The city’s MP says fingers will be pointed at Lichfield District Council if it “doesn’t step up a notch” in finding a new solution following the failure to deliver Friarsgate.
The long-awaited city centre redevelopment project bit the dust after more than a decade of planning.
The decision not to progress came after developers failed to source private funding and the council opted not to stump up the money needed to bring the scheme to fruition – although taxpayers have still been left with a £7million bill for work carried out in association with the aborted project.
Michael Fabricant, Conservative MP for Lichfield, said the local authority needed to step up to the plate to find a new solution for the land.
“While the council cannot be blamed for developer U+I’s inability to find commercial funding for the Friarsgate project, it will be the council to blame if it now doesn’t step up a notch to initiate immediate remedial works and a embark on a realistic plan for the future,” he said.
“The council was quite right not to stump up £50million of taxpayers’ money to replace private finance which London-based U+I were unable to raise.
“But the council now immediately needs to tackle the fall out.”
Mr Fabricant suggested a two-stage approach to resolving the Friarsgate problem was needed.
He said: “Firstly, the grey hoardings surrounding the old garage site on the corner of St John Street and Birmingham Road which are opposite the ancient St John’s Hospital and mark the entrance to our historic city, need to be removed – they are an unwelcome eyesore.
“They must come down as quickly as possible and a temporary facility made to enhance the area.
“A grass park with some flowers and benches, for example, would be attractive to visitors and locals alike. Yes, I know that levelling the site and adding turf to a soil foundation costs money and the grass will need to be cut, but something of that nature is preferable to the ugly hoardings that currently confronts visitors.
“Some imagination is needed for a short term fix that would transform the area. The council need to announce these plans with urgency.
“The council then needs to consider the longer term and what they wish to do with all the land they have reacquired for the Friarsgate project.
“A realistic combination of housing with fewer shops and a cinema built in a harmonious style which reflects a cathedral city would be far more in keeping with the concrete block house mentality of U+I’s proposals. I know that councillors are already beginning to think along these lines.”
The leader of Lichfield District Council, Cllr Mike Wilcox, came under pressure following the demise of Friarsgate, but was backed to continue by his own councillors following a leadership challenge.
But Mr Fabricant said the Conservative leadership group needed to prevent the long-term failure of the redevelopment scheme becoming a defining moment for the city.
“If the council acts swiftly in announcing both its short term and longer term plans, the collapse of Friarsgate will not be a calamity,” he said. “Instead it will be the saving of the city from what I feared would be an unattractive development.
“There is now an exciting opportunity to use the building land creatively and with a realistic chance of raising private finance.
“But for all this to happen, both the council – and, equally as importantly, the officers who work for the council – will have to act swiftly and imaginatively and not be chained by self-doubt and caution. I will help in any way I can to ensure that this happens.”