The Lichfield City Centre Masterplan
Response by the Lichfield Civic Cociety

This response follows the general format and order of the Masterplan Questionnaire in order to include comprehensive coverage of our views on this important consultation document.

    B. Masterplan Approach

  1. The analysis of issues and the conclusions reached of their significance and relevance are generally accepted and supported, although there are certain matters or statements with which the Society do not agree. Hence, we consider only some parts of the strategy are acceptable but other elements we would question.

    There is support for the following:

    i) the increased weight given in the approach to sustaining and enhancing the significance of the historic environment and heritage assets and their setting in the city centre. In the opinion of the Society the tension between this imperative and growth and development has in the recent past been unbalanced and led to poor or inappropriate decisions.

    ii) the Key Themes are seen as important and largely appropriate.

    iii) the conclusion reached on the character of Lichfield, that the "signature" of the city is a "Speciality" signature, is welcomed. This seems to the Society to be a very accurate and meaningful summation of the situation in Lichfield. It should, therefore, become the basis for the future planning strategy for the city and city centre in considering any development proposals for the city.

    iv) the conclusions relating to Access and Movement are generally supported, with one exception which relates to pedestrianisation (of which more later).

    v) the six Masterplan Objectives are supported by the Civic Society with one proviso in relation to Objective 5, "Quality and Accessible Environment", and this again relates to pedestrianisation.

    There is concern in relation to the following:

    i) the cumulative scale of future development appears to be out of character with the realistic capacity of the historic environment and does not seem to relate closely to the Speciality signature just assigned to the City. The scale of development proposed has the potential to lead to over-intensive and inappropriate forms of development which fail to be of a complementary or supporting nature.

    ii) the approach proposed for addressing the problems now with the existing pedestrianisation scheme are not supported (of which more later).

  2. Masterplan Quarters

    It is helpful as a broad indication and aspiration of future strategy to propose "Quarters", but these cannot be taken as absolutes. The four Quarters proposed in the Masterplan are generally considered to be appropriately labelled. However, it should additionally be emphasised that within each Quarter there are important green parks and open space areas that are to be retained, protected and enhanced, and, in certain cases, expanded.

    C. Development Opportunities

  3. Birmingham Road Gateway

    An appropriate form of development and renewal here would certainly benefit the city centre and the city as a whole, particularly if this was carefully linked to surrounding areas of the centre and was complementary in content and uses.

    Improvements to this entrance to the city in the form of good, clear and attractive access links for pedestrians from the rail station, bus station and car parks, with enhanced public realm and signage and a well-designed, mixed use, development are supported. The particular proposal for a 'pavilion' building / facility to provide train and bus information, city information for visitors and tourists, café/refreshments outlet and toilets is welcomed.

    A broad mix of housing, niche retailing in small units and leisure uses is seen as being appropriate in the development. It is noted that a leisure centre is not proposed in the report, mainly because of the large scale and likely appearance of the building. This view is shared by the Civic Society. However, there is some concern that, unless their design is sensitively handled, the proposed cinema and hotel buildings could present similar problems.

    The proposal to limit the residential development fronting St John Street to two storeys is, subject to details and some separation being provided from the highway, supported as this would safeguard the nearby St John's Hospital. Elsewhere within the development, up to four storeys appears to be too high to preserve views across towards the cathedral and not lose the existing roofscape character of the city centre.

    It is considered unfortunate that the majority of the vehicles accessing the development when complete will be required to use the Wade Street / Frog Lane loop. This will cause a significant deterioration in the living conditions of the many existing residents of the area and it is suggested that alternative proposals are formulated to address this particular issue. A further alternative that could be considered to lessen traffic flows affecting this area would be to remove the entrance/exit to the car park from these streets in the design of the replacement building, with all access points provided from Birmingham Road only.

    The proposal for a replacement multi-storey car park is recognised as being inevitable in view of the existing structural problems affecting it. The proposal is welcomed as this car park is one of the most important within the city centre. However, the timing of the phasing of this element will need to be carefully addressed to avoid a major shortfall in off-street parking provision during the demolition and construction stages of the replacement facility. This could affect the timing of all the principal potential development sites proposed in the Masterplan, as well as impacting on existing businesses in the city. It is the view of the Civic Society that both the car park replacement and the new bus station provision, because of their importance to residents and visitors, need to be provided during a relatively early phase of the development of the Birmingham Road Gateway.

    The proposals to significantly improve routes for pedestrians both within and adjoining the development area, are welcomed. The proposed provision of safe, controlled, crossing facilities across Birmingham Road from City Station and also at the St John Street junction are strongly supported. However, there is a view that the proposed pedestrian route from the transport hub through the development to the Market Quarter would be more attractive and direct for users if it was re-aligned to lead in the direction of the Garrick Theatre, rather than along a dogleg. This alignment should more closely follow the line of vision towards the Cathedral and St Mary's Church.

  4. District Council House

    Without greater detail this proposal is difficult to assess. The listed buildings and their setting will need to be protected and appropriate uses found if they are to be vacated by the District Council. Office use, or similar, seems most appropriate. The Society have doubts as to whether the city needs more meeting or internal venue space so there may be difficulties in finding alternative and acceptable uses.

    Any development of the Birmingham Road site which precedes development here would need to safeguard this building and setting and at the same time not prejudice its future.

  5. Bird Street Courtyard

    This is an extremely sensitive site, with a number of complex issues that need to be considered:

    i) can Minster Pool, the associated open space corridor and the setting of the Cathedral and Close, be protected visually if development takes place as close to the Minster Pool area as is proposed?

    ii) can the loss of over half the car parking spaces here be adequately catered for?

    iii) is the compromise proposed of a modest scale of development and is the retention of a much smaller car park viable and realistic? Or, once development is agreed in principle, will it be intensified in height and scale etc. to become viable; to the detriment of the historic environment?

    The existing pedestrian access points into the car park from Market Street and from Bird Street are both constrained, unattractive, and of poor quality. These should be high priority for improvements to the public realm either with, or without, early development progressing.

    The Civic Society would seek, in any development scenario for the site, the provision of increased public realm space adjoining Minster Pool Walk and would expect any development to enhance this sensitive location through all aspects of design.

  6. University West Car Park

    The Civic Society does not support this proposal as it continues a process of eroding the city's Open Space network which commenced with a temporary planning permission for car parking on the playing field. If additional office or educational space is required it should be provided close to the existing University buildings and away from the main road frontage. The advantages of such a re-location would be:

    i) to retain a more open and landscaped aspect when viewed from the adjoining roads and;

    ii) the existing car parking provision would be maintained.

    In the light of other proposals in the Masterplan, which are likely to reduce provision on other sites, this is seen as necessary. A further requirement for this site is seen as the vital need to enhance the surfacing of the car park to a proper standard, as well as introducing environmental and landscaping improvements to the whole area adjacent to any new development and the car park.

  7. Additional Development Opportunities

    There are limited other opportunities for development in the City centre but one worth considering lies between Dam Street and Cross Keys, centred on the Quonians Lane area. As this lies in the heart of the city and its Conservation Area the approach to its development will need sensitive handling in order to protect and enhance the heritage asset.

    D. Public Realm Priorities

  8. Birmingham Road Corridor

    This is supported by the Civic Society as a very high priority and needs early delivery in conjunction with the first phases of the Birmingham Road Gateway. Our only reservation concerning this project relates the line proposed through the site and included above (final paragraph of our response, C3 Birmingham Road Gateway).

  9. Lichfield Transport Hub

    This is supported.

  10. Bird Street Walk

    Although the principle of enhancing both the Bird Street and Market Street paths into Bird Street Car Park is supported, our reservations are expressed above (fifth paragraph of C5 Bird Street Courtyard). Action to upgrade these links is extremely desirable.

  11. Circular Minster Pool Walk

    The proposal to complete a circular walk by provision of a pathway along the northern side of the Pool is supported and will offer improved circulation opportunities to residents and visitors. It is not considered that this proposed northern section requires to provide a cycleway facility.

  12. Pedestrian Priority Streets

    It is the opinion of the Civic Society that intervention is necessary to address the problems reported in the analysis of unacceptable conflict in the City Centre streets between pedestrians and traffic.

    However, it is considered a more radical solution should be introduced to solving these problems than is at present being proposed and should be recommended for the whole area of the currently "pedestrianised" area of the City Centre. These proposals should set out with the objective of creating a fully pedestrianised situation by removing the existing conflict between the users. They should be applied to the existing streets and to any additional streets that are considered appropriate.

    At present two categories of vehicles are accepted as requiring access into the pedestrian streets: firstly, those vehicles requiring access to blue badge parking spaces and; secondly, those vehicles making deliveries or collections from premises. It is the view of the Civic Society that these two requirements could be satisfactorily addressed in an alternative manner to that proposed.

    The blue badge spaces, of which there are some 46 located on street (Tamworth Street, Conduit Street, Market Square and Bore Street) could be re-located to various nearby locations directly adjoining and accessible to the main shopping and other facilities. Locations such as Bird Street Car Park, Redcourt House Car Park, Cross Keys Car Park; and Wade Street, Frog Lane and Gresley Row are suggested as possible replacement locations.

    The servicing of premises by delivery vehicles could be time-limited, so that access through the pedestrianised streets was only made available before, say 10.00 am and after, say, 4.00 pm.

    The introduction of these changes could be accompanied by the installation of entrance controls in the form of automatic bollards or barriers in Tamworth Street near the former Regal Cinema, and at the exit point from Bore Street, for use during the period 10.00 am to 4.00 pm each day. Overall, this change would transform the current unsatisfactory situation and enable pedestrians to "to take back the streets"; which is what should be expected in any small, historic cathedral city location. The safer and enhanced environment created would be of great benefit to residents and shoppers and encourage tourists and visitors to come and stay longer.

    The introduction of these measures could be undertaken over the period of the implementation of the proposals contained in the Masterplan, although greater priority should be given to such much needed proposals. They could be run in parallel with the many "Public Realm" improvements proposed within the Masterplan.

  13. Pedestrian Walkways and Linkages

    Improvements to these, as proposed, are supported.

  14. Clear and Consistent Signage

    The introduction of a policy requiring upgraded and clear and consistent signage throughout the city centre is supported.

    This needs to be accompanied by a review of all street furniture and installations affecting the streets to ensure removal, replacement or re-siting, in order to enhance the environment.

  15. Other Public Realm Priorities

    No observations.

    E. Masterplan Delivery

  16. The Delivery Strategy

    There are certain issues of concern to the Civic Society related to the delivery strategy and these are referred to in the following paragraphs.

    The reference in 5.2 to the need for a "realistic and focused approach" to the delivery and implementation of the Masterplan expresses very clearly the issue for the future. Similarly, 5.3 emphasises that there are "obstacles to be overcome" which have been spelt out in the body of the document. With "viability" so critical to delivery the Civic Society hopes very much, in addition to the issues referred to above, that certain of the most critical proposals are capable of implementation and successful delivery. The Society has given an opinion on these in detail. It is hoped that commercial, "profitable", elements are not progressed without "Public Realm" projects being implemented in parallel.

    In relation to the Birmingham Road Gateway the Civic Society have concern at the delayed timing of the scheme (5 to 7 years) and to the late phasing (phases 3 and 4) within that of the replacement multi-storey car park and bus station. These elements and this site are of the highest priority in the opinion of the Civic Society because of its location, its impact on both residents and visitors, and because it has been in limbo for a long time.

    The timings of car parking space displacement to allow some of the development proposals to proceed needs to be phased to ensure the proposed replacements are available at the right time to accommodate the displacement. At present the Civic Society is not certain this is the case.

    Further Comments

    In relation to many elements of the proposed Public Realm improvements the Council, having established the relevant design policies, should liaise fully with the community as to what they want in detail in each area and explore ways of involving the community in implementing these improvements and managing the public realm. This may be a less expensive approach if volunteers become available to help.

Mike Pearson
February, 2020