A Saturday Night with Michael Fabricant

Forty members and guests spent this year's July meeting being entertained by our MP on one of the warmest nights of the year. Although Michael's introduction looked at retailing and housing issues in Lichfield, the extended question and answer session ranged far and wide.

Michael made no secret of his distain for the hopefully stillborn Friarsgate development. Yes, more shopping wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but in a city of the character of Lichfield, special care was needed to ensure that a sympathetic design emerged ... and developers were chosen who had the requisite skills to recognise and interpret our special needs. It was obvious that Michael felt that the existing, "deferred" scheme failed on all counts. Style and taste were the key. Why could Shrewsbury and Durham succeed with sympathetic schemes, but Lichfield struggle to come up with the goods? Lichfield was a city of charm and elegance and special efforts were required to ensure any development was in keeping with its character. "We don't want to finish up looking like Tamworth".

His "good news story" dealt with the fraught subject of future housing allocations for the District. We are now freed, he said, from the yoke of the regional strategy. The spectre of a 10000 new housing allocation for the District up to 2026 had disappeared with the abolition of Regional Planning. Perhaps our putative natural growth figure of 3000 houses was the figure to aim for? It was down to the District Council to decide. Power had been returned locally, but with it came responsibility. We have been empowered, he said, to make our own decisions through our Council and if we don't like what it is doing, then every four years, we can vote it out. Good news, we all thought, but what if one Council's decisions impinge on another neighbouring Council? Who resolves disagreements? Well, as we all know, politicians deal in the broad brush; they leave such detail to others! But on questioning, Michael did hint that some sort of Inspectorate might be a way forward. Is this an admission that central control from Whitehall will still lurk there in the background, waiting to intervene and direct, one wonders?

Over half of the meeting was dedicated to a question and answer session. Yes, he said HS2 needs a radical rethink. It needs linking to London Airport and to HS1, thus avoiding changing trains - and stations - in London. The overall route needs looking at again. The future of Regional Development Agencies was a matter for local authorities. There didn't seem to be much support for Advantage West Midlands, though, from what he said. And what about a cinema for the City? He was fully in support, if the sums added up. The debate returned to sensitive design and the merits and demerits of pastiche architecture. Done well, it could really complement our city streetscene, but many architects these days do not appear to understand its application.

A late running meeting was eventually wound up to allow Micheal to enjoy a Saturday night Indian meal in the City. We certainly had our moneys-worth from him, but then you always do. Like all politicians, he is part tactician, part entertainer and part negotiator. I leave you to decide the balance between these skills.

Roger Hockney
June 2010