Lichfield Conservation Area Appraisal |
Preliminary notes from Lichfield Civic Society
In early June the Civic Society was invited, at short notice, to submit some preliminary comments to the Historic Environment consultants who have been engaged to review the Lichfield City Conservation Area. The consultants will be reviewing and updating the Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan; "which will include researching the historic development of Lichfield, reviewing the existing boundaries of the Conservation Area, undertaking a character assessment and producing a detailed management plan for the area". We are expecting a formal public consultation later this year. Meanwhile our initial response is detailed below.
The Lichfield City Conservation Area does indeed play a vital role in protecting Lichfield's heritage but, perhaps inevitably, with the passage of time, the gaps in that protection have become apparent.
Some recent decisions made by the District Council on important sites within, or directly adjacent to, the Conservation Area seem to ignore the development policies; one can only assume that the gain from new development - or fear of a successful appeal - was felt to outweigh the previously saved policies.
For example, the main approach to the City from the south, The Friary, is now dominated by the overlarge Premier Inn development and, sadly, an equally large building is now being constructed in Sandford Street adjacent to the Grade II listed 19th century house at No. 28 - ignoring the established roof lines nearer to Beacon Park.
On the North of the City the development of residential units on Cross Keys is far from attractive and the very recent re-use of the 1930s Regal Cinema site, although long awaited and welcome in principle, has been allowed to introduce a lift shaft that breaks the roof line on the Tamworth Street frontage.
Within the core shopping area of the City Centre it is unfortunate that the 1992 "Design Guide to Shopfronts" is not more widely known. Despite earlier success in persuading McDonalds to amend their corporate style for Lichfield, several examples of overlarge plastic fascia have appeared - often in bold rather than pastel colours. The latest issue is the Council's slow reaction to the loss of the historic pub sign at the former 'Scales' public house which has now been re-branded as "No 24" with an overlarge, mainly black, hanging sign in place of the historic "scales" sign.
There is a different issue with the former listed premises at No. 4 Bore Street. This was once the 'Prince of Wales' public house, later 'La Feria' nightclub; but has lain empty for over 10 years. What a terrible advertisement to greet visitors to the City. Directly opposite is the former County Library building, built in 1927 as the Friary High School, also now empty and with no obvious future use. This crossroads at the entrance to the City has perhaps the worst example of "signage clutter" in Lichfield; but the one-way system around Market Square is not much better.
Despite being re-laid, the condition of the block paving in the core shopping area of Bore Street, Market Street and Dam Street continues to give rise to concern. There are far too many loose or cracked blocks and several patches of "black top" where the public utilities have failed to replace the paving they had to dig up. One of the worst examples is directly outside the Grade II* listed Donegall House on Bore Street.
On the south-east of the City, the Grade I listed 15th century Hospital of St John lies at the junction of St Johns Street and Birmingham Road. Directly opposite is a vacant plot, formerly Kennings Garage but now in Council ownership. By any standards this is a very sensitive site, part of the larger Birmingham Road complex for which the Council has been seeking a suitable development for twenty years. In addition, the nearby rail overbridge on St John street has the unfortunate distinction of being the bridge most frequently hit by HGVs in the West Midlands; can a warning device be devised which is acceptable at this location?
In contrast, we can welcome the recent refurbishment of several listed properties on the west side of St Johns Street and the re-building and re-pointing last year of the wall adjacent to the nearby Monks Walk heritage garden.
Also worth noting are the five stone plaques (dating from 1895) and over twenty bronze plaques that were erected by the former City Council in the 1930s. Some of these were long overdue for repair and we are pleased to record that, following a detailed report by the Civic Society in 2019, the City Council has now allocated funds for this work.
In passing, you will no doubt be pleased to note the work which is currently underway to restore and re-purpose the Grade II listed Westgate House, Westgate Cottage and the Grade II* listed former Angel Croft Hotel on Beacon Street; work which the Civic Society has been pleased to support. The latter property had been on the English Heritage list of 'Buildings at Risk' for many years.
One final thought; unlike some local Conservation Areas there is nothing to tell either residents or visitors to the City that they are entering a Conservation Area. Perhaps it is not surprising that new tenants are often unaware of the design guidelines.