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April 16, 2019 9:35 AM


In launching the Lib Dems' manifesto for the Lichfield District and City Council elections, Lib Dem Councillor, Paul Ray, has said: "The Lib Dems' vision is for a more sustainable, balanced and fair district. We are the only party that is both economically responsible and socially fair. Our approach is not merely to challenge the issues that we see, but to work together with the other political parties to provide constructive practical solutions for a better future for all residents."

1. Friarsgate: a muddle - but a great opportunity

Anyone who lives in the district, or who visits Lichfield, is depressed by the view of the city's bus station, the empty police station and the wasteland that used to be the Tempest Ford garage. With the collapse of the Friarsgate scheme last year it was revealed that £7 million has been spent by the council since the original plan was first put forward. Although some of this may be locked into the value of the land purchased, there is still £3 million that has been wasted. The Conservatives have mismanaged this scheme by proceeding so far down the track without the funding being in place. They need to be held to account for that at this election.

We support and have actively engaged in the cross-party approach to deliver the new development and have canvassed the public to discover what they want. Therefore the main elements of our vision for the site are:

  • Town houses and flats will comprise an important element of the new development but this housing must not just be high-end housing. It must include affordable homes including those built in partnership with housing associations (see more below).
  • Leisure facilities in Lichfield are poor for all generations and in particular the young. A cinema is popular and we need a new leisure centre in Lichfield as the Friary Grange is a tired and old facility - and just not acceptable for a city the size of Lichfield. We therefore propose that the new development should be used to deal with this issue by bringing some facilities (a gym and medium sized swimming pool) into the centre of Lichield.

We are living in times when the importance of healthy living and an active lifestyle are rightly heavily promoted. So a new publicly funded leisure facility right in the centre of Lichfield would be a really positive message to the community and would make these facilities very accessible. And that would link directly into the council's public health responsibilities.

  • An improved bus station is also essential.
  • It is important that the site is not over-developed. We want to see open space at the new site and architecture that is sympathetic to Lichfield's historic city centre buildings.
  • Tourism is important to the economy and employment in the district and we want it to be actively promoted. So we would want to see a facility at this site to welcome tourists.

There are various government bodies with funding for regeneration and development in particular in areas like Lichfield of high house prices. To speed up delivery of this site the council must proactively bid for this funding from for example the local LEPs and Homes England.

2. Ensuring houses for all

The district needs more houses for its current residents - and their children and grandchildren. Housing in the district is just too expensive especially for young people and their families. Too many new houses and apartment complexes are high-end and retirement developments and do not provide the sort of affordable homes that are needed. There are currently 1,200 people on the housing waiting list in Lichfield and Burntwood, but last year only 130 affordable homes were built.

Lib Dems also believe that social housing is key to providing a solution to the housing crisis. We therefore want to see partnerships with Bromford and other housing associations to build more housing including under the staircasing model which enables tenants to own their property step-by-step.

We also support measured residential development through the Housing Development Company that the council has set up.

BUT houses on their own are insufficient. Any new development must include sufficient infrastructure, such as GP services and school places to support the residents. These services are currently beyond stretching point in our district.

3. The Garrick's subsidy from council tax must reduce to give a fair deal to all council taxpayers

The Garrick Theatre is a key asset for our community and in building tourism into Lichfield. But we, as payers of council taxes, subsidise The Garrick to the tune of £250,000 each year - money that could be well spent on other much-needed services.

The Lib Dems have put forward a "3 Point Action Plan" to reduce this funding:

(i) The Garrick to employ a full-time Development Officer to raise commercial and sponsorship income and grant funding from bodies like the Arts Council

(ii) The Garrick is largely not used during the day and it would be an excellent venue for businesses when they hold conference/strategy days. So The Garrick should implement an urgent plan to tap into and attract business from the "conference economy"

(iii) The food and beverage offering at The Garrick to be improved to bring in more income.

Our position is that there must be some reduction in the £250,000 and the Council must put conditions on the ongoing funding linked to the "3 Point Action Plan".

We have been pleased to see a recent announcement of some sponsorship but a lot more can be done here. And then The Garrick can reduce the increased charges for the hire of the venue that have been introduced for local community groups so that they are again able to perform in Lichfield.

4. Creating jobs for the people of Lichfield - in Lichfield

Lichfield is a great city to live in. It should also be a great city to work in. Unfortunately, so many Lichfield and Burntwood residents must commute out of the area each day to go to work. With its highly skilled workforce, strong road and rail connections to the rest of the country and available land for development, the Lichfield area can provide an excellent location for businesses looking for a site in the Midlands.

Cllr Paul Ray believes that the council needs to be more active in selling the benefits of Lichfield and Burntwood to businesses. He has therefore proposed an event to move this forward and has the Conservative lead of the council on board.

Most of the property specialists in this region who find sites for businesses are based in Birmingham. So an event is to take place in Birmingham promoting the benefits of doing business from a base in the Lichfield area to these property specialists so that they are fully aware of exactly what we have on offer here.

We would propose more initiatives like this and would want to see the council working more proactively with developers and prospective occupiers.

5. Proper funding of local government

Our public services are disgracefully underfunded as a result of government cuts and continuing austerity measures. Schools, the NHS, transport and roads (potholes!), police (now we do not even have a Police help desk in Lichfield) etc have all suffered.

The answer is not to put up the council tax, but to make central government fund local authorities properly. Higher earners should, we believe, pay some more in tax - with no further cuts to corporation tax being introduced that the Conservatives support. Lib Dems have also proposed an 1p on income tax to be ring-fenced for social care and NHS spending.

  1. Keeping Samuel Johnson in the City

The merger of the Burton and Derby NHS trusts should benefit patients in the Lichfield district, with access to advanced care now available at Derby. However, the future of the Samuel Johnson (Lichfield) and Robert Peel (Tamworth) Community Hospitals is crucial to our community.

Local Lib Dems are committed to campaigning to keep the Samuel Johnson open, providing a much-needed local first port of call for many who would otherwise have to make their way to Burton or even Derby for relatively minor ailments and injuries. And we support the plan to widen services for the local population eg frailty services and diagnostics and management of long-term health conditions, so residents can get more care and treatment closer to home.

So a vote for Liberal Democrats on 2 May is for sensible and fair-minded councillors who will work with other parties to deliver the above measures and a fairer and more sustainable Lichfield & Burntwood.