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