Who Paints the Windows

Who paints the windows? This was the title of a talk given to members of the Society on the 25th May 1995 by Colin Ablitt, a Chartered Surveyor with his own business in Lichfield and a former President of the Lichfield Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He emphasised that what he had to say was a personal view. The outcome was a robust, humorous and informative presentation followed by a lively discussion. He began by pointing out that, despite differences as to how they might be achieved, the aims of the Chamber and the Civic Society were similar in that they both wanted to see an attractive and commercially prosperous City Centre. Conservation and economic vitality go hand in hand. If we want our buildings to be preserved, enhanced refurbished and well maintained, then we have to recognise that somebody has to pay for this. Somebody has to afford to paint the windows. That burden falls upon the owners and the occupiers of these buildings.

We were taken back to the classroom as Mr Ablitt talked to us about the structure of property ownership in the City Centre. There are few properties owned by the occupiers. Many premises are owned by small investment companies, e.g. family trusts, who lease the floor space and many of whom look for a quick short-term return on their capital. Other properties, e.g. the Precinct, are in the hands of major property companies, such as pension funds, who are looking for a long-term investment and are therefore prepared to take care of their properties not least from the point of view of prestige.

The picture painted by Mr Ablitt of the trading situation in the City Centre was not a comfortable one. aced with the payment of business rates, rents and the threat of rent reviews, service charges etc., many businesses are struggling at a time when expenditure in the high street is not buoyant. Many shops and companies have gone out of business and others are trading in such a marginal position that the slightest push will put them into liquidation. The scenario is one of a fragile economy.

What can be done to help? Mr Ablitt suggests that no further pedestrianisation should be undertaken because this discourages passing trade. Shoppers car parks should be so designated and for an hour should be free. There should be clear and tidy road signs which direct drivers to these car parks. More advantage should be taken of Sunday trading which he believes will expand in the next few years.

He had much more to say which I am unable to cover in a summary such as this. The discussion focussed on pedestrianisation of which I shall say more in a moment. It is a measure of the success of the evening and the quality of Colin Ablitt's presentation that we used up all the time allotted for the hire of the Cruck House. It is a pity that a few more members were not able to attend.

Mike Tole
May 1995