Proposed Development on the Friary

Dear Sir,

Application No: 14/00736/FULM, 14/00737/LBC Land Adjacent to
and including part of Lichfield Library, The Friary, Lichfield.

The Society welcomes any proposal that conserves and re-uses the historic building known as the 'Bishops Lodgings' in an appropriate manner. We recognise that this might well enforce a number of limited but inevitable structural changes as a consequence but this might be a necessary component of any reuse. The proposal as it stands presents some rather inelegant modifications but the Society is aware that there are few options open. There could be better solutions if the number of units were reduced however.

The proposal for the new-build section of the scheme presents a different kind of challenge as it is necessary that it should represent both the best of new whilst responding to the historic ambience as well. The architects are patently highly aware of this in their documents, but almost to excess, and this seems to have hampered their vision rather than stimulated it. This is evident particularly with the west facade of the main block of four stories with a repetitive fenestration dominated by 35 identical windows and 16 larger ones This creates a frontage that is monolithic, with too high a roof line taking its measure from the main Library building and is thus seems over scaled. There is an attempt to diminish this by the use of surface treatment on tee upper floors and a semi-mansard/semi-dormer treatment at four points that is ineffective. A more fundamental attempt must be made to reduce this effect on the western facade by using a true mansard roof that lowers the roof-line and by the use of true dormers in this mansard.

The monotony of the fenestration could be relieved by discrete bays either running horizontally at alternate floors or similarly vertically from ground level. Either strategy would provide a strong element of 'shading' and create a much greater interest and a lighter effect to this important facade. At present it seems to reflect the style of recently buildings nearby of a highly corporate nature rather than the historic centre in refreshing modern terms. The roof cladding also seems to fall into this category, being of ribbed metal that hardly re-interprets the historic context in any way. A more sympathetic solution must be sought that is based on natural materials if an unfortunate analogy is to be avoided.

The frontage onto the Friary is undoubtedly successful particularly at its north western end with its ventilation tower as a feature. The modesty of its scaling is also attractive and sends a message to what would be relevant to the rest of the development.

The relationship of the development to the Monks Walk raises issues that need examination. The developers brief establishes a circulation system that intimately involves it with the complex and uses the Walled Garden as a thoroughfare that will enable the general public access to the Walk in daytime with the stated intention of being a vehicle for the support of the socialisation of residents. This could be contentious as some may welcome this feature but others could well find it somewhat disturbing to find strangers in what they might think is the residents' private space. Possibly the pathway serving the residents' car park could well be adapted to possess a welcome access to the Walk, which otherwise might be made semi-redundant. Otherwise there could be access via the west front of the main block that doesn't involve the project.

The development site has currently 69 car parking spaces. The proposal eliminates all car parking for employees of the Library and importantly for those volunteers that could be involved in future changes resulting in a 'community based' programme that involves the public in library based activities who might well be concerned by having to pay for parking.

The Society's representative was unable to find an archaeological report in the file. It is of great importance that practical investigations should be made perhaps via electronic means before any building commences. The site is of such great importance that 'desk based' investigations will be insufficient in reviewing the site to modern standards.

Over all this proposal is welcome as it does make serious attempts to revitalise otherwise redundant historic structures and makes significant efforts to match them with new buildings in a contemporary style fitting to modern needs. The Walled Garden is especially welcome and follows an ancient tradition of providing such features within this context for the retired. The Society does however have some reservations as to its scale and detailing.

The Society made comments on the proposals to which Pegasus Life have responded in detail. Copies of those documents have been supplied to the LPA and these comments supplement them.

Yours faithfully,
Alan Thompson,
Hon Secretary,
Planning Applications Advisory Group,
Lichfield Civic Society.
September 2014