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“There is likely to be more caution and a lot less competition for sites”
Plans for the future redevelopment of Lichfield city centre may need to be revisited in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, a report has warned.
Members of Lichfield District Council’s cabinet are set to debate the proposed city centre masterplan at a meeting next week.
But a report by David Lock Associates – who helped produce the masterplan – say the coronavirus crisis will mean developers may be more cautious than they would have been pre-pandemic.
“Assessing development viability will be extremely difficult and individual developers may have different takes on a site depending on how they have weathered the storm.
“There is likely to be more caution and a lot less competition for sites.
“Sites in non-prime locations will inevitably be even more difficult to get out of the ground than before.
“As the private sector withdraws, the public sector is set to play a greater role in development either in partnership with the private sector to reduce risk or via direct development.
“Either way a period of development inactivity is likely to ensue whilst we wait to see how well the coronavirus is kept under control and what the new normal will look like.”Lichfield City Centre Masterplan: Potential Impacts of Covid-19 report by David Lock Associates
The masterplan came about after the long-awaited Friarsgate scheme bit the dust after more than a decade of planning when both private and public finance failed to materialise.
Councillors have already clashed over the future of the new masterplan, over concerns around whether the council might approve £45million to get a new redevelopment scheme off the ground.
That led to the resignation of overview and scrutiny committee chairman Cllr Alastair Little who warned of the potential for “another Friarsgate and another complete disaster”.
But the report says the current situation may create “a golden opportunity” to rethink parts of the plan.
“The future is uncertain in relation to how the property market will respond to the crisis.
“It is evident that investment decisions will be delayed and more cautious attitude to risk will be adopted by both investors and developers.
“Notwithstanding this, the recovery period represents a golden opportunity to revisit the masterplan and deliver buildings which respond to the demands of the ‘new normal’.”Lichfield City Centre Masterplan: Potential Impacts of Covid-19 report by David Lock Associates
Among the potential changes include:
- A larger bus station to accommodate social distancing.
- Increased outdoor space for bars and restaurants.
- More private outdoor space for with new residential properties.
- A potential reduction in the number of new car parking spaces.
“Residential development may prove an attractive alternative”
The report also warns that some small-scale office space in areas such as the University West Car Park may need to be rethought.
“As with the Birmingham Road area, the level of demand for this type of use remains to be seen.
“Residential development with green space may prove an attractive alternative.”Lichfield City Centre Masterplan: Potential Impacts of Covid-19 report by David Lock Associates
The report added that while a period of uncertainty was likely for all new developments, areas such as the city centre were well positioned.
“Small towns and cities with green spaces and attractive centres are predicted to bounce back quicker from the effects of the pandemic than city centres in the larger conurbations.
“Investors and developers will still be looking for opportunities and on the face of it, Lichfield will be well placed to take advantage of this interest.
“There will be a requirement for the public sector to take more of a lead role in development and access to funding and borrowing will drive public sector activity.
“Monitoring footfall, gathering evidence on economic performance and any gaps in the market will be a crucial part of the District Council’s push to deliver the masterplan.
“This information will provide the bedrock for developing businesses cases to access any new funding initiatives announced as part of the Government COVID-19 Recovery Plan.
“Accessing funding will help to bring forward phases of the masterplan which may otherwise be pushed back.”Lichfield City Centre Masterplan: Potential Impacts of Covid-19 report by David Lock Associates
The report will be debated by the cabinet at Lichfield District Council on Tuesday (7th July).