The draft City Centre Development Strategy
Response by Lichfield Civic Society

The principle of preparing and progressing a City Centre Development Strategy is welcomed and supported by Lichfield Civic Society. We commend those who have facilitated and secured this draft. Much of the content of the Consultation Draft is worthy of support, as is the notion of a "cohesive vision" for the future. However, there are a number of concerns which the Civic Society wish to raise and which should be considered further prior to finalisation of the Strategy.

Principal Concerns of the Civic Society

  1. Although reference is made to the "unique cultural heritage" and the special quality of the heritage asset of the City Centre, the Draft Strategy does not appear to address nor resolve the inherent tension between the aspiration to attract increased visitor numbers based on this characteristic and support for new development and more buildings. Over recent years the Civic Society considers there has been an imbalance in favour of development to the detriment of the quality of the heritage asset of the City Centre and therefore, on the potential to attract visitors. A number of recent developments can be quoted but three examples will suffice: The Friary Outer Residential and multi-storey Car Park, the Premier Inn and Tesco store; whose design, appearance and impact are each considered to be detrimental to the character of the City Centre. In order to achieve the aims of the Strategy and attract increased numbers of visitors to the City it will be necessary to enhance and strengthen the heritage attraction and overall environmental quality of the City Centre in a positive manner. This could be achieved through upgrading existing conditions (the public realm, street furniture and buildings, etc.), more high quality and sensitive developments as well as the other measures referred to in the Draft document.

  2. A further issue of fundamental concern to the Civic Society is the availability of resources, both financial and staff, to realistically undertake such a wide range of actions. It seems likely that these actions will need to be prioritised and programmed much more rigorously than at presently proposed in the document if there is any doubt concerning the resources to deliver the proposed actions. It will be necessary to address this issue prior to finalisation of the Strategy so as not to undermine it by failure to deliver the programme.

Other comments of the Civic Society on the visitor economy

2.1 This section gives an accurate summary of the situation

2.2 There is a detailed query as to whether some of the statistics presented relate to the whole of Lichfield District. Because of the scale of visitor numbers to locations other than within the City, but within the District, care is necessary in extrapolation of visitor numbers, visitor spending and jobs created to ensure accuracy is achieved.

Table 5 gives an indication of Lichfield's "under-performance" in attracting visitors.

4.1 It is agreed that both Lichfield Trent Valley and City stations are generally of poor quality in various respects, and not "welcoming" gateways to the City.

4.x In relation to Friarsgate, the Civic Society continues to have concerns over elements of the proposal, including the design and appearance, the adverse impact upon the setting of St John's Hospital, the capacity and workability of the proposed bus station, and viability of the scheme, particularly with the rise of e-shopping.

4.8. It is considered that overall the SWOT analysis provides a realistic assessment of the situation, with two provisos. Firstly, it does not record as a weakness the various environmental issues existing in the City Centre, such as the poor state of much of the "public realm", including paved surfaces and street furniture, the recent erosion of environmental quality through inappropriate new development and a poor pedestrianisation scheme. Firstly, in the pedestrian zone the lack of enforcement for through traffic which is not entitled lawfully to pass through needs to be addressed with the Police Commissioner. Secondly, there is a lack of any car parking strategy (including positive proposals for the large numbers of disabled badge holders and how the heavily used capacity of Bird Street car park would be replaced if the site is redeveloped) and plans for coach parking are in urgent need of progressing and implementing. Steps should be taken to ensure the civil enforcement activities are consistent with the strategic objectives and that overzealous/fund raising ticketing does not discourage visitors from returning.

5.1-5.3 The Overall aims, Vision, Brand and marketing points are supported by the Society. However, it is also considered that the Strategy should include stronger and more explicit support for speciality/niche and independent retailing ("distinctive shopping"), both to safeguard existing and attract additional outlets, since this would complement the character and ambitions of a heritage cathedral city compared with simply adding more multi-national outlets (which are present in virtually every town in the UK).

5.4 The same query is raised regarding the statistics as in relation to 2.2

SO 1. This is totally supported by the Civic Society, and particularly the point made regarding the need for "sensitive development control". However, there is a need for clarification of the proposals being made for Bird Street car park as a prime site in the City Centre. Currently the proposals are ambiguous.

If the site is to become a well-designed "people-place and event venue" with limited scale speciality/niche retailing, this is welcomed by the Civic Society. If it were to be treated principally as another development site, this is not supported. The unique and special location at the heart of the City adjacent to Minster Pool and the Cathedral must be treated as "the jewel in the Crown" alongside the Cathedral Close, Beacon Park and the Remembrance Gardens.
The proposals made in the remainder of SO1 are strongly supported.

SO 2. The principles contained within this policy are supported, but more detail of certain elements will require consideration when available, and prior to implementation, e.g. St Mary's. The suggestions put forward in 2.4 to seek "distinctive retailing and catering" are supported. Within 2.5 the suggestion made for a hotel to be sited on Bird Street car park is not supported.

SO 3, SO 4 and SO 5 These proposals are generally supported.

Summary of Actions

The Table containing the list of Actions, Potential phasing and Responsible agencies is very useful. However, how feasible and likely is it that implementation will accord to the proposed phasing at a time of severe financial stringency, affecting public bodies in particular? It is to be hoped that the implementation and phasing can be achieved.
Is there any definition as to the periods of "short", "medium" and "long"?

One particular point of concern to the Civic Society - should the "new people-place for Bird Street car park" be classified as a high priority short term scheme when at present it is clearly in need of a great deal of preparation/consideration/consultation before being progressed. A scheme for such a critical site requires a high degree of sensitivity in formulation and development, and clearly should not be hurried through.

Concluding Views of the Civic Society

In the considered opinion of the Society the highest priority and most immediate phasing should be given to the following:

a. improvements to all aspects of the public realm in the City Centre,
b. improvements to the gateways (rail stations, bus station and car parks, and pedestrian links from these) into the core of the City Centre. This should include securing commitments from the County Council to improve signage in the City centre and on gateway entrances and to replace dead trees that they are responsible for in these places,
c. emphasis on bringing all existing empty shops and other vacant premises into appropriate use,
d. emphasis on repairing/refurbishing/restoring derelict, deteriorating and abandoned buildings, such as the former What and KwikSave buildings, the Angel Croft and the Prince of Wales public house,
e. developing a long term car parking strategy,
f. progress improving web site information on tourism related matters, provide additional information on designated walking and cycle routes and ensure regular updating of tourism information points in the City,
g. As mentioned in paragraph 2 above we consider that the resources for delivery of the strategy is a key issue. The final section on 'Summary of actions' suggests potential phasing and lead agencies. For many actions LDC is identified as the lead agency. With the financial pressures and reductions in employees can the Council support the additional work involved not only in delivering matters it is directly responsible for but acting as a co-ordinator and initiator of action in relation to the private sector or other agencies? We have observed an understandable reduction in capacity to deliver existing responsibilities. Merely endorsing a strategy without securing commitments on the capacity for implementation will not secure the desired outcomes.

John Thompson,
Lichfield Civic Society.
25th January 2016