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The Regenerators #3: Jim Gill

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Jim Gill, head of regeneration superquango Liverpool Vision, talks to Richard Waite about the city’s future and World Heritage status.

Launched last month, Liverpool Vision (LV) is an all-new economic development and regeneration agency which comprises the old Liverpool Vision urban regeneration company, the Liverpool Land Development Company, and BusinessLiverpool. Jim Gill, chief executive of the old Liverpool Vision, was appointed as head of the new organisation earlier this year.

You said in January that the boom in proposed skyscrapers in the city could not be sustained…
Actually I didn’t say that. I said that it was clear that growing financial uncertainty would have an impact on the housing market, including the market for city-centre apartments, and any proposals for residential towers would take longer to move from planning to construction than had been the case in the past. At the time I thought that was a statement of the obvious. Now it looks like an understatement. I think the headline was that I had predicted the end of the skyscraper in Liverpool. I didn’t, and I think that as the city enters new phases of development we will see many more tall buildings, and the usual controversy.

What are your views on CABE’s role and its comments about various schemes in the city, which have tended to be negative [for example Leach Rhodes Walker’s King Edward Tower, which CABE said should be refused planning permission]?
We share CABE’s objectives with regard to quality of place and good design and generally speaking we have a good relationship. We don’t always agree on the merits of individual schemes, but it would be surprising if we did, and healthy disagreement is no bad thing.

Has the Capital of Culture status created an unrealistic deadline for many of the city’s planned developments?
Liverpool city centre has gone through, and is still going through, huge change. The foundations for the main elements of that change: [Grosvenor’s £1 billion] Liverpool One; [Wilkinson Eyre’s] Arena and Convention Centre Liverpool; the expansion of the commercial core; and the extensive programme of public-realm improvements, were laid eight to 10 years ago, well before the European Capital of Culture status was secured. European Capital of Culture has provided target completion dates for some of our larger schemes. Grosvenor has said that it has incurred costs through acceleration of the construction package for Liverpool One, the first phase of which will open at the end of May. But I’m sure their retailers will benefit from a busy summer of trading. I see the current level of development activity as sending a message that Liverpool is changing fast, and for the better.

Do you think Liverpool waterfront’s World Heritage status has hindered the city’s growth?
No, but this question has generated plenty of debate. If we do not preserve the best of the past the city will be a less attractive place for investment. The issue is, what is the best way to do that? The city has to grow, and growth means change. I hope that the planning guidance currently being prepared by the council will see that change is an essential component of a successful city and that it will provide the clarity and flexibility to guide development in and around the World Heritage Site.

How do you decide which areas of the city are regenerated?
In our Strategic Regeneration Framework we identified the key opportunities: the expansion of the retail core; the creation of a commercial core; and using the waterfront. The detailed planning has followed. In the commercial core, LV has secured outline planning consent for a broad masterplan which has been converted into a Strategic Planning document. On the waterfront we have proceeded through a series of project-based masterplans. The ‘new’ LV will follow a similar approach. We have identified the city centre and the key gateways to the city as priority opportunity areas. We also expect to be increasingly involved in the Northshore area where Peel’s ambitions [for the £5.5 billion Liverpool Waters development] present a huge opportunity, but also a significant challenge. Architects have an important role to play in ensuring that regeneration schemes like this take a form which is relevant and integrated with local communities.

Have the aims of the new vision been set out in stone yet – for instance do you have any early targets, or will they evolve?
At the strategic level, yes. We want to drive faster economic growth, to increase the contribution of higher value-added activity, and to help ensure that the benefits of growth are captured locally. Some things follow naturally from that. Liverpool must attract more inward investment; we need to exploit the knowledge and creative sectors in the city, and our workforce must have the right level of skills and education. In broad terms, we know what the priority areas will be and how we might intervene. But the focus in the first year of operation will be on welding the three organisations which make up the new LV into one, so that we do not lose any of the momentum in existing projects and programmes, and so that we can take advantage of the efficiencies and synergies that one organisation can create. By the end of the year we – and our partners – will have adopted a new business plan, which will set out clear objectives. It will set out how we will work – directly and with the private sector – to deliver against those objectives, the resources we will need and the impact we expect to have.

How do you think the work/achievements of LV have been regarded by the public so far?
In our new guise we haven’t yet had the opportunity to make any impact, but the city’s business community has welcomed the decision to create a new single economic development company for the city. If you mean the work which the former LV has done in the city centre, I think that there is widespread recognition of the obvious – that the city centre has changed out of all recognition over the past nine or 10 years, and LV is widely recognised as having played a significant role in that change. But we have been the last to claim that it is all down to us. The city has taken advantage of a strongly performing national economy, local developers have shown the way, and external investment has returned to the city. The wider public has noticed how the sheer scale of development has intruded into their daily life, but they can now see the end result, particularly at the Arena and Convention Centre and with the opening of the first phase of Liverpool One at the end of May.

How, for architects and developers who know the old LV, will the new LV differ?
Not a great deal. I think one of the strengths of both LV and the Liverpool Land Development Company has been our ability to engage with developers and their advisors, understanding the commercial pressures but at the same time promoting our strategic aims. An important element of our role is early involvement in schemes and facilitation, which sometimes strays into mediation. The new company will operate on the same basis of open dialogue and a strong ‘can do’ approach to those schemes or issues that are important to the achievement of our objectives.

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