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Burntwood councillor calls on Lichfield District Council leader to justify £7million costs of aborted Friarsgate scheme to struggling local families

A Burntwood councillor says the leader of Lichfield District Council must justify spending £7million on the failed Friarsgate project to local families struggling to make ends meet.

An artist's impression of the new Friarsgate development

An artist’s impression of the Friarsgate development

The Lichfield city centre redevelopment scheme has bitten the dust after more than a decade of planning.

But the council still faces a bill of almost £7million to cover costs associated with the development the past ten years.

Cllr Rob Birch

Cllr Rob Birch

Cllr Rob Birch, who sits on Burntwood Town Council, said taxpayers had “absolutely nothing to show” for their £7million – and insisted Cllr Mike Wilcox, leader of Lichfield District Council needed to give residents answers.

“Without significant further investment, we will see that area of Lichfield remain as a derelict pile of rubble for years to come – any investment now will again come from the taxpayers’ pockets,” he said.

“This at a time when Cllr Wilcox’s Cabinet claimed they couldn’t afford to empty garden waste bins and when, in addition to that particular stealth tax, they increased our Council Tax precept by the maximum allowed while outsourcing our leisure centres and spending pocket change in Burntwood.

“What other services will they destroy or demolish in a quest to throw good money after bad? I guess it must be all the easier to do when it isn’t actually your money you are spending.

“Is he aware of the countless families in Lichfield district who rely on food banks? Is he aware of the choices being made between paying the electricity bill or paying the rent? Is he aware of the parents going without food to save for the approaching annual school uniform bill? Is he aware of the parents worried sick about paying for childcare in the imminent school holidays? Is he aware of the people homeless in our apparently affluent little city?

“If the answer to any of those questions is ‘yes’, then the real question is ‘do you care?’. The decisions so far suggest that he simply does not.

“All of these costs must be met by the same individuals whose money his council has thrown away on the Friarsgate farce. The same people struggling with the challenges above are the ones they are relying on to fill the council coffers, the contents of which the Cabinet then appear to squander on ill-fated, ill-conceived, mismanaged projects.

“The apparent determination to raid our pockets for years to come, as they continue with Lichfield-centric vanity projects, suggests Cllr Wilcox’s judgement is flawed or he just doesn’t care about the consequences of his actions.”

As well as the cost to taxpayers, a row has also erupted between the council and the former owner of Tempest Ford, who claims he was forced to close the business as a result of the council’s tactics over the Friarsgate site.

And Cllr Birch said it was time for Cllr Wilcox to think hard about his next step.

Cllr Mike Wilcox

Cllr Mike Wilcox

“I have watched the story of the Friarsgate fiasco develop over the last few years and have seen how, under Cllr Wilcox’s leadership, it has descended into a total farce,” he said. “Not only has he presided over the closure of local businesses, they have insisted on holding all meetings on the subject away from the public eye – the same public whose pockets they seemed content to dip into to fund a now failed vanity project.

“Between them all, they have so far cost residents several millions of pounds and yet we still have nothing to show for it – absolutely nothing.

“I call on Cllr Wilcox to resign his position before he does any more irreversible and unaffordable damage. Surely his conscience alone should be telling him that he has a moral duty to remove himself from his position?”

Cllr Wilcox has not responded to direct requests for comment on Friarsgate from LichfieldLive since it emerged the scheme was in trouble, but told councillors at a recent meeting that at least some of the £7million would be recouped in future.

“Around £4.5million has been invested in land which we will get a return on,” he said. “We will be able to use this land to our advantage and make a return on it.”

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2 Comments

  1. Sylvia Parkes

    14th July, 2018 at 3:25 pm

    We have known Mike Wilcox for many years, He is the most honest and reliable person I know. He has worked tirelessly for Lichfield council giving a lot of his time. Will this Lichfield Live print this letter.

  2. Philip Allso

    16th July, 2018 at 8:34 am

    The land that has been aquired for Friarsgate could possibly prove to be an advantage if used wisely. Such land is usually difficult to obtain and could be tied up for generations if used for housing or rest homes. Instead of acting like some sort of land agent, like Mike Wilcox is suggesting, why not reserve it for public projects (cinema, swimming pool, culture centre ,open spaces etc.). We owe it to posterity to break the chain of development companies taking over our city centres. We inherited a legacy of a fine cultural city from our forefathers and should be working to make Lichfield a better place for all citizens not just those with deep pockets. The money spent should be seen as our contribution for the future and would not be missed in a few years time.

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