Broadway Malyan’s plans for a landmark new visitor centre in Liverpool’s Everton Park are hanging by a thread after costs soared by more than £1million
The project, which was won by the AJ100 practice from a five-strong shortlist of architects in 2013, looks increasingly unlikely to go-ahead after its original budget of between £1.4 million and £1.8 million almost doubled.
A feasibility study conducted on behalf of Liverpool Council into the so-called Sky Pier scheme concluded that the project - which was initially due to open last year - would now cost £3million to complete ‘at a minimum’.
The delays and ballooning budget means it is improbable the scheme will open before this autumn - the completion deadline for £904,000 of European funding.
The scheme, which was proposed as part of a regeneration project for Everton Park and North Liverpool, aimed to recreate Barcelona’s Parc Guell with a bold new visitor centre attracting 150,000 visitors to the park each year.
Broadway Malyan saw off competition from four other leading Liverpool-based architects, Austin Smith Lord, Cass Associates, FVMA and Studio Three to be awarded the project in March 2013 (AJ 07.03.13). The winning proposals were backed by local residents, received planning permission in July 2013 and had been expected to be open the following summer.
In May 2014 Liverpool Council agreed to underwrite £1.146 million – approximately 56 per cent of the project’s costs, with the remaining £904,000 due to be funded by the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund. The funds were given on condition that the project would be built by the autumn of 2015 at the latest.
Speaking about the Sky Pier assistant director regeneration at Liverpool City Council Mark Kitts said: ‘The project itself is ready to move forward, but the major challenge is the costs are bigger than we anticipated and, due to the time frame we are no longer able to use the EU regional development fund for the project. Due to this, at present the project is on hold.
‘It’s unfortunate but it is something which we still do want to do. We’ve been talking to the partners about this and no doubt talking to the partners over the next few weeks and months to come up with a solution.
At present the project is on hold
In terms of the budget Kitts added: ‘The position now is that you can almost add 50 per cent to that cost as a minimum. We’ve looked at a number of options to modify the sky pier to bring it back within that budget but they haven’t been presented a viable or sustainable solution.’
Due to the time constraints it is now too late to consider an alternative option for the project. Kitts said: ‘It is not feasible to consider the other projects which were shortlisted. We’ve done a lot of work and further design work on the Sky Pier and if we were to go back to other projects that entered the design competition we would have to follow the same process we have with sky pier.
‘That would take at least six months once an alternative had been selected , which is again not within a realistic time frame for use of the European funding nor would an alternative deliver what local stakeholders aspire to given their choice of Sky Pier.’
Architect Adam Sunderland of Austin Smith Lord, who worked on the practice’s proposal in January 2013 said: ‘It is always disappointing not to win a competition, but it doesn’t help if, as we hear, the winning entry is well over the budget you have strived to stay within.
‘That said, there was obviously something compelling in the selected scheme that really struck a chord with the judging panel. I just hope that they can bring it over the line sometime soon and the park gets the facility it deserves.’
A spokesman for Broadway Malyan said: ‘The practice was the concept designer and our formal role concluded in October 2013.’
Studio Three director Mushtaq Saleri
‘We probably played it too ‘safe’ in trying to stick to time and budgetary constraints – especially as the timescale for delivery were originally very tight, within 12 months [of being approved]. From this we assumed that a safe budget would mean a quicker and easier passage through the approval and procurement process.
‘If the vision and ambition of a particular response has caught the imagination of decision makers then budgets do take a back seat.’
Malcolm Kennedy, cabinet member for regeneration, Liverpool City Council
‘We are still absolutely committed to the Sky Pier project. We are working hard with partners to identify ways of attracting the level of investment that is needed. If we are able to do that then the scheme is ready to move forward very quickly.
‘We are also pushing ahead with other exciting projects to improve the park, including walking trails and other initiatives designed to make it a popular community green hub which benefits local residents. There is already a new Heritage Trail, a Portrait Bench highlighting the rich social history of the space and the iconic and historic ‘lock up’ which features prominently on Everton Football Club’s crest is permanently lit up. I think the future for Everton Park is really exciting and we are determined to put it on a par with some of the best parks in the world.
‘Everton ward councillor Jane Corbett is happy for you to include a line from her saying: “The Sky Pier will make such a difference and we’ll just have to wait a little longer for it so we can make the most of the best views in the city.”
Trevor Skempton, architect, artist and urban designer
My initial thought is that such developments require a strong ‘project champion’. The lack of a strong-enough project champion was, in my opinion, the reason for the collapse of such Liverpool projects as Will Alsop’s Fourth Grace and Everton’s Kings Dock Stadium a decade ago [just as the opposite was evident in the celebrated cases of The Everyman and Liverpool One].
Money, or lack of it, can always be a ready-made excuse, but the failure of some projects [and the success of others] is often down to subtle shifts in priority at the last minute, when lobbying and the need for courage and resolve are at their most intense.
As for Everton Park, as well as the other longer-established Liverpool Parks, what is needed is a coherent master plan with a particular focus on the Park’s boundaries, and the potential for new enclosing development that would enhance the park as a whole and provide a basis for agreement with local communites. The Liverpool conurbation’s exceptionally fine ring of parks, from Birkenhead and Princes Park onwards were developed with a symbiotic relationship with the surrounding communities, in terms of their use and also their finance and management.
Now we are seeing arguments when, in the absence of any agreed master plan, bits of the parks are being disposed of in an opportunistic manner. The disposal of part of Everton Park to build the new Notre Dame College, the potential sale of Sefton Park Meadows [land originally earmarked for villa development as part of the original Victorian concept] and similar ‘threats’ to Stanley and Walton Hall Parks are emerging as isolated events without an apparent overall plan.
No wonder there is a knee-jerk response which opposes all development on green spaces! In my lifetime, Liverpool has exported almost half its population to suburbs and new towns and beyond - it is surely time that the City took the rebuilding of its urban population seriously as an alternative to the ‘de facto’ policy of managed decline.
The parks should have a role in this, as focal points for new urban development, just as they were when they were conceived during the Nineteenth Century growth of the city.