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Member of working group on future of Friarsgate land questions Lichfield District Council leader’s plans for short-term solution

A member of the working group examining the future of the land previously earmarked for Friarsgate has questioned the cost of creating a short-term fix for the site.

The former Tempest Ford site left empty since the collapse of the Friarsgate scheme
The former Tempest Ford site left empty since the collapse of the Friarsgate scheme

The area of the city centre – now rebranded the Birmingham Road Site by Lichfield District Council – has stood empty since the long-awaited redevelopment scheme bit the dust last year.

The local authority’s leader, Cllr Mike Wilcox, said that a short term change could see the demolition of existing structures and temporary toilets, landscaping, more car parking and a bigger bus station introduced as a short-term solution.

But Cllr Colin Ball, Labour’s representative for the Curborough ward – who also sits on the Birmingham Road Site Working Group – said “frustration” from residents meant the council could not afford to delay progress on a permanent plan for the land.

Colin Ball
Colin Ball

“I’ve made my position on this clear at a number of meetings of the working group and am very surprised to see this back on the table now,” he said.

“We had been told last Autumn that the Tory Cabinet at Lichfield District Council had abandoned any plans for temporary works due to the high cost of around £1.5million.

“At a working group meeting in January, we were told that there would now be some works on a much smaller scale carried out. Imagine my horror in reading that these ‘works on a much smaller scale’ will cost not much short of £750,000.

“I dread to think how the people of Lichfield district will view this.

The bus station that had been earmarked for redevelopment as part of the failed Friarsgate project
The bus station that had been earmarked for redevelopment as part of the failed Friarsgate project

“At a time of continuing Tory austerity cuts to public services, it seems to me very wasteful for Lichfield District Council to think about spending so much public money on this, especially as most of it will be wasted money, given that only the demolition of the police station and shop units and toilets will help genuinely towards the longer term redevelopment of the site.”

Cllr Wilcox said a spruce up of the site was necessary.

Cllr Mike Wilcox
Cllr Mike Wilcox

“We know from feedback local people want us to improve the site in the short-term, while we work on plans for a longer-term development that is both deliverable and sustainable,” he said.

But Cllr Ball accused the Conservative leader of not moving quickly enough to clean up the mess left behind by his failure to get Friarsgate over the line.

“I believe that if the working group had been set up earlier and the numbers had been limited to four or five, we could have got people together more often and focused more on driving this forward quickly,” he said.

“I initially suggested the idea of a cross party working group in June last year, calling directly on Conservative leader Mike Wilcox to set it up at the count for my by-election which he attended, on 5th July.

“But the first meeting of the working group was not until 4th October, so we effectively wasted the summer months, when, if we had met regularly then, we would have been much further forward on by now.”

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  1. Joanne Grange

    31st January, 2019 at 12:02 pm

    Lichfield is rapidly becoming a case study on how to kill a city. We have a council that has run out of ideas, with a leader who has lost touch with the electorate. We have developers riding roughshod over the planning committee, turning every patch of land in the centre into retirement apartments and every piece of green space on the outskirts into housing estates. We had major retailers leaving the city centre in droves, whilst new retail units outside the city centre remain empty. We have a powerless City council and a County Council which seems intent on ensuring we all stop using our cars by creating car parks on all the major roads which are impossible to escape. Roll on local elections….

    I agree with Cllr Ball that £750k is an obscene amount of money to spend in trying to mask the problem so the election leaflets for May can proclaim success in dealing with the issue, but I disagree that the working party should just be four or five councillors. It is, after all, councillors of many colours that created the problem and I very much doubt four or five councillors could between them have the imagination to make the most of the Friarsgate site (and yes, I use this name deliberately). At some point, I am sure that LDC will involve residents, other civic minded groups etc in the decision making process, and I’d suggest that this happens sooner rather than later. I am sure the City Council would rent out the Guildhall for a public meeting.

    So far the only ideas I’ve heard coming from LDC are housing, retirement apartments, retail and a cinema. My view is that none of these are the right answer – Lichfield is awash with new housing and there are better locations; the number of retirement apartments being thrown up means the whole of the centre of Lichfield is in danger of becoming one big retirement village; we already have empty retail units so I struggle to see why we’d need more; and a cinema would be better in a location where people can park. And have you ever seen the outside of a cinema? The run into Lichfield would be permanently spoiled with a view of air conditioning units and other services. I’d also be interested to understand whether any forward looking statistics are available on the need for a cinema given the only people who will be living in Lichfield will be the over-55s in their nice new retirement apartments….

  2. Steve

    31st January, 2019 at 1:26 pm

    Cllr Wilcox. Great to hear you are now listening to the people of Lichfield.

    Apologise for the mess you have caused and resign.

  3. John Griffin

    31st January, 2019 at 1:38 pm

    Totally agree. Doesnt take consultants to see a piazza and walkway into town in a style suited to the older buildings is needed. But there is little pocket lining for pals in that……

  4. Flossy

    31st January, 2019 at 2:12 pm

    If no firm & costed plans approved by end April = Tories lose election in early May wholesale. No matter who gets majority afterwards – they can’t do any more damage or do a worse job.
    Need to see something for use by all in community in this plot of land.

  5. Adam

    31st January, 2019 at 11:12 pm

    The land would be well suited to a car dealership and an attractive pair of semi-detached houses next to the Police Station.

  6. Smiler

    31st January, 2019 at 11:13 pm

    How on earth is Wilcox still In a job?? In any other area of commerce – if an employee was responsible for monumentally cocking up a plan which wasted £7m of taxpayers money – they would (quite rightly) be sacked. I work for a central gov department and if I was responsible for losing just £7,000 of public money I’d be sacked..! Yet here is Wicox, clinging on….reeling out the “it wasn’t my fault….the investment was withdrawn at the last minute” crap. IF THE FINANCE WASN’T 100% SECURE – WHY WERE LOCAL BUSINESS FORCED TO SHUT TO ACCOMMODATE THE (now dead) PLAN?

    Honestly the incompetence of LDC and Wilcox especially is breathtaking. It’d be funny is wasn’t mine and your taxes he wasted…..

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