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Meeting of Lichfield District Council task group set up to find new way forward for Friarsgate land attended by just two councillors

A meeting of a task group set up to work out a plan for the future of the land previously earmarked for Friarsgate was attended by just two councillors, it has been revealed.

Lichfield District Council House
Lichfield District Council House

A report to a meeting of the economic growth, environment and development overview and scrutiny committee at Lichfield District Council last night (22nd January) outlined what was discussed at a session of the Birmingham Road Site task group on 10th December.

It shows that only the chairman Cllr Tom Marshall and Cllr Jon O’Hagan showed up – with apologies being received from three other councillors:

  • Cllr Colin Ball (Labour)
  • Cllr Paul Ray (Lib Dem)
  • Cllr Andrew Smith (Conservative)

Three others were listed as “not attending”:

  • Cllr Gwynth Boyle (Conservative)
  • Cllr Mark Warfield (Conservative)
  • Cllr Robert Strachan (Conservative)
Boarded up shops next to the bus station which had been earmarked for the doomed Friarsgate development
Boarded up shops next to the bus station which had been earmarked for the doomed Friarsgate development

The minutes from the meeting revealed that the results of a SWOT analysis for development in Lichfield city centre were discussed – but that the poor turnout meant little progress could be made.

The report said: “Due to the low attendance at the meeting, the chairman felt it was not possible to undertake a full appraisal of the information needed to inform the next stage of the process, that of defining a brief for a master planning exercise.

“It was agreed that a meeting of the task group would be called for the New Year to address the issues that had emerged from the SWOT analysis and to develop a masterplanning brief based on the city’s requirements.

“The task group’s ideas and thoughts would then be shared with stakeholder groups.”

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18 Comments

  1. Philip Allso

    23rd January, 2019 at 10:38 am

    Friasgate has become the Lichfield ‘Brexit.’ Whatever the outcome now it can only be bad! The Lichfield District Council task group holding the poisoned chalice clearly have no heart for it and prefer to stay at home. I can’t say I blame them.

  2. Kathy

    23rd January, 2019 at 11:29 am

    I find it reassuring that just 2 members turned up to the Economic Growth Committee meeting. As the Council seems unable to make decisions based on facts and its own guidelines it is surely best for Lichfield that they make no decisions at all.

  3. Ross

    23rd January, 2019 at 11:33 am

    To clarify, it was the meeting of the Friarsgate task group where only two members attended.

  4. Colin Ball

    23rd January, 2019 at 2:51 pm

    I feel that I should write to explain why I wasn’t able to get along to the December meeting of the BRS Working Group. I was down in Cornwall with my family on the weekend before that Monday meeting and was planning to drive back on the Monday to go to the meeting. Unfortunately, the clutch on our car failed, when we were in Cornwall, and we weren’t able to get it replaced and back to Lichfield till the Wednesday of that week.

    I have attended all other meetings of the Working Group and take my civic responsibilities very seriously. I went along to a meeting of the City Council Planning Committee, in fact, on the Wednesday evening, although I had only arrived back in Lichfield some 15 minutes before the start of the meeting. I also sent a long email to Councillor Tom Marshall, Chair of the Working Group, while I was down in Cornwall, setting out a long list of suggestions for ways forward for the meeting on the Monday evening.

    I believe that overall the Working Group has made good progress with finding ways forward from the debacle of the former Friarsgate scheme, although I remain disappointed that the first meeting of the Working Group didn’t take place till early October 2018, when I had been calling for a cross party Working Group on this since June! I also feel that having 8 people on the Working Group has not helped in getting meetings arranged that all could attend. I had originally suggested four or five people. I believe that we could have made more progress had my original suggestions been taken up.

    Having said that, I do feel that all those on the Working Group have made contributions to try to find a positive way forward. I’m glad that the Working Group has also agreed, at my suggestion at our last meeting 17 January, to have more frequent meetings from now on. The Working Group has agreed on a new website and publicity material which will be published shortly. I made a number of comments on this to try to improve it, even though I remain sceptical of the value of proposals to carry out some short term improvement works, as I fear this may take effort away from pushing ahead with long term plans and is unnecessary expenditure at this difficult time for funding in the District Council.

    Colin Ball – Labour City and District Councillor for Curborough.

  5. Neil Hickman

    23rd January, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    Im glad to see that the waste of £7m+ of council taxpayers money has focused the minds of councillors to come together and solve the problem.

    The poor turn out is probably down to the fact they have to pass the site of the former Tempest Ford Garage and couldn’t stomach the view.

  6. Michel Souris

    23rd January, 2019 at 4:05 pm

    I am sure that the non-attenders had legitimate reasons for not being present. Nevertheless, the voters will have their say in May and, hopefully, this current batch of ne’er do wells will be removed from office.

  7. Steve

    23rd January, 2019 at 5:03 pm

    Strengths: it’s in Lichfield. Developers can chuck up cheap houses and sell them for a fortune
    Weaknesses. Council have a big mess we have paid £7 million for and pay more for every month.
    Opportunities: Developers can chuck up cheap houses and sell them for a fortune
    Threats: Council has no money

  8. Joanne Grange

    23rd January, 2019 at 5:51 pm

    @Steve – my contribution to your starting point, assuming that the subject of the SWOT is development of Lichfield City Centre and from the viewpoint of a resident:

    Strengths – Compact city centre that can be walked around easily; some key historic architecture; a range of independent retailers who have developed an excellent way of working together to self-promote and create footfall.
    Weaknesses – Insufficient parking at busy times; insufficient key stores to attract out of town shoppers to compete with Tamworth; empty shops which spoil the ambiance; confused strategy with push to Eastern Avenue as key shopping location; at a macro level traditional high streets (bricks) are losing market share to online trade (clicks)
    Opportunities – hulking great area of land with hoardings around it that could be used to create something really special;
    Threats – LDC will not be imaginative enough to do something sensible and will instead lump more retirements apartments and/or other housing there; there will be no joined thinking with SCC meaning the traffic issues won’t be addressed.

    Anyone else got anything to contribute. Wonder who did the “proper” SWOT and how much it cost us?

    However, I’m not convinced a SWOT is necessarily the right management tool to be using in this situation. What is needed is creative thinking and problem solving – the problem is clearly LDC is in a bit of a bind with an area of land and needs to do something with it. If LDC is desperate for a “tool” can I recommend De Bono’s Thinking Hats as a better tool for looking at problems and come up with some creative solutions? A SWOT (if done properly) should just be a starting point and should never be used in isolation – a handy aide memoire for analysing the “as is” rather than a way to generate ideas.

  9. John Griffin

    23rd January, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    Just look at low level European old town developments in the same style as the market square leading into town. Clear the old railway line to Chasewater. Cycle lane to start. Associated business for leisure with pizza cafes. Look to the past. No business trips or consultants though please.

  10. Darryl

    23rd January, 2019 at 8:01 pm

    Councillor 1: People are scrutinizing what we are doing

    C2: I know, you should read Lichfield Live, the comments! People are not happy!

    C1: What we need is some jargon, you know to make it look like we’re doing something, but not let on that we actually do nothing…

    C3: We could tell them we’re doing a SWOT analysis, but the problem is…

    C1: That’ll do, lets put that on the minutes

    C3: But it’s not really about…

    C1: I SAID SWOT!

  11. Abdul salam

    24th January, 2019 at 7:53 am

    Dear Lichfield people. I am running my Business for 33 years. Lichfield is the best city in all round. I will respect all councillors. Who had cear of Lichfield for all that year’s. I am looking forward to see the best possible out come of this project soon. I have full faith with all councillors to find right for Lichfield.
    Abdul salam
    Eastern eye restaurants

  12. Cllr Tom Marshall.

    24th January, 2019 at 8:59 am

    In response to some of the comments which have been made in relation to the area of land to be developed, I’d like to explain certain points.

    I fully understand the level of exasperation being expressed by local residents and no one is particularly satisfied with the situation which currently exists. However, it is vitally important that progress is made to develop the Birmingham Road Site as quickly as is practicable. As chairman of the dedicated working group I am determined that a scheme will be brought forward which will bring many benefits to the city. Far from being a “poisoned chalice”, as suggested by one contributor, it is perhaps a rare opportunity to shape and enhance Lichfield in a manner which will bring long-lasting benefits.

    I understand the criticism which has been made of the poor attendance at the meeting on December 10th, and also in another post, the appropriateness, or otherwise, of the SWOT analysis. To deal with the first point. Of course, the presence of only two councillors at the event was hugely disappointing, however, there were extenuating circumstances and the meeting was still extremely worthwhile. Because there is a widely-held desire to expedite the process in bringing forward a development, it was felt that a meeting prior to Christmas was important. However, all councillors tend to have busy schedules at this time and finding a date which suited everyone was impossible. Apologies were received as has been acknowledged, however, two councillors who had intended to participate were unfortunately compromised by unforeseen incidents, and both contacted me the following day to apologise, and explain their absence. Cllr. Ball, as he has already indicated was prevented from being in attendance because his car suffered mechanical problems when he was in Cornwall. Cllr Ball did, very helpfully, submit his suggestions which were fully reported at the meeting. I must reiterate, this was not a meeting of the Economic Growth, Environment & Development Committee, as was suggested in one post.

    The use of a SWOT analysis was conducted by Ged Bowles, the Assistant Director for Transformation at Improvement & Efficiency West Midlands. It was an in-depth appraisal and a valuable exercise and all members felt that it was enormously beneficial.

    Before closing, I wish to address the suggestion that the development site to date has cost LDC and by implication, Lichfield’s taxpayers, seven million pounds. This is an incorrect assertion and patently inaccurate. Yes, there have been costs but the financial burden is relatively small for the Council, with most of the quoted sum having been borne by the developer as a result of Friarsgate’s failure. Also, it must be pointed out that there now exists a large area for redevelopment in a prime urban location, strategically significant due to its close proximity to the railway station, which has very considerable value and is an undeniable asset.

    We shall be seeing the arrival of a newsletter during the next few days, and perhaps more importantly, the creation of a dedicated website which will be a conduit for comments and ideas to be channelled to us on the working group, as well as the Council’s officers who are working on this project.

    I can assure everyone that the subject of the site’s redevelopment is being treated with great urgency, and no one underestimates the importance of making this a feature of Lichfield which will meet the needs of the district’s residents of all ages, and at the same time, help to promote the city as a popular tourist location.

    Thank you to everyone for their comments which have preceded my post.

  13. wilf

    24th January, 2019 at 9:56 am

  14. Philip Allso

    24th January, 2019 at 10:02 am

    I have been a chairman on numerous committee’s. All have required a quorum before bussiness can be transacted. In the case of this committee the quorum should have been at least three (four if you include the chairman). In reality the meeting should not have been started. Is there an explanation for this Councillor Marshall?

  15. Kathy

    24th January, 2019 at 10:16 am

    My apologies for mis-naming the task force meeting but the fact remains that the attendance was low and to use Christmas as part of the reason won’t work. It happens every year, on the same date and is widely advertised from October onwards. You shouldn’t have been surprised when people had other commitments.

    Come on chaps (and ladies), pull yourselves together, you’ve got a real job to do now. Don’t let it be said you couldn’t organise a town centre when you’re sitting in the remains of the old one

  16. LetsGiveItASpin

    24th January, 2019 at 11:03 am

    And so there we have it Cllr Tom Marshall confirms he wants to build houses. Prime location to train station ! The future of Lichfield city is housing, no shops , more bars , more restaurants, and as much housing as possible. Works well for those councillors and there development companies.

    I truly hope come the elections that the people of Lichfield vote in the way that sends a clear message to local politicians

  17. Joanne Grange

    24th January, 2019 at 11:43 am

    Cllr Marshall’s response perfectly exemplifies why my frustration levels with LDC are at an all time high, and why I have serious concerns about the future of the Friarsgate site and what we are going to end up with.

    “Vitally important that progress is made to develop the Birmingham Road site as quickly as is practicable” – “quickly” is clearly being used ironically here. If a business moved as “quickly” as LDC in its decision-making it would have ceased trading. Seven months since the decision was made to not proceed with the previous plan and we are to get a newsletter and a website. Really? I’m expecting great things from this output given the length of time it’s taken.

    “The meeting was extremely worthwhile” – I’m sure the two attendees got great value from it, but I suspect the next meeting won’t be worthwhile as the six non-attendees will have to be brought up to speed on what might have been discussed.

    “Councillors tend to have busy schedules at this time” (prior to Christmas) – woe betide anything as important as the devastation in the City centre getting in the way of Councillors’ jollies. Somewhat akin to MPs arguing over whether they should have the February recess of not at this critical point in Brexit.

    “The use of a SWOT analysis was conducted by” one person. “It was an indepth appraisal and a valuable exercise and all members felt it was enormously beneficial” – a) was it just the two attendees who considered it beneficial? b) Was the use of a better tool to direct thinking considered? Mintzberg’s book “The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning” provides an excellent precis of the limitations of the Design School of Strategic Management (of which the SWOT is part). Hill and Westbrook have written “It may be time to relinquish our fondness for SWOT analysis which seems now to have passed its sell-by date”. This was published in a periodical called “Long Range Planning” in 1997. If it was past its sell-by date in 1997, the fact LDC are clinging onto the SWOT tool some 22 years later perhaps provides an indication that we are in danger of being stuck in the past. Is this perhaps indicative of the likely conclusions on the task force? c) If, despite its inherent shortcomings, a SWOT analysis is to be used, it is not about shutting one person in an office and not letting them out until they have a SWOT. The tool is used most effectively as part of a directed brainstorming session where multiple people, with different viewpoints, contribute. Perhaps including some of the electorate in this process would deliver dividends? d) “In depth” and “SWOT” in the same sentence sends shivers down my spine! The best SWOTs are short and highlight critical issues. I’d call on Cllr Marshall to publish this piece of work so we can all see where the council’s thinking is heading.

    The suggestion that Friarsgate has cost taxpayers £7m is “patently inaccurate” and there is a large area that is “strategically important” and “which has very considerable value and is an undeniable asset” – as Wilf has helpfully pointed out, the £7m figure is a quote from Cllr Wilcox. If this is not the correct figure perhaps the council taxpayers of Lichfield can be given a more accurate figure? I would argue that the £7m is patently accurate if we can believe Cllr Wilcox. To date the cash outflow has been £7m. Of this £4.5m was on land. This land MAY have a future value as an asset IF the council can use it to generate a cash inflow. This cash inflow could come from selling it on or generating future revenue streams such as rental income. The value of this potential asset would be determined by this potential future cashflow. The fact the council has spent £4.5m on the land does not mean it has a value of £4.5m. This is pretty basic valuation stuff and I find it worrying that the council is clinging to a view that just because it has spend money it has an asset. As it stands, the land is not an “undeniable asset” – the land is an undeniable liability with the potential to be an asset at some undetermined point in the future. Cllr Marshall considering it to be an asset can only stack up logically if there is a predetermined outcome that the land will be sold or otherwise used to generate revenue. There goes the idea of a park!

    There is a cliche that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different outcome. Until such time as LDC radically changes its thinking, and accepts a few home truths about the situation in which it finds itself, we are going to continue going round in ever decreasing circles and still have a bombsite in the centre of our beloved city for years to come while LDC pats itself on the back for producing a SWOT analysis, a newsletter and a website.

  18. Michel Souris

    24th January, 2019 at 11:52 am

    Wilf – I agree with you the Council needs to get its act in order and have a consistent story. Under an FOI request, LDC confirmed Friarsgate had cost council taxpayers £7m. Councillor Marshall’s comments confirm that most of the Tory Councillors do not know what is going on in the District but pretend that they have their finger on the pulse. Wilcox and the Cabinet (who are worryingly quiet at the moment) are the ones who know exactly how much this debacle has cost and where further black holes lie. None are to be trusted when you read in LL that two Cabinet members have failed to declare interests in development companies; how many more will emerge in the coming weeks? Perhaps the dossier on Friarsgate and LDC should be sent to Private Eye for them to publish and comment on.

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