Plans for a new Civic Hall

A new 'Civic Hall' had been built on land at Castle Dyke in 19xx but after 30 years this building was becoming expensive to run and needed extensive restoration. As so often in Lichfield, the District Council's proposals were seen by many as unsuitable for this location.

The following extracts from the Society's newsletters tell the story.

[April 2000]

The Arts Centre - Is it or Isn't it?

Members will recollect that the rebuilding of the Bird Street Arts Centre was abandoned following the change in political colours of the District Council at the last Local Elections. We were told by the incoming party that new plans for the arts were to be brought forward. I presume that most of us naturally assumed that new proposals for an Arts Centre would eventually be presented.

The District Council invited representatives of the Society to a meeting on 29th March to discuss proposals for the remodelling of the Civic Hall. I am aware that many members would enthusiastically welcome and wish to see an all embracing arts centre established in Lichfield. I am afraid however that the current scheme, as presented, does not provide that facility. The Council, for its part, is not suggesting that it will be providing an 'Arts Centre' - the proposal is for the re-modelling of the Civic Hall. I am sure that all members will welcome the fact that after almost 30 years of upgrading and modernising, improvements are at last being considered.

This is however, rightly or wrongly, a significant change in emphasis by the Council and raises many questions about its approach and attitude to the Arts. What is the policy on accommodating the non-performing arts? Has the Council abandoned the establishment of a "multi-arts" centre? What is the future of the Bird Street Arts Centre site? These are important issues. I have therefore written to the Head of Leisure services seeking answers to these points and will report further on these matters in future newsletters.

Alan Thompson gave a short presentation to the committee on 3rd April to explain the proposals and comment on various aspects of the scheme. The committee took the only realistic view that it could take - to support, in principle, the proposal to remodel the Civic Hall.

There are areas of the proposals that do give cause for concern; some aspects are difficult to comprehend, others appear not to have been thoroughly thought through. The Society's support therefore is qualified and it is to be hoped that our suggestions and observations will, at least, be considered by the District Council. Below is a summary of the comments made by Alan Thompson behalf of the Society in our formal response to the Council. I would however welcome members' views on the future of arts provision in Lichfield and in the light of the above proposal where exactly do we go from here. Your comments will be invaluable in formulating Society policy.

David Duffy

Summary of our response to Council

In recognising the necessity for radical improvement we have made suggestions that we hope will enhance its use; our guidelines being that internal areas should be as flexible as possible giving opportunity of use to the broadest spectrum of interests and end-users.

We first suggested that all auditorium seating should be removable to accommodate dinners, conferences or trade fairs. We expressed the view that the upper foyer should be designed for multiple community use: i.e. meetings, recitals, readings, children's use or exhibition space and not just the theatre refreshment area indicated on the drawing.

We questioned the suitability of the workshop studio to serve as an occasional gallery / exhibition space - particularly in respect of lighting and timetabling of events.

Observations have been made on the design and the materials proposed in the external refurbishment of the building together with the view that the entrance hall frontage was unnecessarily complex and requires simplifying. We suggested that a model should be made to assist in the design process.

Finally, we expressed the belief that financial viability could only be achieved if the community at large felt that it was involved with the project and hence 'owned the complex'.

Alan Thompson

[July 2000]

Remodelling of the Civic Hall

Representatives of the Society attended a meeting at the District Council to review the results of the consultations that had been undertaken following the initial proposals - which were reported in an earlier newsletter.

The results have led us to strengthen our objections to the scheme and regret the abandonment of any form of art gallery on this site. We felt that the authorities attitude had been inflexible from the start and had not asked open questions regarding arts provision, rather it has narrowly focused its attention [and public money now standing at 5m.] to 'saving' the Civic Hall. More importantly we were concerned at the continuing lack of a valid marketing policy linked to a hypothetical programme of events that would guarantee financial viability.

Members will recollect that we levelled the same criticism at the Council regarding the proposed re-building of the existing Arts Centre. If we, a Civic Society, can appreciate the fundamental need and importance of a valid, adequate, marketing strategy and financial plan why cannot those who are paid from the public purse to carry out that very function not also understand its importance? In fact, on the strength of these proposals we question the need for the Council to be in arts management at all.

Finally, our view on the revised design proposals following the consultation assessment has altered little from our comments on the original design - it is beginning to look even more strange with its addition of six very large ventilators on the roof.

These proposals, we now understand, are to be progressed to the planning application stage when Society members and individuals will have the opportunity of inspecting the proposals and submitting their own personal views. The Society will be considering in detail the planning application and forming a collective view and response to the Council - which will of course be reported in a future newsletter.

Alan Thompson

[September 2000]

Remodelling of the Civic Hall

An application for planning approval has now been lodged with the District Council and the Society has written to the Council with our views of the proposals. In particular we have strongly criticised, or to be more accurate condemned without reservation, the introduction of four huge exhaust flues sitting above the roof line that will, without doubt, dominate the sky line.

I would urge as many members as possible to visit the Council Offices, ask for planning application file No. 00/00756/FUL and consider the proposals. You may disagree with the Society's view but whatever your view please write to the Council with your comments as soon as possible.

This building is in a prominent location and its proposed development is of considerable significance to the City. We, all of us, must ensure that the design is of the highest quality. Your comments to the Council will help to achieve that objective.

David Duffy

[January 2001]

A Civic Hall, an Arts Centre, a Millstone or What?

In the last few weeks we have seen the Civic Hall renovation plans receive their almost inevitable planning permission and we must now await further developments before things reach their conclusion.

As we see it the design still won't do, being outstandingly inept and requiring serious aesthetic revision and modification, even to preserving the Tree. Even more importantly for Council Tax payers is the desperate need for a marketing plan and arts policy - surely the authorities are putting the cart in front of the white elephant without these crucial components? Such a massive amount of public capital expenditure should follow need and sales expectation before their commitment to such a hazy scheme proceeds. And what will happen if the costs run out of control? Worst of all has been the frank disregard of the Council for the vigorous opposition of both the arts interests and the general public to the scheme - the much advertised consultation process being an excuse in public relations rather than a true attempt to arrive at a satisfactory mutual solution to an evident problem with the Civic Hall and the District Council's involvement with the Arts. As it is they seem to be walking into unknown commitments that are beyond their understanding or competence. A sad conclusion to an exercise that could have had a really intelligent solution, pleasing to all.

Alan Thompson