Darwin Park - and the work of LARA

This month's speaker was scheduled to be from Tesco - explaining the redevelopment proposals for the Lichfield store. Their withdrawal under two weeks from the meeting caused the programme secretary some headaches and we were grateful to Roger Hartley, an executive member of LARA (the Leomansley Area Action Group), who stepped into the breach with an admirable presentation on what can only be called the 'sorry' saga of Darwin Park.

Roger sketched the background of LARA and its predecessor, LAG (the Leomansley Action Group). LAG was formed in the mid 1980s to give local residents a voice in the debate on the need for new housing in Lichfield. A build of 350 homes was proposed in the Walsall Road area and a public inquiry held. Despite contrary advice from the chairman of the inquiry, Lichfield District Council prevailed and land was allocated for no less than 650 dwellings. LAG then wound itself up; only to return in 2003 reconstituted as LARA with the wider brief to look at both the physical development and social issues of the area.

Roger then took us through the recent saga of the development of Darwin Park. Sadly, neither the District nor the City Council emerged with glowing praise.

Firstly, admittedly under pressure from Mr Prescott's department, the density of housing development doubled. Now we have 1150 houses not 650; but no further open spaces. The one children's play area remains locked out of use. The other amenity open spaces are not finished - after five years of building and with the majority of homes occupied. A large part of the money paid by the developers to establish the new open spaces appears to have been applied to bolster the Garrick Theatre's finances.

The proposed Darwin Community Hall has stalled after heavy criticism of the inappropriate design and layout. The ruinous Blair House, off Walsall Road was to be demolished for open space; but the residents are now to have houses to overlook. At least the view down Cathedral Walk will in part be saved, now that a new deal has been brokered over the site of the demolished bungalow (once scheduled for flats). The latest issue to emerge relates to land the Council has allocated for recreation around the Waitrose Supermarket and next to the new by-pass. At a recent meeting for invited affected parties Council officers and consultants sketched out a whole range of alternative uses for this land - public house, nursing home, university campus and secondary school to name but a few. So watch this space, the Council clearly wants to see buildings on this land as doubtless do the owners!

Roger closed by saying that residents of Darwin Park feel let down by a string of broken promises by the Council - and the story is not over yet!

Roger Hockney
June 2007