A councillor has warned of “another Friarsgate” in a debate over plans for the future of Lichfield city centre.
Members of Lichfield District Council’s economic growth, environment and development overview and scrutiny committee debated the proposed city centre masterplan yesterday (9th June).
The proposals were drawn up in the wake of the failed Friarsgate scheme which bit the dust after more than ten years of planning.
A report to the meeting from Cllr Iain Eadie called for the proposals to be backed, adding:
“Members are asked to consider what role Lichfield District Council should have in the place shaping of the city, given the approved borrowing provision of £45 million within the mid-termf financial strategy, and whether they would wish to see the council use this in conjunction with the capital strategy to implement the delivery of some or all of the masterplan proposals.”Cllr Iain Eadie’s report
But Cllr Alastair Little, Conservative member for Hammerwich and Wall, told Cllr Eadie that the council risked repeating the failures of previous regimes.
“How much of the £45million would you envisage going towards the masterplan, given this was originally a strategy which then failed because – as it was put on Lichfield Live – there was a changing of the goalposts?
“You are trying to ask this committee to give £45million towards just the Lichfield city masterplan. We are a district council – how does this go into the rural, into Burntwood, into other areas around Lichfield?
“I can’t see how you’ve costed this effectively. I do worry that we’ve got half a strategy yet again and that it is going to be another Friarsgate and another complete disaster.
“I don’t think we’re ready for this. I can’t see why we’re discussing it.”Cllr Alastair Little, Lichfield District Council
Cllr Eadie resigned from the Cabinet under the previous council leadership in the wake of the Friarsgate collapse, insisting the council’s decision not to fund the project was “a missed opportunity”.
But he told Cllr Little that he was not seeking a financial commitment at this stage.
“I’m asking members whether or not they feel the council should stand behind delivering the masterplan.
“I’m referencing the fact we have made provision to borrow up to £45million to invest in commercial property assets to provide this council with a return.
“I’m not asking for £45million to invest exclusively in Lichfield or in the masterplan, or asking members to approve that without sight of detailed financial business cases – I’m asking for an indication on whether they feel the council should have a role in bringing forward the masterplan, appreciating that may involve borrowing to do so.
“I’m only asking for an indication of principle.”Cllr Iain Eadie, Lichfield District Council
“We have a history of going in the wrong direction with big projects”
Cllr Little said the risk still remained – and said that the council’s own record showed why financial details were required.
“We do need more clarity on how much of this £45million is for this strategy.
“It just seems to me we’re discussing a concept and answers are not costed.
“We have a history of going in the wrong direction with big projects that cost us a lot of money.”Cllr Alasdair Little, Lichfield District Council
The caution was echoed by Labour representative Cllr Brad Westwood.
“It sounds like if we endorse this we could be falling into a trap of giving a blank cheque to borrow how ever much you wanted.
“We need to know the financials. We don’t want another Birmingham Road site failure.
“I don’t see how we as a committee can say yes or no without the facts.”Cllr Brad Westwood, Lichfield District Council
But Cllr Eadie insisted the decision of the committee should have been made on the masterplan and not the financial aspects.
“I’m not asking you to agree to a blank cheque for borrowing.
“The point has been made several times that before any ask for council borrowing is considered we would be bringing fully-costed business cases forward for members to scrutinise.
“There is no ask for a blank cheque or delegated authority being requested.”Cllr Iain Eadie, Lichfield District Council
The masterplan debate – and the committee’s view – will now move forward to a meeting of the Cabinet in July.
Note: The original version of this story said that the meeting had voted against the masterplan. Lichfield District Council has now confirmed that the vote was not counted correctly during the session – a review of the vote has revealed it was supported by 6 votes to 5.