a private discussion held by councillors at their June 26 meeting, Conservative councillor Ben Rayner is revealed to have suggested the leadership needed to ensure they had “learned from this case of misadventure”.

Cllr Ben Raynerfriarsgate

The minutes said: “Cllr Rayner expressed disappointment that there was no funding available from private investors. However, he was even more disappointed over the briefing sessions which he said lacked information and appeared to be a case of hearts over minds, with members being asked to go down an avenue without the information necessary to make an informed decision.

“He said the second briefing session still lacked facts including how interest payments would be met.

“Cllr Rayner said it appeared to be an attempt to sell a dream, with a hope for Friarsgate and a hope for a cinema, without financial backing or sufficient information.

“He said the reason members were not investing in the scheme was because they believed in the council and could not support adding millions to the council’s debt each year.”

His comments came as it was also revealed that the bill for purchasing the former police station, which would have been part of Friarsgate, was rising from £1.8m to £1.913m – a move Cllr Rayner also said was “disappointing” and raised further concerns.

“He recalled that the original sums were questioned at a recent meeting and now had to ask if £1.9million was the correct amount,” the minutes added.

Despite his criticism of the way the collapse of Friarsgate had been handled, Cllr Rayner did suggest the council could make the best of a bad situation.

“He said the council must be prepared to move forward, develop and succeed,” the minutes revealed. “The scheme put forward was shown to have failed, but it continued to be pushed forward and at no point was it put forward as anything other than hearts over minds.

“He hoped the executive had learned from this case of misadventure and the council would put together a great scheme that he could be proud of as a Lichfield councillor.”

Cllr Mike Wilcox

Cllr Mike Wilcox, leader of the controlling Conservative group on Lichfield District Council has previously insisted the local authority had continually assessed the viability of Friarsgate.

“Each step of development of the scheme has been subject to comprehensive and independent professional advice from market experts, working closely with the council’s in-house specialists,” he said.

“The retail advisors have undertaken close and active monitoring of the retail sector and the challenges faces. This is regularly reported.

“The current state of the high street retail market has played a significant part in informing Cabinet’s key decisions.

“The council has approached the due diligence and financial aspects of the proposed development with the same rigour as all other key elements, with the combination of independent advice and internal expertise and scrutiny.”

Founder of LichfieldLive and editor of the site.

6 replies on “Council leaders accused of pursuing Friarsgate because they let their hearts rule their heads”

  1. How much were the retail advisors paid?“

    “The retail advisors have undertaken close and active monitoring of the retail sector and the challenges faces. This is regularly reported.”

    Watch the news, read the internet ,or maybe visit any High St and you would have know this, rather than paying a bunch of pointless consultants, huge amounts of money.

  2. The “Independent advice and internal expertise” seems not to have been on the same wavelength as potential backers of the scheme. Were they not consulted about what would make the project more attractive to them? Could some cost sharing deal between investers and the council not have been worked out? There are some 100,000 people living in the district, could an investment bond not have been a source of funding? The council seems bereft of ideas and incapable of assessing consequences.

    Three new estates are to be built on the south side of the city. I had to go to Sutton on Monday morning. I allowed an hour for the journey and spent most of it trying to round Wall island! God help us when the new estates are populated. And for other infrastructure problems for which I can confidently predict the inevitable consequences.

  3. “The current state of the high street retail market has played a significant part in informing Cabinet’s key decisions.

    Really???? I thought you still wanted to try and spend another £49 million on the project, until the rest of your party said NO.

    Was the “expert” advice keep going or stop this development?

  4. Let’s face it, Wilcox, Spruce et al are muppets and have been played by the developers. Sack them and the senior council employees now.

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