Councillors have been urged to “acknowledge the uncertainties” of the current retail landscape when planning the future of Lichfield city centre.

Closing down signs. Picture: Jake Rome

Lichfield District Council has drawn up a masterplan it hopes will shape the future of the area in the wake of the failed Friarsgate redevelopment.

It proposes the city be split into four quarters:

  • Cathedral Quarter
  • Market Quarter
  • Business and Learning Quarter
  • Southern Gateway Quarter

But Lichfield Civic Society’s president Roger Hockney has questioned the decision to proceed with the masterplan at a time when the traditional shopping sector is facing a challenging period with the loss of several big name retailers, including Debenhams.

“The future of the retail sector is uncertain.

“Debenhams will close, leaving a substantial, possibly unfillable, vacancy at the top of the Three Spires precinct which, with previous retail closures in the city centre, further challenges the council’s hopes for retail development on part of the Birmingham Road site.

“The district council seems to assume that activity in the city centre will return to normal once the COVID pandemic has been defeated except, possibly, that some retail premises may be replaced by more hospitality outlets.

“Although our city centre has weathered the challenges of internet shopping and the pandemic better than those of many towns and cities, does the council not realise that the scale of change may be such that we will move to a ‘new normal’?

“In the face of limited demand for retail premises, vacant units may well be converted to residential use and there may be a contraction of commercial uses at the fringes of the city centre.

“Impending planning legislation may encourage such conversions, possibly without the need to apply for planning permission.

“There will be change, but the council appears not to acknowledge the current uncertainties.”

Roger Hockney, Lichfield Civic Society

“A period of commercial instability”

A £330,000 budget has been set aside to bring in consultants to work on the initial delivery plan for the project, covering areas such as commercial property, parking and pedestrianisation.

An artist’s impression of the city centre masterplan

Mr Hockney said that such a financial commitment should only be necessary when the time is right.

“It is premature to spend money engaging consultants in such a period of commercial instability unless they have a crystal ball.

“We acknowledge the need for commercial advice at the appropriate time, for the council has no in-house expertise to undertake the task, but we question if this is the right time during such a period of flux. Advice given now may well be out of date within a year.

“If they are anxious to press on, the answer to the question of which uses the Birmingham Road site could be an attractive market for is straightforward – residential, which appears to be the only market which is currently buoyant.

“Consultants are not required to provide that answer.

“The sale of sites for residential development would generate finance to tackle the problems associated with the multi-storey car park.

“The choice is clear – spend at this time of uncertainty, or wait, acknowledge that retail development is no longer an option, and then consider other uses that are more likely to attract private sector investment.”

Roger Hockney, Lichfield Civic Society

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19 Comments

  1. We know that the Lichfield shopping area will be squeezed further between Tamworth and when the new designer village opens in Cannock, decisions need to be made as to what the future vision of Lichfield will be and what type of businesses will thrive in such an area? This should be done with discussions with the local businesses and residents. Once there is a clear vision for the future, then consultants can be instructed. If this isn’t done this Tory led council will have another costly mistake on their hands similar to friarsgate. Why haven’t the lessons been learned?

  2. The conversation about this is really important. It is imperative the future of Lichfield Shopping Centre is got right. This is why it needs someone with ‘vision’ and the ability to communicate with local businesses and the public in order to understand exactly what will prove to be a viable way forward. To my mind Lichfield needs to provide resources and facilities not available in or provided by the towns mentioned by the previous commentator. Lichfield is unique, different and certainly has character. It has a lot going for it and these qualities should be emphasised and promoted in the best possible way taking into account the considerations already mentioned. Remember what happened in the 60’s, every town centre bland, the same as we can now see suffering the results of that bad planning. Lichfield’s uniqueness, difference and character are what contribute to it’s beauty and it’s soul. Don’t let’s lose them for the sake of so called progress and change.

  3. When will it change from becoming a retirement destination city with retirement developments dominating the inner city now, to a city that has vibrancy with live music venues, outside cafes, more for teenagers, an arts centre with multi-use space including a cinema.

  4. I can’t see why Lichfield cannot include what you are describing Dave Johnson as well as incorporating it’s own character and uniqueness. I agree entirely about the retirement developments we know full well what happened to our seaside resorts when they went that same route. The slippery slope. In years to come people will be grateful that Lichfield did retain it’s character. There’s nothing wrong with being different, character can be vibrant too. Planning just just needs a little imagination to incorporate both.

  5. Being a local who has lived in Lichfield all his life ,,52yrs, I can say that Lichfield has always been good for all ages and classes, apart for the past 10/15yrs.
    The shopping centre has been revamped many times but have failed due to stupidly high rents , .
    Alot of our pubs have gone, which created new friendships in the community,, now all what is wanted are coffee shops and high end restaurants, Lichfield is changing , and not in a good way

  6. The Council do not need to employ expensive Consultants they have a City Centre and District full of free Consultants. Do something outside the box ask the Citizens of Lichfield what they want

  7. It would be interesting to see a more specific breakdown of the quarter planning proposal. I cannot think how this is practical with the current demographics.
    It is also very dispiriting to hear the mantra of more housing as the only solution to the city centre. Surely a centre without attractions and shopping potential is not a city at all. What would visitors come to see, rest homes and tight packed housing estates? Has no one noticed the city has developed a commercial belt since the 1970s. What quarter will that be in?
    Lichfield has seriously lost its way in the last four decades. When I moved here it had a city swimming pool. It had cinemas. It had historical and iconic hotels and pubs. It also had a thriving shopping centre with quality shops. Furniture, men and women’s clothing and many interesting retailers. I feel a sense of loss and am embarrassed that such change has happened in such a short time.

  8. #Richard Green. For years residents have been telling the council what they want and sadly the ‘blue men and women’ never listen because they believe they know what’s best.

  9. I find the artists impression interesting. It seems to imply housing, housing, bus station, housing.

    It is so frustrating when messers Wilcox and Eadie have caused so much destruction to Lichfield for years and continue to do so.

  10. How about another street of charity shops, a supersize Poundland, a big Primark, burger king, couple of kebab takeaways, and a few more vape and tattoo parlors? And why not spend at least 10 years planning it whilst blowing millions more on meetings with biscuits, fancy stationery, and scratching your balls.

  11. I agree with Mr Hockney. For months I’ve thought that ploughing ahead with this right now is so very short sighted.
    High streets as we know them are dead, the unique heritage qualities of Lichfield should be factored into plans.
    In my view, people who can do so will be working from home even after lockdown, maybe 2-3 days a week. Hubs for those people with artisan food and coffee shops, WiFi, boutique and niche shops and those selling local produce will go a long way to sustaining town.
    These would also attract visitors to the City as USPs.
    I hope but very much doubt, Cllrs will take this into account.

  12. I agree with Kitty. Most recent thinking suggests that towns should focus on experiences to attract people in. This could include all kinds of leisure and entertainment opportunities, cooking and art and craft demonstrations for example. Gallery and studio space would be good. And what about a central leisure centre with a pool and maybe a bowling alley? That would bring families into the centre of Lichfield , rather than having a facility on the outskirts of town. Good transport links and adequate parking are also necessary. I think the council are behind the loop, and in danger of spending thousands to change the character of Lichfield to no good end. Retail chains and department stores will be available at Ventura Park and the new outlet village at Cannock, and anyway no longer flourish in towns. Lichfield needs to think beyond that , maximise its many assets, and create opportunities which enhance and grow Lichfield’s uniqueness.

  13. Plenty of great ideas here. Lichfield, Arts & Craft City, too clever for the dullards, not enough profit for the corrupt.

  14. Lichfield, the city of retirement homes with inadequate medical facilities! It’s been ruined beyond repair. Elderly housing, more elderly housing and yet more elderly housing that’s all the planning dept and unimaginative councillors give us! We want a swimming pool, leisure facilities and a decent cit6 centre please

  15. I agree with you Clare. And with other opinions expressed here. Not only that but if you research at least one of the very rich retirement home developers in Lichfield (and Bournemouth) you will find some very unpleasant reviews about their property resales. My advice to potential buyers is ‘do not buy’ one of these so called ‘prestige’ retirement homes. Do the research yourself!!! Furthermore yes a swimming pool. Leisure facilities and a decent city centre as you say Clare. One that retains Lichfield a uniqueness. I would add that we also need our little green spaces for outdoor healthy exercise. Not much to ask. With all the housing developments currently in the planning along with those already completed Lichfield is fast becoming like unto a prison. If all of the housing plan developments go ahead how many of the residents of Lichfield will be able to be crammed into Beacon Park if it is the only green space left in the city. Even prisoners have a yard to walk around. But no such consideration is being given to residents inside the fast becoming concrete jungles. Who needs prisons when the population is imprisoned in concrete. Is there any way out of here said the Joker to the clown. SOS alert. Help!!!

  16. One such headline about one of the homes built by the property developers who are developing Lichfield for our ‘benefit’ here in this city….. “My flat was £161,950 in 2007 – now I’m offered just £28,000”. From the Guardian newspaper in 2019.

  17. “Joker to the thief”, actual lyrics.
    “No reason to get excited
    The thief, he kindly spoke
    There are many here among us
    Who feel that life is but a joke
    But you and I, we’ve been through that
    And this is not our fate
    So let us not talk falsely now
    The hour is getting late”… Well said Jimmy.

  18. But yes indeed Clare. More sporting and leisure facilities. More healthy exercise and foodstuffs = healthy individuals and less pressure on the NHS. A winner all round.

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