I like Lichfield. I enjoy living in the city.
It isn’t perfect, but then nowhere is. Indeed, some of its failings are universal and not just confined to the three-spired city – bad drivers, bus stop induced pavement rage, feckless youth, they’re all things you can endure anywhere these days.
But in the eight(ish) years that it has been home, I’ve enjoyed being a Lichfieldian and always look forward to coming back whenever I’ve been away…apart from negotiating that ridiculous island outside Morrisons on Beacon Street, the one which half the motorists who approach it seem to ignore completely.
Rogue traffic islands aside, there is much to be said about Lichfield life.
But the city is on the cusp of what could be a major change. The revised plans for a £100m redevelopment of part of the city centre have gone on show, the Friarsgate scheme is heralded by supporters as securing the future of Lichfield.
I find myself perched on the fence (not the new one around Minster Pool, obviously). I’m unsure which way to fall.
I could find myself supporting the arguments for Friarsgate and the new opportunities and businesses it could well attract to Lichfield.
But, equally, the whole scheme fills me with unease. Is Lichfield selling what remains of its soul on a shaky promise of a golden future, represented by an identikit city centre redevelopment that could plonk you down just about anywhere in the UK?
I want a Lichfield of history and character, interesting alleys and intriguing walkways, independent retailers providing everything you need to survive the daily grind and lots of things you never knew you wanted but can’t actually live without.
But I’m also aware that such a vision could be a luxury no-one can afford these days. Times are tough for retailers and likely to get tougher, a brand spanking shopping and leisure hub could just be the thing to keep the city solvent and attractive.
That is attractive in an economic sense, rather than aesthetic. The new city centre development might draw the punters in, but it could help spirit away the charm and atmosphere of the historic city itself.
“Come to Lichfield – you could be just about anywhere in the UK” might actually appeal as a marketing slogan these days.
We already have the jumbo-sized Tesco after the city fell under the weight of the supermarket’s campaign to concrete the entire land. The queues suggest Lichfieldians have embraced the unsightly megastore, although I have still yet to set foot inside the building (having backed the anti-Tesco campaign, I still can’t bring myself to darken their door).
Familiarity no longer breeds contempt these days, it actually acts as a comfort blanket.
Step into any Starbucks in the UK and it feels the same, no matter what your location. As we get used to such feelings, we like to them to encompass everything – our TV schedule, our eating habits, our city centre retail experiences.
I despise the cloning of our town and city centres. But if the alternative to a clone town is a ghost town, then do I simply have to suck it up and try not to dwell on it too much?
A few Lichfieldians were discussing Friarsgate and that very point was made – is it a choice between clone town and ghost town? Surely Lichfield is too big a little city to become a ghost town?
The trend of closing shops might suggest otherwise. Then again, the lure of the city’s heritage and the three-spired cathedral might continue to act as a buffer and draw enough visitors in each year to keep the city buoyant, shouldn’t it?
There seems an awful lot of ifs and buts and very few certainties.
If Friarsgate represents the best future Lichfield can expect then I’m depressed. But I’ll also support it as the alternative is…well, what exactly?
These days it seems it is better to be a clone than a ghost.
Although the ghosts of Lichfield do still have a story worth telling.