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