The multi-million pound Friarsgate scheme to transform Lichfield city centre will go ahead, developers insisted this week, despite a financial backer pulling out of the project.
The powers behind the multi-million pound scheme leapt to its defence this week after city MP Michael Fabricant said it was ‘dead’ in its planned form following the withdrawal of financial support from Advantage West Midlands.
But the leader of Lichfield district council, Councillor David Smith, said the scheme was very much still alive and would go ahead when the economy picks up once again.
Mick Laverty, chief executive of Advantage West Midlands, told Mr Fabricant that AWM would not be providing funding for the Friarsgate Scheme.
He said: “As you will appreciate, these have not been easy decisions to make and had circumstances been different and our budgets not been affected we would have been able to progress these projects as originally envisaged.”
Mr Fabricant said he was not surprised at the news given the economic downturn and urged Lichfield district council to rethink the scheme.
He said: “I have known for some time that the shopping centre developer has been experiencing difficulties finding stores willing to expand into Lichfield and elsewhere.
“This is a national problem and I fear this means that Friarsgate is dead in its planned form for the foreseeable future.
“While some who have objected to the development will rejoice, I am now keen to encourage Lichfield district council to have a total rethink and examine alternative schemes which will provide the shops we need without having a negative impact on the character of our cathedral city.
“I hope the council will treat this unfortunate set-back as an opportunity. ‘Friarsgate Mark Two’ could be a real and quality asset to our city and be built in keeping with our historic city heart.
“A few similar towns and cities have achieved this - we could too.”
But Coun Smith defended the scheme.
He said: “Friarsgate is absolutely not dead. Quite the contrary, Friarsgate is very much alive. The AWM funding was only ever going to pay for less than five per cent of the overall costs of the development, and was being used to pay for part of the costs of moving the police station, rather than for the shopping centre itself.
“Whilst we are of course disappointed by AWM’s decision, it will in no way stop Friarsgate from moving forward.
“As a council we are committed to Friarsgate, and whilst the current economic climate has slowed progress, we are still confident it will be one of the first developments of its kind to progress when the market picks up.
“Despite current conditions, interest from big name retailers is still very high and absolutely no retailers have pulled out.”
David Clancy, of developers S Harrison, added: “Retailer interest in Friarsgate remains high.
“It is the current banking situation that has delayed the project, not the lack of occupier interest.
“Indeed, we have spoken to many of the key retailers in the last month and they all remain committed to Friarsgate and want a store in the scheme as soon as possible.”