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ShedKM to submit plans for fire-damaged Littlewoods Pools building

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ShedKM could submit plans before Christmas for its conversion of the Littlewoods Pools building into a film studio complex – despite last month’s fire at the iconic Liverpool building.

Practice director Mark Sidebotham said the scheme was back on track after the major blaze that caught hold of the 1938 Art Deco landmark last month.

Project backer Capital & Centric conceded in September that the fire was a ‘setback’ to its £50 million proposals to create facilities including two 1,850m2 sound stages, supporting workshops, offices, wardrobes, prop storage and a food hall.

But with the fire damage contained to the west wing of the building – away from the 7,900m2 space being built for anchor tenant Twickenham Studios – the project has roared back into life and new images have been released ahead of formal planning documents.

‘We are hoping to submit the planning application over the next few months,’ Sidebotham told the AJ. ‘It is looking like late this year or early in 2019.

‘We want to get as much right as possible up front. We are trying to deal with the acoustics, the heating and cooling to make it a bespoke studio, to reduce the risk of disruptions when filming. It’s an interesting project, quite a learning curve.’

The September blaze – which required six fire engines and was described as ‘extremely difficult for crews to deal with’ – led to a hiatus in project development.

‘There was a bit of a pause while the client focused on dialogue with insurers, the police, the fire brigade and the media,’ said Sidebotham.

Fortunately the badly damaged areas were mainly earmarked for replacement and the critical elements of the existing structure remained untouched.

‘We were always going to take the roof off in the west wing,’ Sidebotham said. ‘Thankfully the existing roof burnt through and collapsed, which meant some of the heat could escape, rather than causing damage to the structure.

‘Some of the first floor has burnt out and will require new timber joists but the primary structure was fine.’

Proposals have remained largely unaltered since the blaze, with the main difficulties being with the early parts of the project.

‘Clearing of the site is now a bit more complicated,’ said Sidebotham. ‘The roof was asbestos sheeting that could have been taken away quite easily before the fire.’

Twickenham Studios will take on half of the east wing as well as two new-build studios on adjacent land. The other half of the east wing is earmarked for another film company.

The west wing will be designed to be smaller studios and office space for occupation by media and education companies. A food hub including a cinema screen will be created to fill the majority of the central space between the wings, and will be open to the public as well as those working at the studios.

Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson hailed the scheme as the fresh images were released.

‘We’re talking about bringing the world’s film industry to us,’ he said. ‘They’re already here for Liverpool’s amazing exterior locations, but Littlewoods will give them a one-stop home for interior filming. The fire in September was a blow, but I’m pleased that this has not impacted the vision for the future of this incredible building.’

Capital & Centric co-founder Tim Heatley said: ‘Our team was floored by the outpouring of love for our vision from the city and around the world. The building is pretty cavernous and has loads of potential – the fire doesn’t change any of that.

‘We’re busy speaking to potential occupiers and planning what the space will look like inside, what finishes we’ll need and how the various spaces will work together. We’re making sure the inside is impressive and beautifully designed, befitting of what is an icon for Liverpool.’

Subject to planning, the film studios could be operating by 2020.

SAVE Britain’s Heritage has described the Littlewoods Pools building – once home to the football predictions betting game that swept the nation – as ‘probably’ designed by Scottish architect Gerald de Courcey Fraser.

Over the years several attempts have been made to overhaul the abandoned landmark.

Local practice ShedKM originally drew up plans in the mid-00s to convert the structure into a ‘digital village’ featuring 250 apartments, a 100-bedroom hotel, offices, shops, leisure space and a crèche.

There were then plans to turn it into a school campus before ShedKM started again on plans to convert it earlier this decade (see AJ 13.12.12). 

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