Development Control Manager
Planning Application No: 11/00084/FULM - Land at Birmingham Road
Response from Lichfield Civic Society
The comments of the Society are as follows:
The amended plan represents substantial changes from the plan previously presented for permission, both in its scale and type of use and in the consequent changes in the elevations.
Overall the scheme is still overblown in its presentations, though circumstances have dictated certain limited changes that in no way alter the overall aspect of over development and unsuitability of architectural style relative to the general character of the central City Conservation Area.
The Society believes that the development is crucially marred by a flawed use analysis - all its many problems stem from this and this affects elevations, allocation of land space and traffic and delivery problems.
There seems to be no robust explanation for the inclusion of major elements in the scheme. There is no discussion regarding who would use this facility or why. That 'tourists' and 'businessmen' are pressing for more accommodation is unsupported in any way and it must be presumed to be mere wishful thinking in the absence of any sort of business plan to support such a high provision. A current flood of applications of a similar nature within the City are equally unsupported and will conflict commercially with this sector of the proposal. In the absence of any data to the contrary then this element must be considered as 'kite flying' on behalf of the applicants and should have little credibility in the eyes of the Local Authority seeing their high visual impact in their elevations.
The same criteria must therefore be applied to the other elements within the scheme.
The retail sector is today under stress that is related to recent economic factors but this stress must also be considered to be as much structural as anything else. In particular no one today can ignore the impact of electronic retailing. This has accelerated prodigiously in recent years especially at Christmas when most outlets make the bulk of their profits - this is particularly true of the smaller, speciality, sector that must be presumed to be the target leaseholders of the 37 shops in the complex. The many empty premises at present in the City of a similar size would illustrate a prevailing, even terminal, weakness in the success of this type of retail property. Again there is no presentation of the rationale of this part of the scheme in business terms. The major retail aspect is welcome but only in its reduction to one store of more modest size; the choice of tenant is crucial in it having any potency as an anchor. Many promises have been made in this direction but they still remain vulnerable until contracted.
The car park of 749 places will be attractive to many and will receive much popular support both from convenience and commercially. This however, ignores the overall situation of the site and will grossly overload the unalterable traffic system which is now under very great stress along Birmingham Road and even a changed St John Street. It is not difficult to imagine the severe deadlock in the area even during normal shopping hours and even during the week. Christmas traffic is easy to imagine in its awfulness. There must be voluminous guidance nowadays that warns against city centre large scale parking and gives precedence to other alternatives such as 'park and ride' schemes from outer areas. It would seem that the presence of this very large car park is only a ploy to make the whole development viable regardless of its impact. This is another example of a lack of any coherent management plan linked to the absence of a functioning 'use and business' plan.
The 'Bus Interchange' exhibits an equal optimism in its size and siting. There seems to be a lack of realism in both choices - it pre-empts any future expansion of public transport use due to fuel scarcity and will decant an anticipated increased volume of passengers just at the wrong place for the development - they will have to cross Birmingham Road via pedestrian traffic lights and so present yet another interruption of traffic flow at a crucial point.
The proposals retain the same jarring and inappropriate elevations that were evidenced in the previous submission. They are profoundly alien to the general tenor of the Lichfield City Centre townscape in their bulk and character. The hotel section, though reduced, is still a great slab of a frontage made even worse by the fenestration of monotonously repeated elements with no variation of relief. It challenges rather than complements the low-lying character of the historic centre.
The Birmingham Road frontages display little improvement on the original plan, the southern section seems as muddled in its rationale as previously. The large areas of unrelieved cladding have not been tempered or much changed. The frontages of the flats on St John Street have evoked the most astonishing statement from the developers in that their height is to be determined at the time of construction and thus is not specified in the drawings. This statement would seem to precluded any hard specifications for any of the site and indeed would seem to be undermining the entire planning process if the developer or indeed his builders are to determine major factors as the height of a building in such an ad hoc way. The correspondent has never encountered such a statement in his experience. This figure must be arrived at before a decision can be made especially as it is so deeply involved with the iconic frontage of St John's Hospital.
Overall the project is highly at variance with the general fibre of the historic City that is its host, being simultaneously over-scaled and unsympathetic, brash but lacking in character in its detail and massing with finishes that are haphazard in their distribution especially on the Birmingham Road frontage. Above all an alien entity will have been introduced into the City's core that could presage worse to come. The Planning officers report illustrates just the sort of insensitivity that seems to be routine these days when it comes to evaluate a project - "The development will not have a detrimental impact on the character, setting or structural integrity of nearby listed structures and buildings ... the character and appearance of the Lichfield City Centre Conservation Area and the views in and out of the Conservation Area ... will be maintained".
On the contrary, the Society feels that these comments are almost laughable and an insult to the intelligence of all who love the City, for the plan will radically alter the City for the worse and will introduce highly undesirable features of scale and usage that will have incalculable outcomes that might prove to be impossible to redress. It will certainly not make "a positive contribution to the historic environment" as the planners aver but rather destroy the very core of the City's heritage.