Councillors discussing a new Lichfield masterplan have been told that they cannot sit still and allow a repeat of the Friarsgate failure.

An artist’s impression of the city centre masterplan

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 Rob Strachan

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

Ross

Founder of Lichfield Live and editor of the site.

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8 Comments

  1. Thy are not risking a repeat of Friarsgate at all…they are still putting us through the same nightmare we have been living through for years.
    Call it what you like – Bastard Son of Friarsgate would seem most appropriate – but this is simply a continuation of the long-drawn out and deeply unfunny farce that Friarsgate has been pretty much all along.
    So LDC is merely throwing more money after bad with this latest debacle.

  2. It always puzzles me why these councilors do not put their own money where their mouths are and run multi million pound empires rather than spend council tax money on failed enterprises

  3. The council tried to make Friarsgate work, using a commercial partner. The commercial partner realised, there was no way to make money unless the council funded it all.

    If there was a way to make money from a retail development. It would have been snapped up. The pandemic has made this situation far worse.

    LDC has allowed Lichfield to become an unattractive place to visit. They have allowed housing to be built over once green spaces. I know many people who used to love to visit Lichfield. They do not visit anymore. They all comment that Lichfield has been destroyed.

    Lichfield has limited parking. Congested roads. Poor public transport links. Other local destinations, have far more to attract visitors.

  4. I think the key phrase in Liz Little’s quote is ‘we haven’t got that expertise within the council to ensure proper governance’. Says it all really.

  5. I have said it before
    Birmingham road site, except for some housing, we do not know what to put on the site, leisure and commercial is a dead duck in the current climate and for the foreseeable future, so spend £330,000 for what!!!!
    We need and have been promised a new Leisure Centre, for which we appear to have £5 million pounds towards it, from the cabinet meeting it became clear that £5million is not going to be enough to build a centre with all facilities and the council will have to find a backer!!!!
    It also seems that Sport England may object to the scheme because we lose one full football pitch, but we can fudge that by promising to find another site for a full pitch and put a 3g pitch on the site to replace the full pitch that we have just built on
    BRS put your Leisure Centre on the brownfield site along with a tourist centre community meeting rooms and smaller rooms for groups that are always trying to find somewhere to meet, public toilets, snack bar while waiting for your bus or coach if you are visiting our City, some car parking, the one reason for the council turning down this site was that paid parking would deter visitors to the Centre, easy answer refund the parking charge when you pay for using the Centre
    I could go on but if your mind is made up, their is no changing it
    Its very easy to find reasons for not doing something when you do not want to do it

  6. Instead of focusing of new projects I feel we should focus more on what we have. The town is becoming a ghost town. All the shops are closing down. Shops that have been closed for over a year aren’t being relet. M&S hasn’t been filled. We are lossing a sports shop and trespass. I realise since covid things have changed but to keep the town centre going we need to fill the existing shops up with shops people need and want. I will now have to pay 50 quid in taxis to to to Tamworth so I can clothing and essential homewear. I am disabled and for me Lichfield city centre is essential. I’ve asked in the shops if they were just moving to new premises in the centre but nope clossing for good as their lease had come to an end. Why aren’t the business stopping in Lichfield ? More housing is being built but no emenities are being put in place.

  7. Litchfield is full of Estate Agents and Hairdressers and not much for the everyday shopper where are shops like Primark, Matalan. Encourage the normal shops by cheaper rents i find Lichfield quite pretty but boring and end up going to Tamworth or Burton to shop

  8. Why would Lichfield want Primark and Matalan cheap shops selling poor low grade stuff,what we need are more nich shops selling stuff that is different

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