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Conservative councillor says decision by Lichfield District Council not to fund Friarsgate was a missed opportunity

A Conservative councillor says the decision by Lichfield District Council not to fund Friarsgate was a missed opportunity.

The local authority is currently seeking a way forward following the collapse of the long-awaited scheme.

Private funding failed to materialise for the project, meaning the only option left was for the council to fund the multi-million regeneration project – a move which was eventually rejected by councillors.

Cllr Iain Eadie had previously served on the Cabinet at the council before resigning in the wake of the Friarsgate collapse.

And he has insisted he believes the local authority’s failure to stump up the cash was a missed opportunity.

“Lichfield District Council has an approved property investment strategy that is part of its Medium Term Financial Strategy. This strategy is to borrow £45million for the purposes of investing in commercial property assets.

“The council would then use the rent received, less the borrowing costs, to help meet part of the difference between what it receives in council tax and its current spending commitments on services.

“Friarsgate was a development that was ready to begin, had it been financed. No external funders came forward to do so. Lichfield District Council could have funded the scheme but councillors took a decision not to do so.

“I stood down from Cabinet because my actions could not get the council, despite its intended property investment strategy, to fund development and regeneration when this was ready to happen.

“An opportunity has therefore been lost. Retailers who had agreed to come to Lichfield have not and Marks & Spencer has now closed.

“With a property investment strategy the council has the potential to fund what plan emerges for the site, now referred to as Birmingham Road Site.

“This has the potential to be a mixed use development encompassing residential dwellings, leisure activities, and potentially retail, or, offices. Friarsgate was a mixed use development that included residential, leisure and retail, which is why we wanted the council to make this happen when it had the chance.”

“Property investment strategy”

The council is also setting aside £3million as part of plans to set up its own property investment company, and Cllr Iain Eadie says there is a real chance for a bright future for the city.

“Many other local authorities have adopted a property investment strategy, as well as investing in their high streets to deliver regeneration,” he said. “Lichfield District Council has the opportunity to do the same and I would like to see them do this sooner, rather than later.

“This has the opportunity to create new jobs, keep people who live in our district spending in our district, instead of going elsewhere, while also helping the council secure more of its services for the long term future.”

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5 Comments

  1. Marlow

    10th April, 2019 at 8:02 am

    As a councillor who was heavily involved in Friarsgate at the key times, you have to shoulder some of the responsibility Mr Eadie, as well as some of the blame for the lost £12 million that the failed project cost Lichfield taxpayers. I do hope you don’t think simply resigning absolves you?

  2. Paul Ecclestone-Brown

    10th April, 2019 at 10:22 am

    The opportunity is more to be a truly mixed use scheme that is future proofed. Mixed use is completely essential.

    We need to think what Lichfield’s future retail offer is. Big chains are failing fast – Debenhams’ future in Lichfield may well be at risk, or the rent that it may want to pay may be significantly reduced through a CVA. Do we just want to have a clone high street that will not attract anybody, bearing in mind the proximity to larger centres in Birmingham, Tamworth and Solihull? What are the niches that we could encourage? Locally owned shops with products sourced locally and profits retained in the local community will have a bigger benefit rather than profits lining corporate coffers. One strategy here would be to have a two tier rental system involving a profit share between owners and landlord for the length of a small, locally owned business occupancy of new premises and more standard rents for larger chains (on more standard terms).

    There is a lack of coworking space in Lichfield. This is open office space that can be used cheaply by several people, either setting up their ideas, running community projects or charities, or simply having space to use rather than going into their office in the city….. This space can be multifunctional with community organisations using some of it for public benefit in evenings… This type of space should be included in the scheme. This will bring more business into the area.

    Any development should be truly environmentally responsible. The scheme should include solar power and electricity storage. Ground source heating should be included for all parts of the scheme ( residential and commercial) as in the medium term this will reduce overall scheme total costs of occupancy. Water capture, triple glazing, light wells, should be other features included in the plans. All the buildings should be built to an specification far higher than that needed just to meet the regulations, as in the medium term this will drive cost efficiency and potentially higher rental profits.

    We are trying to attract more people to the City Centre. With that attempt there will be pressure on transport infrastructure. We should encourage the use of public transport but also uptake of cycling, walking and electric vehicles. Any car parks should have a large bank of free parking for EVs toghether with cheap recharging points.

    Other potential investment opportunities that should be considered could include local power generation and/or storage, or the promotion of a local microgeneration trading grid.

  3. John Griffin

    10th April, 2019 at 11:47 am

    And still no money for Burntwood.

  4. MrSuperSprout

    10th April, 2019 at 7:29 pm

    Paul your forgetting one major problem, those that finance schemes like Friarsgate are not interested , there is no commercial appetite other than to sell for residential development . In terms of rent / rates etc , Three spires is owned by the Railways pension scheme, rents are set and the council has no say. The council can reduce business rates if it sees fit under certain circumstances.

    Office spaces are plenty and this is oversaturated in Lichfield City, there are a number of locations currently empty

    Two tier rental system , is not within the councils doing. Again the owners of three spires would have to implement this and unlikely to do so

    Whilst i commend your environmental approach , the reality is some way away from your designs and very unlikely to be implemented

  5. Paul Ecclestone-Brown

    11th April, 2019 at 7:26 am

    MrSuperSprout. Thanks for your comments. I’m not forgetting the challenge s that you mention. I’m just pointing out that there are more socially beneficial solutions out there rather than going down the path of least resistance to sell for residential development….

    The approach I’ve suggested, whilst not reaching the hurdle rates required for large organisations, may well fit in with the investment profile of more alternative models.

    Maybe the owners of three spires need to revisit their charging model… The Phones4u unit has been void for 20 months, the pound stretcher for 10 and m&s for 3. They aren’t making money, indeed they are costing money, on standard terms….

    Two tier rent would be for the mixed use only and hopefully would disrupt what clearly is a system that is breaking. In times like these, it is necessary to think differently.

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