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Owner of Lichfield car dealership closed as part of aborted Friarsgate scheme hits out at council leader over “misleading and inaccurate” statements

The owner of a car dealership forced to close as part of the aborted Friarsgate redevelopment has hit out at what he claims are “misleading and inaccurate” statements made by Lichfield District Council.

The former Tempest Ford dealership. Pic: Google

The former Tempest Ford dealership. Pic: Google streetview

The Tempest Ford garage was one of the casualties of the scheme after losing the city centre home it had occupied in preparation for building work to begin – even though a shovel never made it into the ground as the redevelopment failed to find the money needed to make it a reality, despite more than a decade of planning.

Cllr Mike Wilcox, leader of Lichfield District Council has previously defended the decision to remove the business before funding for Friarsgate was in place, insisting the local authority had worked with the company in an attempt to secure a new site.

But in a scathing email to councillors seen by LichfieldLive, Tempest Ford’s owner Brian Carruthers has hit out at the council leader’s version of events and “patronising” quotes made by the council’s leadership regarding the garage’s decision to close rather than relocate.

“We did work closely with Lichfield District Council and senior representatives from the developer U+I,” Mr Carruthers said. “But it is totally untrue to claim that none were fully pursued.

The Naturana site where Tempest Ford hoped to build a new showroom

The Naturana site where Tempest Ford hoped to build a new showroom

“We were successful in acquiring the Naturana site on Eastern Avenue and we were successful in securing funding to redevelop the site as a car dealership, and our plans for the conversion into a car showroom were approved by the planning department and Ford. All of this was communicated in meetings with key personnel and by email.

“You can see what strategic progress we were making when, out of the blue, we were instructed that we had to leave our site by July 27, 2017. We were told at the time that this was because lawyers were concerned that if we failed to leave by September 30, the Lichfield District Council and U+I partnership would face penalty charges of £100,000 per week with the contractors waiting to commence work on the site.

“In desperation we searched for a temporary site where we could relocate the dealership to until our Eastern Avenue site was ready. We were successful in identifying a site in Shenstone which was approved by Ford.

“We went back to Cllr Wilcox and U+I confident that we would gain agreement to remain on our site until September 30 when the Shenstone site would be ready, but again our request to remain until then was turned down and we were told July 23 was the date we had to adhere to.

“It is apparent that Cllr Wilcox is being economical with the truth when he states it came as a surprise when we did not progress with the opportunities – what opportunity? He had closed all the doors.”

Mr Carruthers said that auditors had told his company that the decision to remove Tempest Ford from the city centre site before a new location was ready meant that they no longer had a trading address and were therefore technically insolvent – leaving him with no alternative but to close the business.

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

And he believes Cllr Wilcox and the leadership team at Lichfield District Council still have big questions to answer.

“At the time we were evicted from our site how uncertain was the funding situation for the Friarsgate development?” Mr Carruthers said. “All the evidence would suggest it was high risk at the time, in which case why did Cllr Wilcox not step in and reassure U+I that I was a man of integrity and my word, and recommend that we should be allowed to remain on the Birmingham Road site until there was greater clarity on the financial status of the Friarsgate project?

“Are the council aware of just how much it has cost them in lost rent and business rates from Tempest Ford? Up to the present time it amounts to around £200,000. Then there is the cost of security for our demolished site. Who has paid for that? Our new site on Eastern Avenue is also still vacant and so there has been the loss of business rates there as well for the last 12 months.

“The deep irony is that had we been allowed to remain on our Birmingham Road site, our new premises would have been ready by now and Tempest Ford would still be successfully operating in our beautiful city.”

Lichfield District Council say that the Birmingham Road site has only ever been a temporary location for the Tempest Ford garage as the site has been earmarked for redevelopment. They added that they had worked with the company since 2006 to help them secure a long-term permanent home.

Mike Wilcox

Cllr Mike Wilcox

Cllr Wilcox said: “On April 21, 2017, as the deadline for vacating the Friarsgate site approached, Brian Carruthers, managing director of Tempest Ford, sent myself and U+I, the Friarsgate developers, a very positive email. In it he told us he had identified a temporary premises in Shenstone and was set to work with the council’s planning team to apply for a change of use. He also asked the council and developers to look into any other support we could give.

“He suggested we could discuss the opportunity further during an already planned conference call arranged for April 25 with U+I, myself and the council’s Friarsgate director. However we received notice before the planned conference call that the Tempest Ford board had met over the weekend and decided to put the company into liquidation. At the same time Brian Carruthers requested to cancel the Tuesday conference call.

“While we are saddened that the business closed, this was a decision made by Tempest Ford.

“Had they been able to put together a viable relocation plan, we would have continued to work with them to support this.”

The council confirmed that contractor penalties had not been paid as a contractor had not been appointed for the aborted scheme.

A volunteer wrote this. Say thanks with a coffee.

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Founder of LichfieldLive and editor of the site.

17 Comments

  1. John Woodcock

    11th July, 2018 at 11:25 am

    The plot thickens!!!
    Will we ever know the truth about this expensive disgraceful state of affairs

  2. AnnS

    11th July, 2018 at 12:32 pm

    It does indeed @John Woodcock. Will we ever know the truth…..will pigs fly?

  3. Flossy

    11th July, 2018 at 12:56 pm

    I have known Brian C– for many years. He is an honourable man who has no reason to lie! Grossly incompetent LDC who were out of their depth trying to retain the contractor. I bet the contractors did not lose a penny. Next election will be interesting!

  4. John Griffiin

    11th July, 2018 at 1:23 pm

    I think there might have pressure from the developers due to pressure on their supposed source of funding, similar to someone agreeing to buy your house then making demands at the 11th hour. This is the basis for a serious enquiry, because not only is this a debacle, it could potentially have been a disaster regardless e.g. developer collapses as their funding is illusory. There are senior Council officials that need checking out as well. May well email Private Eye on this.

  5. M McGeown

    11th July, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    Lies Lies and even more lies, heads should roll for this disastorous farce.How hard was it to be to let Tempest Ford stay until contracts were signed with the mythical developmer?
    Lichfield as unfortunately become the laughing stock amongst surrounding councils.
    The idiots even wanted to develop Minster car park at the rear of B&M.
    What next demolish the cathedral?

  6. M McGeown

    11th July, 2018 at 2:12 pm

    A pig did actually fly from Battersea power station a few years back, but it was shot down by the powers that be into the English channel, quite similar of how the bumbling bureaucrats have shot down Mr Carruthers and Tempest Ford. seething with the many.

  7. LetsGiveItASpin

    11th July, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    Again I must say that the council need to release all document for the now failed friarsgate so we can see who exactly was running this ship aground

    The leader and the councils leadership team in light of the cost of all this so far which will certainly reach beyond £14m should all offer their resignation before they start to increase council tax and other service costs to recoup the losses on top of what they have already committed to save due to government funding cuts and councils having to be self sufficient in 2019 ….

    A formal apology to the lost jobs at tempest ford and a full written apology by the leader and councils management team to the wider citizens of Lichfield should be forthcoming

  8. Mike Sandwell

    11th July, 2018 at 3:57 pm

    What a snake in the grass this cllr Mike Wilcox is, he is even a leader of the district council.
    I would not trust him with my grandchild’s piggy bank, and I don’t have a grandchild yet.
    We should all contact Mike Fabricant to have a chat with cllr Wilcox to get him to stand down with immediate effect,

  9. Philip John

    11th July, 2018 at 4:59 pm

    Tempest Ford wasn’t just a local independent business supporting the livelihoods of local people. They also supported Lichfield. They helped local causes, including We Love Lichfield, as well as working on Lichfield Town Team. Brian was one of those local business people who worked with us to set up the Lichfield BID that’s helped bring in and support so many fantastic initiatives to help Lichfield thrive.

    It sounds as though this business was unnecessarily destroyed by Mike Wilcox’s failure to represent the best interests of Lichfield against the self-interest of U+I.

    Will he apologise? That’s the least he should do. Of course, this is a huge problem. How can he possibly lead the council when his poor decisions have led to the closure of a local business and loss of local jobs?

  10. Bob Smith BSARA Chairman

    11th July, 2018 at 5:32 pm

    On June 14th 2017, Lichfield City Forum met. An upbeat presentation on Friarsgate was given by LDC and the developers regarding the revised plan and anticipated start date of the project. BSARA listened without comment until questioning was being wound up. BSARA then asked the question, “is the finance in place” the answer was no, but it was hoped it would be by the end of 2017. Need anything else be said regarding this sad state of affairs.

  11. Steve

    11th July, 2018 at 6:02 pm

    We should all contact Mike Fabricant to have a chat with cllr Wilcox to get him to stand down with immediate effect,

    Two for the price of one would be better.

    Fab has sat back and let this mess happen. He has never questioned the council. He should have held them to account. Not just getting his face on TV and in publicity photos.

  12. U Woodcock

    11th July, 2018 at 10:09 pm

    Just a debacle from beginning to end.

  13. Eric Gibson

    11th July, 2018 at 11:43 pm

    Natural justice should see Tempest Ford re-imbursed for losses !!

  14. Nick

    12th July, 2018 at 8:37 am

    Keeping quiet since an initial weak comment on Friarsgate, Fabrican’ts lack of action speaks volumes. If anything else, this shows that he’s a total waste of space MP; unless of course you need an as-seen-on-tv clown for your ribbon cutting photo-op.

  15. Ian Bourne

    12th July, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    Brian is one of the most honourable men I’ve ever had the fortune to meet. He served Lichfield far better than any councillor has, and brought investment into the city. What have LDC done with regards to that, other than waste our money? Note OUR money, not their. This needs much further digging, and I agree that an inquiry is the most open and legally satisfactory course of action.

  16. John Woodcock

    12th July, 2018 at 2:21 pm

    While most of the comments at the moment are with regard to the Motor Dealership we must also remember the other folk who have been put out of work or forced to find another home
    ie: the lady that ran the small snack bar in the Bus Station, the cycle show that had to relocate, and the Money Union shop that went to a new location and then the people that lived in the now demolished house
    On a slightly brighter outlook, the parks department are doing their bit to brighten the Bus Station up as they have now planted the bed out next to the smelly toilet block

  17. nellygb

    12th July, 2018 at 8:06 pm

    Now who do I believe…let me think, this is a hard one!

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