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Councillors warned Lichfield cannot wait another 15 years for a Friarsgate replacement

Councillors have been told Lichfield residents cannot afford to wait another 15 years for a replacement for Friarsgate.

An artist's impression of the new Friarsgate development

An artist’s impression of the Friarsgate development

The long-awaited development finally bit the dust when private funding failed to materialise and Lichfield District Council opted not to stump up the £49million needed to bring the project to fruition.

The failure of Friarsgate has landed taxpayers with a £7million bill for work already carried out, along with a plethora of unanswered questions over the future of land cleared for the scheme.

But Lichfield and Burntwood Liberal Democrat spokesman Miles Trent said the city needed decisive action to sort out the mess.

“In the Neighbourhood Plan approved in the recent referendum, Lichfield proposes itself as a ‘City of Festivals’, meaning that there will be an ever-increasing number of visitors to the city,” he said.

Miles Trent

Miles Trent

“Whether they arrive by bus or by train, they are currently greeted by a scene which fails to impress – a gaping wound where the garage used to be, and a bus station that looks as though it’s been due for renovation for at least a decade, which of course it has. For those coming by car, of course, the Birmingham Street car park is another eyesore.

“We can’t wait for another 15 years for this area to be developed. There’s little point in wringing our hands and pointing fingers – we need constructive plans which will make the best possible use of the site, to enhance both the life of residents of the area and the Lichfield experience for visitors.

“To best achieve this, the Lib Dems believe that any development, no matter what the function of the new buildings may be, must harmonise with the existing older architecture of the town. There is no need for Lichfield to be turned into yet another anonymous Midlands town full of bleak concrete boxes.

“This does not necessarily mean faux-Georgian or mock Tudor buildings – it is possible to use traditional materials in ways which reflect our age, while complementing such nearby fine buildings as St John’s Hospital.”

A number of national food and retail chains had been earmarked to take up units at Friarsgate prior to the demise of the project.

But Mr Trent believes the local authority needs to think again about the kind of businesses it hopes to attract to any new development in the city.

“We have seen the shambles that resulted from the council’s idea of filling so much of the space with yet more national chain stores and a host of coffee shops and restaurants,” he said. “We feel that low-rise accommodation, centrally located, specifically designed for younger, first-time occupiers, and created in close co-operation with local housing associations, would keep the heart of the city youthful and alive.

“The Friary Leisure Centre is rapidly nearing its ‘best before’ date. Perhaps a centrally located leisure centre, designed to complement the city’s unique architecture, is a possibility? As in the original plans, a cinema could be incorporated into this development, providing a new focus for entertainment for the whole district, not just the city itself.

“And, with the move of the library to St Mary’s and the loss of the museum, maybe a museum or some other heritage project could be part of the new development – and, dare we dream, funded by the lottery or a similar source? It could also house the tourist information centre. And something has to be done about the bus station.

“With this mix, or something like it, we at the Lichfield and Burntwood Liberal Democrats believe that the Friarsgate area, rather than being the bomb site  that it currently is, could prove a dynamic and attractive gateway for visitors, as well as being a central focus for residents that keeps the city and surrounding communities alive and healthy.”

A volunteer wrote this. Say thanks with a coffee.

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Founder of LichfieldLive and editor of the site.

16 Comments

  1. brian pretty

    24th July, 2018 at 10:12 am

    fine words but who pays ?? must be election year next year

  2. Flossy

    24th July, 2018 at 10:41 am

    My view is if LDC cannot come up with a costed reasonable plan for this area by next election [this should be apriority] there will be a “massive laxative” applied to existing Councillors by electorate

  3. Steve

    24th July, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    I agree with a lot of the points made in this article.

    The issue I see with the site. It has been passed over by one developer, any attempt at similar use, will be extremely hard. Unless the council throw the developers loads of money.

    Any development by the council is unlikely, they will say there is not the budget to do any public use development. The only path I can see is a huge new housing estate.

  4. Philip Allso

    24th July, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    What is NOT wanted is a knee jerk reaction. Many small towns have conservation areas that prevent inappropriate development destroying the ethos of its historic heritage. The next stage in the city centre will probably be there for generations. Short term projects that presently may seem to be attractive could be less so in a decade or so. Is it really sensible to be building first time buyers properties on some of the cities prime sites? Public buildings and facilities together with good transport arrangements should be a priority. The long view is important as this land is unlikely to be available again soon. This is one area where professional help would be worth paying for. Design is one of the most important feature of most things in our life. Get it wrong and you live with the consequences for your lifetime.

  5. Colin Ball

    24th July, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    I have already called, at the Council meeting on 17th July, on the District Council to set up a cross-party working group to look at how we can develop the Friarsgate site quickly, using some process, such as “Planning for Real”, to involve local residents and businesses fully in developing new proposals. I have volunteered to serve on the cross-Party working group, it it is set up. I firmly believe that, working with housing association partners, we could see new social rent housing start being built on part of the site within a year to 18 months. It’s just a pity that LibDem Councillor for Chadsmead, Paul Ray, wasn’t there at the Council meeting to hear me say it! I hope that he will be at the City Council Planning Committee on Thursday evening this week, to hear me make the same case at the City Council – and that he will support my call for the cross-party working group.

    Colin Ball – Lichfield City and District Councillor for Curborough.

  6. LetsGiveItASpin

    24th July, 2018 at 5:22 pm

    Wilcox has already said the land iris valuable , with rumours that the council is moving out to free up more space then I am sad to say I feel the decision has internally been made . Sell for housing it’s the only value . It is now blighted fornany commercial development and no financial institution is going to back funding in this site other than residential . Hence why Wilcox believes it’s valuable. The only slight snag in this is , developers now know it’s a desperate funding clawback by the council to recover the £7million though this is likely not to be the real
    True figure . The value for housing wouldn’t reach £7m but if you add the council building into the mix the increase this give for residential makes the land more near to the £7m at the moment needed …. so my view is they know what they are doing next … they are just again not telling the truth ….

  7. LetsGiveItASpin

    24th July, 2018 at 5:29 pm

    Colin … housing housing housing your proving already to be no better than the Tory group. Social housing whilst needed lowers the land value by big margins , mixed housing may attract more money . Is this really what lichfield needs ? Have a look around you , streethay development over 800 houses currently being built mixed housing with social rents , the land back of the shell garage London road another 1000 houses … lichfield is housing mad and not one single councillor in Lichfield appears to have the skills to realise that lichfield needs services industry , doctors surgery , more choice in food shopping , general and basic goods suppliers , better transport structure and a clear vision about what lichfield wants to be . All LDC do is look for profit so housing being the valuable element is always what ends up being proposed . The friarsgate started off as commercial then 60% suddenly under revised plans became housing …..

  8. FiveSpiresLive (@FiveSpiresLive)

    24th July, 2018 at 6:02 pm

    The former Friarsgate site would be ideal for a new car dealership, bus station and multi-storey car park with a few retail kiosks

  9. Andrew Steed

    25th July, 2018 at 3:04 am

    I do hope that Mr Trent’s knowledge of Lichfield is not so insufficient that he is unaware that there is no such thoroughfare in the city as “Birmingham Street”. Otherwise I agree with a lot he is saying.

  10. Paul Ray

    25th July, 2018 at 7:33 am

    Colin

    Seems that you welcome various of our ideas and there is some common thinking developing. I cannot attend this Thursday to hear your proposals in detail but I certainly support the idea of a cross-party working group to deal with Friarsgate.

    Paul Ray
    Lib Dem Councillor, Chadsmead

  11. Jeremy

    25th July, 2018 at 10:12 am

    Social housing, wow…really thinking outside the box!! Just what we need in our historic city centre.
    I honestly believe that if we let primary schools have a go at planning the site they would come up with far more inventive ideas than anyone on the council. Heck, let the primary schools plan it and the secondary schools design it. We should be looking at providing services and leisure to the expanding population, not trying to increase the population density in the centre.

  12. Darryl Godden

    25th July, 2018 at 10:41 am

    I’m still struggling with the dismissive way £7 million pounds has been frittered away, with no repercussions.

    They talk about respect, they talk about lack of engagement with politics, this lack of transparency and acknowledgement of failings is precisely the reason.

  13. Nick

    25th July, 2018 at 11:03 am

    Does anyone have Cllr Ray’s attendance figures? Seems he doesn’t attend all that many meetings…

  14. Derek Atkinson

    25th July, 2018 at 4:18 pm

    Derek. Does Lichfield really need big superstores. The beauty of Lichfield is as it is. A lovely relaxed place to visit. Charming places to eat and drink. Some thing has to be done though. But nothing silly. Mixed stores and accomodation.

  15. Colin Ball

    25th July, 2018 at 7:05 pm

    I don’t want to get into a long debate here on Lichfield Live. Just two points, though.

    First, in response to Paul Ray’s comments, I fear that it is the LibDems who are now catching up with Labour on Friarsgate. I’ve been making my position clear on this for a considerable time.

    Secondly, in response to LetsGiveItASpin, I’ve not limited my thoughts to social rented housing only. I think that we do need some kind of mixed use development in the city centre, including leisure and some retail and green spaces. The point that I was trying to make is that we could see social rented housing being built more quickly than original very complex and large scale mixed use scheme. I also feel very strongly that we need a proper consultation on this now, using something like Planning for Real, so that local residents and businesses can be fully involved – and move away from the constant top down approach of the current Tory-led District Council.

    Colin Ball – Lichfield City and District Councillor for Curborough.

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