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Tory Group on Lichfield District Council criticised for Secrecy

April 8, 2019 3:41 PM

from Lichfield Live

Labour and Lib Dem members of working group dealing with future of failed Friarsgate site in Lichfield criticise Conservatives for 'secrecy' over consultation report

Two members of a working group created to find a way forward for land left empty by the failure of Friarsgate have criticised the Conservatives for keeping crucial information behind closed doors.

The former Tempest Ford site, part of the area earmarked for the failed Friarsgate scheme

Labour's Cllr Colin Ball and Cllr Paul Ray from the Liberal Democrats have both criticised the actions of Lichfield District Council's leadership over their handling of the cross-party group exploring the options for the rebranded Birmingham Road Site.

They claim a report following the recent consultation events has only been circulated to Conservative councillors.

Cllr Ball said the move was another example of the Tory group trying to brush the failure of Friarsgate under the carpet.

"The Conservatives group have been desperate to come up with an early plan to improve the former Friarsgate site and hide the embarrassment that they created themselves," he said.

"They eventually set up the Birmingham Road Site Working Group which they keep on insisting was truly cross-party, hence including us as members.

"We are therefore shocked and disappointed that the Conservative group have excluded us from information sharing - information that has been shared with the Conservative members, but with non-Conservative members being excluded, including the two of us as members of their so-called cross-party working group.

"This is just the latest in a long line of examples of failures on Friarsgate and it seems that we have simply been used as a fig-leaf to cover their political failures.

"If elected councillors are not being given information in a timely and open way, what chance does the public have?

"It seems that the leadership at Lichfield District Council want to claim that they are working on a cross-party and consensual basis yet at the same time keep important information behind closed doors."

"Deeply disappointed but not entirely surprised"

The fall-out is the latest chapter in the decade long tale of Friarsgate, which ultimately ended in failure after only a fraction of the funding was secured, despite the council evicting businesses from the land.

Despite the project not going ahead, the council has faced paying millions for land purchased for the scheme and other associated costs, with the bill expected to increase as essential repairs for the car park - which had been due to be demolished as part of Friarsgate - now in need of refurbishment.

Cllr Ray said the decision to squirrel away the latest report was a sign that the Conservatives were continuing to ignore views from beyond the controlling group.

"I am deeply disappointed but not entirely surprised by these revelations," he said. "I have had my suspicions for some time that things were still going on behind closed doors with the Tories.

"I and Cllr Colin Ball have committed a great deal of time in preparing for and attending these meetings and liaising with residents to get their views of what they feel should be included on the Friarsgate site.

"We, as councillors, should be using our time efficiently and to maximum effect - and it seems we may have been wasting a lot of our time here due to the attitude of Lichfield's Conservatives."

"Friarsgate fiasco"

Cllr Ball said he questioned whether the working group was even worth continuing with.

He said: "I feel that I have made a lot of useful contributions as Paul Ray has done as well.

"However, what is the point of having a so-called cross party working group if discussions and decisions are taking place outside of that group?

"I urged the council's leader Mike Wilcox to set up this cross-party working group in what I now realise was the naive hope that it would help move things forward from the Friarsgate fiasco quickly.

"It's such a pity that he took over three months to set this up and is continuing to try to pull the strings behind our backs.

"We could have been so much further forward in sorting out the mess of the Tory Friarsgate fiasco."