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Liverpool: ‘A tale of two cities’

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Regeneration of the city centre has left the suburbs struggling to keep up. But the mayor and Chinese investment offer hope, writes Rakesh Ramchurn

‘It feels like a critical mass has been achieved in Liverpool’s city centre, even in difficult times, while in the inner city, things have gone backwards because of this awful demolition programme – Pathfinder,’ says Jonathan Brown of SAVE Britain’s Heritage.

Two weeks ago, the previous Labour government’s controversial and now scrapped Pathfinder programme, the 2002 Housing Market Renewal Initiative juggernaut which former Liverpool City Council leader Warren Bradley admitted had left parts of the city like a ‘war zone’ (AJ 29.04.10), hit the headlines yet again.

Responding to hundreds of objects, communities Secretary Eric Pickles called in the proposed demolition of Toxteth’s Welsh Streets to make way for a scheme designed by Triangle Architects and dubbed ‘Pathfinder MkII’ – where more than 400 terraced houses are due to be flattened.

Brown adds: ‘It’s been catastrophic. A third of a billion pounds has been spent on Pathfinder in Liverpool, instead of on much better uses of our heritage. Liverpool is definitely a case of ‘a tale of two cities’.

The other tale is less grim. During the last decade, around £6 billion of private and public sector money has been invested in the city. And the centre has seen the majority of it.

The flagship is the 2009 Stirling Prize-shortlisted Liverpool One. BDP’s £1 billion masterplan of shops and leisure facilities on a 42-acre site close to Albert Dock, along with the city’s acclaimed celebration during its run as European Capital of Culture in 2008, transformed attitudes to the city and paved the way for further regeneration.

The famous waterfront with its Three Graces (The Royal Liver Building, The Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building) now has its 3XN-designed neighbour – the Museum of Liverpool – and while libraries in the suburbs were shutting, Austin-Smith: Lord’s £55 million refurbishment of Liverpool Central Library opened to much praise.

Projects in the pipeline include Falconer Chester Hall’s £45 million mixed-use development of the Baltic Triangle.

Falconer Chester Hall's Baltic Triangle, phase 1 proposals. Image: Falconer Chester Hall

Falconer Chester Hall’s Baltic Triangle, phase 1 proposals. Image: Falconer Chester Hall

Surprisingly, all of Liverpool Vision’s six target areas, explained in the city’s inward investment agency’s Strategic Investment Framework (see right), are within the central district.

‘Unless you get your city centre right, you won’t get anywhere by trying to convince people that the rest of the city is a place to invest,’ says Steve Parry, managing director of Liverpool-based Neptune Developments. ‘The real challenge in Liverpool now is getting the progress that has been made in the city centre to ripple out into the more far-flung areas of the city, but it is in a far better position than it was.’ The city’s population, an important barometer of progress, is increasing for the first time in 80 years.

There are high hopes too for Joe Anderson, the former leader of the council who became the city’s first directly-elected mayor.

According to Parry, Anderson’s more centralised power means that he can ‘move things forward much quicker and with a lot more drive, and can make decisions that would challenge a local authority without a mayoral figure.’

Matt Brook, director of Broadway Malyan, says that having a mayor had improved Liverpool’s standing among neighbouring cities. ‘Manchester always had that very clear authority and decision-making process. Having the elected mayor in Liverpool balances things out between the two cities.’

He adds: ‘There was less clarity before in terms of getting a final decision on something, but there is more impetus to projects now. If there are problems with land ownership or any development issues, the mayor’s office is able to take a view on what is best for the city.’

The increased power of the mayor’s office was shown when Anderson was able to fund school building after the government scrapped the BSF programme.

This benefitted Ryder Architecture, which has designed a number of schools in the North West and which, alongside work on a new £7 million Innovation Centre in Liverpool Science Park, has recently submitted a planning application for Holly Lodge School in Liverpool.

‘The Liverpool Schools Programme would not have happened without the city’s mayor,’ says Gareth Callen, director of Ryder Architecture. ‘Even though the schools building programme was pulled by the government, because we had an elected mayor here with an allocated budget, he was able to make up his own mind about where his priorities lay.’

Holly Lodge School by Ryder Architecture. Image: Ryder Architecture

Holly Lodge School by Ryder Architecture. Image: Ryder Architecture

Anderson has also been instrumental in securing the International Festival for Business; a two-month conference programme due to take place in Liverpool next year and which is hoped will boost business interest in the city.

Maggie Mullan of Austin-Smith:Lord issues one warning: ‘Anderson is committed to being business friendly, however, I’m disappointed that nothing has really happened with the proposed Mayoral Development Zones, which were a great opportunity to kickstart the local economy and use existing >> developments as a catalyst for wider regeneration. Kings Dock/ Baltic and the Exhibition Halls for example.’

While Anderson’s drive and Liverpool Vision’s plans to boost the amount of Grade A office space in the city might raise Liverpool’s stock against regional rivals, in terms of architectural work, practices in London still have the edge over their Liverpudlian counterparts when it comes to landing the biggest schemes.

Mushtaq Saleri, director of Studio Three Architects and former president of the Liverpool Architectural Society, indicates that London-based architects are often seen by clients as more ‘exotic’: ‘Developers can spend double in London, as they know they will make their money back, while in Liverpool they will spend a lot less, and this trickles down to fee levels. As a consequence the two cities can’t be compared.’

Andrew Ruffler, the current president of RIBA North West, says that he would like to see more big regional projects won locally. ‘As soon as the bigger firms see there is a market out in the regions, they do tend to open offices there. That’s the challenge for our regional practices; they need to get themselves into a position where they can compete with the bigger practices.’

Perhaps it is this domestic competition which has led the port city to rediscover its historical international outlook, and to look for more investment from overseas, particularly China. Liverpool twinned itself with Shanghai in 1999 and was the only UK city to take a pavilion at the World Expo there in 2010. The University of Liverpool has also embarked on a joint venture with Xi’an Jiaotong University to open XJTLU, a new university campus in Suzhou.

XJTLU in Suzhou - a joint venture between University of Liverpool and Xi'an Jiatong Univeristy

XJTLU in Suzhou - a joint venture between University of Liverpool and Xi’an Jiatong Univeristy

‘In China, civic and business interests go hand in hand,’ says Tony O’Neill, head of business growth and enterprise at Liverpool Vision. ‘For a long time we have been cultivating those civic links with China. From a business perspective, local companies and the universities were able to go to Shanghai for a protracted time because we had a presence [at World Expo 2010].’

Liverpool Vision maintains a small office in Shanghai, while a Chinese Business Club in Liverpool provides a forum for those who want to export their services overseas. The hope is that this relationship pays dividends in attracting Chinese investment.

This is especially the case with The Peel Group’s Liverpool Waters, the £5.5 billion mixed-use proposal for a 60-hectare area north of Albert Dock encompassing 9,000 flats, shops, office space, a new cruise terminal and cultural buildings which received outline planning permission in March.

The scheme, masterplanned by Chapman Taylor, has been designed with a view to attracting Chinese businesses to make a base for themselves in Liverpool and include proposals for the 55-storey Shanghai Tower, which will be the tallest skyscraper outside London.

Aerial view of proposed Liverpool Waters scheme. Image: Peel

Aerial view of proposed Liverpool Waters scheme. Image: Peel

However, the impact the development would have on Albert Dock led UNESCO to threaten to revoke the site’s World Heritage Status.

English Heritage has criticised the plans, telling the AJ: ‘We do not believe it necessary for development at Liverpool Waters to come at the expense of the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage Site. The plans for Liverpool Waters fail to harness what is special about this site and could cause substantial harm to the historic environment.’

Design watchdog CABE also attacked the project as having a ‘weakly expressed masterplan’ (AJ 06.02.12): ‘The most prominent building projects should be subject to international competition, particularly in cases like the Shanghai Tower where the impact will be felt much more widely than just the site itself.’

However, there is a lot of support for the scheme within Liverpool. Anderson has praised the scheme as ‘unprecedented in its ambition, scope and potential to regenerate a city’.

Alistair Shepherd, director of Falconer Chester Hall, says: ‘I don’t share the concerns over the heritage status. It’s far enough away from the historic waterfront.’

He adds: ‘Developing the site is ultimately a very positive thing; there is vast potential to the north of the city centre. It’s a long-term project, and you have got to be hopeful that local practices will pick up some of that work. And if investment comes from overseas, that can only be a good thing.’

Frank McKenna, chairman of Downtown in Business, says: ‘UNESCO says that the Liverpool waterfront will be ‘damaged beyond repair’ by the scheme. This is nonsense. The regeneration of the docklands to the north of the city centre – currently little but wasteland – is an opportunity that Liverpool would be mad to hold back on.’

Looking away from the mega-projects, many agree that the emphasis of future plans needs to be away from the central business district and shopping districts. Broadway Malyan’s £1.8 million proposal to turn Everton Park into a visitor attraction is a start.

Broadway Malyan's proposed Everton Park redevelopment. Image: Broadway Malyan

Broadway Malyan’s proposed Everton Park redevelopment. Image: Broadway Malyan

Ian Killick, director of ShedKM agrees: ‘Liverpool needed a big boost in its retail capacity in order to compete with other cities, and that has had a positive effect. It was right to focus on the city centre initially. But now the move is to look at some of the peripheral areas.’

Richard Mawdsley from Peel says: ‘The focus for the city region now needs to be on the fringe areas of the city including the area between the city centre and the Port of Liverpool at Seaforth; the banks of the Mersey; and on the other side of the river on the Wirral.

He adds: ‘The key to promoting activity in these areas is to use those catalysts that are actually happening now. For example there is the £350 million investment in the Port of Liverpool; improved activity in Cammell Lairds (such as ship repair and wind turbine manufacture); evidential growth in key sectors such as renewables and automotive; and enormous growth in SME and entrepreneurial start-up activity.’

Paul Monaghan of AHMM, which has just completed Phase 1 of Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre revamp, concludes: ‘The edges of the city need bursts of energy, [such as] the overhaul of the Camp &Furnace warehouses. They were rotting 10 years ago. The party and food culture needs to be brought to these areas.’

Liverpool vision’s target areas for the city

Hailed as ‘the centrepiece of the city’s regeneration’, plans include reworking undeveloped areas of the docks, improving signage and upgrading connections between the waterfront and city centre.

St George’s Hall
Revamping the area around St George’s Hall – the arrival point for visitors coming into Lime Street Station and Queen Square Bus Station. Proposals include: overhauling street and green spaces and creating a ‘pedestrian priority space’.

Redeveloping the struggling retail area between Liverpool One and Lime Street Station. Work includes: building more shops, improving signage and pedestrian access, creating public spaces for events and upgrading St Johns Shopping Centre

Knowledge Quarter
Creating student homes, developing laboratory space on a new BioCampus, expanding facilities for the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, redeveloping John Moores University’s John Foster Building and creating a third Innovation Centre at Liverpool Science Park.

Commercial District
Increasing provision of Grade A office space, expanding the district to Pall Mall and to Princes Dock – part of the Liverpool Waters scheme.

Great Streets
Developing The Strand and Hope Street corridors, and the route created by Water Street, Dale Street and Lime Street.


Q&A with Max Steinberg, chief executive, Liverpool Vision

What key infrastructure developments would Liverpool Vision like to see implemented through its Strategic Investment Framework?

The City Council and Merseytravel are undertaking a review to examine how pedestrians, vehicles and cyclists move around the City Centre, which will inform how we can unlock the potential opportunities and explore new designs for these places.  The review will inform the design and development of projects such as The Strand, St George’s and the Knowledge Quarter.

In addition, [we have recommended] improvements to the city’s green infrastructure, digital connectivity, and energy provision.  Other major infrastructure projects under consideration include a new bridge across Canning Dock, a City Centre lighting strategy, and exploring the potential to reopen St James’ Station in the Baltic Triangle.

In North Liverpool, key infrastructure projects include the dualling of the A565 and a potential new Northern Line rail station to serve Liverpool Waters.

What has been achieved in fostering stronger links with China?

Liverpool has long had links with China, being home to Europe’s longest established Chinese community and our sister city status with Shanghai led to us further strengthening our ties as the only UK city to have a dedicated presence at the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010.

When interviewed immediately after returning from Shanghai, 12 per cent of sponsors had already secured sales or orders as a result of their participation. Deals ranged from £10,000 to £500,000. 

Significant trading relationships have also been formed. For example lead sponsors The Peel Group report significant progress in the market in terms of new relationships and cementing relationships to further their ambitious regeneration schemes in North Liverpool and Wirral, as well as business opportunities across the group including energy, ports and construction.

How has having an elected mayor helped the city?

The most significant effect is that it has boosted the city’s international profile: many of the major cities around the world have powerful mayors, this can often be confused with the traditional model in the UK, in which the Mayor is a ceremonial figure, whilst the Leader of the Council is the senior politician.

Having Joe Anderson as the elected Mayor of Liverpool fits with international practice, and has led to him taking part in major international discussions with fellow mayors and potential overseas investors that simply wouldn’t have happened before. 

As part of the International Festival of Business next year, we are staging the Global City Leaders’ Summit. Staging such a high profile event would simply not have been possible without having an elected Mayor. Crucially, I estimate that the number of enquiries we receive from potential investors has doubled since the Mayor took office. 




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