The future plans for Lichfield city centre will aim to attract more local independent retailers, a council leader has said.
Lichfield District Council has launched the latest phase of the masterplan project focusing on the public realm elements of the project.
The city centre’s future was thrown into doubt in recent years following the collapse of the long-awaited Friarsgate redevelopment.
The disappearance of several major high street names has also left town planners across the country scratching their heads over the future of the physical retail landscape.
Cllr Doug Pullen, leader of Lichfield District Council, said he recognised the challenges facing the masterplan project – but insisted there was a role for traditional shopping led by locally-owned businesses in the city.
“Lichfield, with its rich cultural history and a strongly emerging sector of independent retailers, must now capitalise on the opportunities presented by a post-Covid world – namely a shift by businesses away from large cities to regional centres, an increase in the variety of uses on the high street, and a shift away from of debt-laden national chains in favour of local businesses.
“The Lichfield city centre masterplan, commissioned in 2019, looks at not only the former Friarsgate site, but the entire footprint of the city and seeks to provide a guide to how it is developed over the coming decade, taking into account how people arrive, move around, shop, eat, work and enjoy their time throughout the city.
“While Friarsgate was focused on attracting national retailers and chain brands, the emerging plans recognise that across the city, we must do all we can to support and encourage our thriving independent scene in Lichfield.
“Independent stores are more likely to pay higher wages, re-invest in the local economy, and are more resilient through economic cycles – and we must do all we can to attract new independents and support existing ones.”Cllr Doug Pullen, Lichfield District Council
The shape of the city centre going forward is likely to be a mixed use one, with residential and business needs being met.
Cllr Pullen said many of these factors would be considered – but there is one element he is particularly keen to see come to fruition.
“Lichfield hasn’t had a cinema since 1974. I want to see us return a boutique cinema which will complement our existing economy and maintain our small cathedral city charm.
“We hope that our plans to pedestrianise the city centre, if proved viable, will encourage more independent eateries to pop up, as well as increasing active travel, creating a more vibrant street scene and will enhance the Lichfield experience for residents and tourists alike as new uses emerge over the coming years.
“We recognise the need for our blue badge holders to have plentiful, well-located parking and this will be built into the plan, as well as a formally identified area for taxis.”Cllr Doug Pullen, Lichfield District Council
“New housing need not be controversial”
Despite the rise in the number of new homes being built on large scale developments around Lichfield, Cllr Pullen said it was likely that housing would feature in the city centre’s future shape.
But he said this should not be seen as a negative aspect.
“High quality, high density housing will provide much needed city-centre accommodation while enhancing the street scene and creating beautiful places for local people to live.
“New housing need not be controversial if done properly and beautifully with people in mind.
“We are looking to create city centre living opportunities which impress prospective home-buyers, citizens and tourists, not just those which win faddish architectural awards.
“To make our residential offer as attractive as possible, we may wish to move the bus station away from it’s current location, and consider a series of pull-ins throughout Lichfield instead – dispersing the gathering points and reducing it’s visual and environmental impact.”Cllr Doug Pullen, Lichfield District Council
Lichfield District Council is currently asking for views from residents on the public realm strategy, which forms part of the city centre masterplan.
The documents will be displayed at the former Marks and Spencer store in the Three Spires Shopping Centre until 2nd July.
An online questionnaire has also been launched.
Cllr Pullen added that people needed to air their views in order to help shape their city.
“With multiple councils responsible for land throughout the city, some of our areas are cluttered with poor signage, and access to Market Street from Bird Street car park is not as easy as any of us would like.
“Our public realm strategy will set out some plans for the future.
“While a revolution is not required, we do need a guide for gentle evolution over the coming years as natural wear and tear requires replacement paving and street furniture, and some thought needs to go into how we best help people move between the key cultural and economic areas of our great city.
“Our plans are best refined when we have constructive, plentiful feedback from as many sections of our society as possible.
“This will also help us in longer term plans for other areas in the district such as Burntwood, so please do get involved in as many consultations as possible, and give some thought as to what works, what doesn’t and what you think we may have missed.”Cllr Doug Pullen, Lichfield District Council