|The Work of the Lichfield Chamber of Trade|
Richard Lewis, President of the Chamber of Trade, was our last speaker before the usual August break and a very appropriate one, with the T J Hughes anchor store soon to close. Firstly, a little bit of historical background; the Chamber was established in 1896 and a Mr Bamford was elected President. Since then, the Chamber has sought to recruit City Centre retailers to the organisation, a task proving to be increasingly difficult as many shop managers, especially of national multiples may well not live in Lichfield, returning home elsewhere and hence unavailable for evening meetings. They perhaps do not have the commitment as those traders who live locally and hence are part of the local community. Significantly, managers of the large supermarkets are not members. Nevertheless, the Chamber is very active in lobbying and advising the Council on planning policy and development schemes, funding hanging baskets, organising the Xmas lights and Xmas events and promoting the annual business awards. It has been central to the establishment of the store-net and night-net security systems between stores and entertainment venues in the City. It has lobbied the Council on better signage to City Centre car parks and currently wishes to see the Council consider pay on exit car parks.
The Chamber shares the Society's concerns over the viability of the Friarsgate scheme. However, there's a recognition that more shops are needed in the City Centre, especially those from national groups, to ensure that we continue to have a viable shopping centre that can offer a range of goods and counter the retailing attractions of Ventura Park, Sutton Coldfield, Burton and Birmingham. Like the Civic Society, the Chamber is unhappy that the Council has still not identified a suitable place for coach parking to replace that available at the bus station which will be lost upon construction of the Friarsgate scheme. To aspire to be a tourist attraction, yet to fail to provide facilities to ease arrival arrangements for tourists by coach is unacceptable. The Chamber would prefer to see a rethink, reducing the overall size of the Friarsgate scheme, a reconsideration of the traffic implications and provision for coach parking.
On a more positive note, Richard reported that despite difficult trading conditions, retailing in Lichfield is holding up well, especially amongst the local, independent shops. In fact, the number of empty shops in the city centre is relatively low and been static over the last year.