Development Control Manager
Lichfield District Council
District Council House
Frog Lane
WS13 6YZ

Planning Application No: 12/00634/FULM - Land at Birmingham Road

Response from Lichfield Civic Society

It is very odd indeed that substantial changes to the basic definition of the proposal should be described as 'minor'. The revised plan loses an hotel and changes the site of its cinema, as well as the greater part of the facade of the development fronting Birmingham Road. The general aspect of a spacious public area is also changed. All of these changes would ordinarily be described as 'major' in any formal document. The Society believes that the changes are 'substantial' and should be treated as such.

Overall the design and impact of the development is as woeful as in previous designs. The 'Planning Statement' claims that the plan is "sustaining and enhancing the historic environment" and is making "a positive contribution to local character and distinctiveness" whilst adopting "a contemporary design philosophy" but makes no attempt to justify or explain these claims. There certainly are no overt or even general clues concealed within the designs that might have any relationship with the grain of Lichfield's townscape - if interpreted in any style or period.

In particular, the external elevations on Birmingham Road more closely resemble the style of commercial and educational building of the 1970s, being a medley of claddings that are largely unfenestrated and unrelated to the internal function and that bare no witness to all the changes in architectural thinking that were brought about by the flaws now so evident in the redundant concepts from the '70s. These designs to a great extent ignored the importance of local context by imposing commonplace, often crude, design features in the application. They exhibit none of the imaginative threads that are so typical of the better contemporary designs and are deeply disappointing. The Society has always been a keen advocate of the use of modern, but sympathetic, architecture for the City; but this proposal certainly isn't that.

The proposal introduces a road management system that beggars belief, with intersecting traffic of all types in conflict at a number of complex stress points. This is specially evident at the entrance and exit to the car park; at the entrance to the bus station; and at the restricted access into St Johns Street. Cars, buses, large delivery vehicles, vans and particularly cycles will be thrown together in an unacceptable medley of conflicting interests. There will be intense use at cross traffic pinch-points within a very short distance on a road that is already overloaded. It is impossible to think that this system will ever work with the anticipated escalating road use and it could be dangerous for cyclists.

The frontage on to Birmingham Road has already been mentioned and the Society finds that this is the principal focus of its objection to the plan; owing to its design policy, scale and detailing.

The general design policy has resulted in some unfortunate outcomes as it imposes an erstwhile unrelieved frontage on to a very important entry point into the City. Structurally it presents the back end of the shops that face into the inner square and therefore there would seem to be little that can be done to disguise this fact, other than to give it superficial surface treatment. However, the Society feels that this problem could have been overcome had the internal organisation of the complex been so arranged to give greater scope to providing opportunities for legitimate architectural features that embody structure and function; rather than the dated and tedious features that are used to provide interest to an otherwise unrelieved frontage. If this was impossible then greater efforts could be made to review this aspect, possibly by wider external consultation with a resulting higher imaginative solution than is now present in the elevation. This is not to suggest a 'Birmingham Bull Ring' approach but there must be someone who is able to do better than this tired and hackneyed treatment.

Overall this development in no way represents the claims of the Context, Design and Access Statement that says "should respect its context ... medieval city ... and be seen as a well considered addition to the City which resolves the relationship of its historic heart and its infrastructure" and "the planning proposals need to integrate seemlessly into this structure". These statements are almost laughable when the actuality of the proposals are reviewed, being point to point at odds with the feeling of any other aspect of the City, and are deeply unsympathetic to it.

This proposal has been on the stocks for quite some years and now seems to be beyond satisfactory amendment by the developers. As time goes by the relevance of large shopping centres seems to be getting weaker and weaker as the impact of new trading methods becomes stronger and stronger. One large store plus 45 smaller units could simply be unviable, even if the economy improves, and goes against the drift of the times. Lichfield will be inheriting a white elephant. There is hardly a shortage of eating places in the City either!

Alan Thompson
Lichfield Civic Society,
Planning Advisory Group,
27th July 2012