Councillors discussing a new Lichfield masterplan have been told that they cannot sit still and allow a repeat of the Friarsgate failure.
The comments came as Lichfield District Council’s cabinet backed a plan to spend £330,000 delivering the next phase of the project to revamp the city.
The rethink on the future of the city comes in the wake of the Friarsgate redevelopment which collapsed after ten years in the making when funding failed to materialise.
The new spending on the masterplan will allow strategies around areas such as public realm and car parking to be developed.
Questions were raised at the cabinet meeting around whether now was the right time to be planning any new major project given current uncertainties due to the coronavirus crisis.
But Cllr Liz Little, cabinet member for major projects and economic development, said the city could not afford to fall into the traps that saw Friarsgate fail.
“We are planning for it to be a phased development – but we will know exactly what is going on that site, whether we are having a cinema, a hotel, what the commercial and housing mix might be.
“We will be able to split that down into phases and start the process of getting some planning permission in place.
It’s fundamental that we go through these strategies in the next six months and we need the support from commercial and legal experts to aid us in that process as we haven’t got that expertise within the council to ensure proper governance.
“We wouldn’t want a repeat of Friarsgate.”Cllr Liz Little
“Scars of Friarsgate glowing red”
Cllr Robert Strachan, cabinet member for finance, was among those who sought assurances over the plan to spend £330,000 at a time of economic uncertainty.
“One issue that dogged Friarsgate and ultimately led to its demise was timing.
“Each time we got to a milestone we had a hiccup and eventually fell over simply because the market couldn’t come forward with funding at a point at which we needed it.
“With those scars glowing red, is this genuinely the time to start carrying out feasibility studies when no-one knows what is going to be feasible? Is it going to be possible within the consultancy exercise to look at what may feasible in future?
“What I don’t want to do is cough up £330,000 for a report that tells us nothing on that site is deliverable in the current framework and ultimately takes us no further forward.”Cllr Rob Strachan
But Cllr Little insisted that doing nothing could create a repeat of the past.
“We know certain sectors are struggling to recover. The cinema industry is one of those areas.
“Friarsgate was a cycle where every time we got something ready another recession hit and ultimately it failed.
“If we wait another two to three years the possibility is we will be in that period of another recession and nothing happens again.
“It is up to us as a council to decide what path we go down. If we wait too long and we’ll be in the ten year cycle of Friarsgate again.”Cllr Liz Little