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Minutes reveal Cabinet member said legal advisors and officers had advised Lichfield District Council to keep Friarsgate reports private

A Cabinet member has said advice from legal advisors and officers at Lichfield District Council had led to the decision to keep discussions and reports about Friarsgate away from public view.

An artist's impression of the Friarsgate development

An artist’s impression of the Friarsgate development

The city centre redevelopment scheme finally bit the dust after more than a decade of planning when councillors voted not to pump £49million into the project.

There has been criticism over the local authority’s decision to hold discussions about the failing project behind closed doors, even including the final debate on June 26 which saw Friarsgate formally axed.

Cllr Christopher Spruce

Cllr Christopher Spruce

But minutes from the private discussion reveal that Cllr Christopher Spruce, Cabinet member for finance and democratic services, said the reports had to be kept behind closed doors.

“With regard to transparency, Cllr Spruce said information in the reports was commercially sensitive and it was a strong recommendation of the council’s legal advisors and officers that it should remain confidential,” the minutes revealed.

Cllr Spruce also told his colleagues that Friarsgate would have been “a lovely scheme” but that the council’s hand had been forced by “the bombshell” of a lack of funding from the private sector.

LichfieldLive has previously revealed how one Conservative councillor has accused the leadership of letting their hearts rule their heads when it came to the long-awaited development project.

But the minutes revealed that Cllr Spruce said too many people had been quick to query the project after the funding had fallen through.

“Cllr Spruce said following the funding bombshell there was suddenly no shortage of experts, but he could not remember any of the questions being asked in April or May,” the minutes said.

“He said it was a lovely scheme but a bad deal and once the figures became available it was obvious that there was no support for it in the council and it would have been madness to consider taking on the level of borrowing required.”

Cllr Mike Wilcox, leader of Lichfield District Council has previously claimed he had been “as open as possible” on Friarsgate, after LichfieldLive had taken the step of asking questions about the project publicly following his decision not to speak out about the impending demise of the scheme – a stance he reiterated following a by-election defeat for his party last week.

“The council, supported by the Cabinet, have directed to be as open as possible in sharing information regarding Friarsgate and have actively undertaken cross party briefings,” Cllr Wilcox said.

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6 Comments

  1. Philip John

    10th July, 2018 at 4:41 pm

    > the council’s hand had been forced by “the bombshell” of a lack of funding from the private sector.

    What bombshell? You’ve been trying for YEARS to find retailers to show confidence in the scheme with no success. It was no “bombshell”, it was apparent for ages that Friarsgate lacked the commercial support it needed.

    The only bombshell is that it took you and your colleagues so long to wake up to the fact.

  2. LetsGiveItaSpin

    10th July, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    Bombshell ? Like this suddenly came up on councillors out of the blue that there was no funding or appetite by developers?

    This proves that council officers were pushing for the scheme and leading councillors with poor advice.

    The reports need to be made public minus the financial figures so we can see exactly which side of the council needs removing .

    Someone inside the kremlin (LDC) must have been pushing for this when it was clear that the scheme was already sunk a number of years ago. So who was it Cabinet / councillors or officers?

  3. Philip Allso

    11th July, 2018 at 8:43 am

    @LetsGiveItaSpin, I have always thought that council officers wield far too much power over the decision making process. They are not elected and although they are supposed to follow a code of conduct are scarcely accountable. Many council’s operate in this way as it is allowed under The Local Government Act, but it seems to be a serious departure from democracy to me. My dealings with them have been risible. You get replies written in bureaucratic mumbo jumbo with justifications from unverifiable sources. The council follows their recommendations slavishly. As for their integrity, well who can tell? Seems to be at least some question of doubt on that account.

  4. wilf

    11th July, 2018 at 9:14 am

    You’re missing the point. Officers give advice; that’s the job they’re paid to do. They only appear powerful when those responsible for making the decisions are weak. To put officials up to take the blame when you are elected to make decisions smacks of poor leadership. Unfortunately, Lichfield District Council is fast becoming a bastion of limp leadership and weak willed leaders.

  5. Philip Allso

    11th July, 2018 at 10:06 am

    No arguments Wilf, sadly there is much in what you say. There is much that officers deal with without sanction of the council. They have considerable autonomy. Only big issues or those that have considerable objection are considered at council meetings. One planning meeting I went to had 200 pages of officers notes and any one of the issues should have required searching discussion. All followed the officers recommendations. Few councillors spoke (usually to propose and second) and they were dealt with expediently. I have read on the internet of other councils acting similarly and the irate citizens who feel hard done by. I am reluctant to name some of the officers I have had dealings with (as a representative of people on a local issue) but they were not satisfactory. I wish it were better, but perhaps the one good thing that may have come out of Friasgate is the awareness that all is not well in our areas Local Democracy. People should think carefully about who they want to represent them and the consequences it will bring. This is no small beer, the quality of our very existance is being determined by people unworthy of the task.

  6. Steve

    11th July, 2018 at 1:46 pm

    There are a number of issues with the Planning Department. One is, there is never any follow up. They make a decision, the decision is never revisited at a later date, to see if the reports produced matched the reality. Did 450 homes really not impact on the local community. Did it create extra congestion?…. Surgeons and most of us, have to stand by our decisions there is a follow up to see what happened. Planners do not. They make a mess and then go on to make another mess….

    I am never sure how independent some of these reports are. I have seen in other governmental decisions, the person writing the report is told what the conclusion will be and wait the expected result of their report is to be. I have also witnessed companies come in to conduct market research and ask “What do you want us to find?” Strangely enough, they come out with a report that matches what they have been asked to find.

    Did one of the main authors of the report on the Streethay development, then go off and work for that Developer?

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