Steve Parry of Neptune Developments responds to criticism by SAVE Britain’s Heritage of its contentious plans for Liverpool’s Lime Street
If there is one thing we understand about Liverpudlians, from our association with Will Alsop’s Cloud and its equally controversial – and now widely appreciated – successor at Mann Island, it is that they are passionate about their buildings. Equally they care about heritage, and it is for that reason that our approach to award-winning projects, including the restoration of the City’s original Art Deco airport buildings, has always been guided by a commitment to sensitive and imaginative conservation.
For these reasons the Broadway Malyan-designed proposals for the regeneration of Lime Street’s lacerated and appallingly neglected eastern terrace were always going to excite a lively civic conversation. This is one of Liverpool’s landmark streets, and a City gateway that left Bill Bryson and countless thousands of subsequent visitors positively underwhelmed. A once vibrant City thoroughfare with a rich and diverse architectural personality had become a sad and disfigured collection of buildings many in an advanced state of physical dereliction. The City Council and the Homes & Communities Agency should be applauded for taking decisive action to address this by sponsoring the very costly acquisition of the buildings, which had been in a complex pattern of private ownerships.
As preferred developers charged with re-imaging this section of Lime Street, and the adjacent listed Art Deco ABC cinema, we knew that this was no easy challenge. It would require ingenuity, sensitivity and deep respect for Lime Street’s character and urban function.
Even back in 2005, English Heritage had determined the terrace to be too far gone due to alteration and condition to be worthy of listing. Initial schemes developed prior to the economic downturn had sought to retain key facades but this approach was not encouraged by English Heritage. Nearly a decade later, the newly created Save the Futurist Theatre campaign group had a simple and sincere plea to safeguard a much-loved landmark and one of the City’s oldest picture houses. It was an aspiration that we had once shared but years of weather damage during a period when the building owner had fallen into administration meant the opportunity was lost. This view was supported by two comprehensive independent engineers reports and, following site visits, even these fiercely committed campaigners at Save the Futurist accepted that this was simply not achievable. This is not willful destruction of a cherished landmark by rapacious developers; it was a deeply regrettable but inevitable acceptance of reality.
We strongly refute the argument put forward by SAVE Britain’s Heritage and their supporters that this is an insensitive and ‘crassly commercial’ development (see AJ 09.02.16).
From the outset Matt Brook and the architectural team [at Broadway Malyan] focused on the heritage challenge and the need to achieve a design solution that respected and enhanced the setting of the terrace’s two listed book-end public houses.
Historic England endorsed the design approach. Architectural and aesthetic judgements are always subjective and opinions will inevitably be passionately held and robustly expressed. But the balance and subtlety of this particular debate has thus far not been reflected.
Respected Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) academic and writer Dominic Wilkinson and local journalist and conservation campaigner David Lloyd are just two of the native voices who have advised SAVE that in this instance they are tilting at the wrong windmills.
It is revealing that John Belcham, in his AJ thought piece, seriously misrepresents the content of the scheme in order to substantiate his core premise. The scheme does not involve the demolition of the entire terrace between the listed Vines and Crown public houses. Overall more than 40 per cent of the existing eastern terrace is retained, with buildings replaced that are not capable or worthy of restoration. The scheme has no student accommodation on Lime Street.
The proposed uses contained within the five-storey Lime Street building – hotel, retail and leisure – are precisely the uses you would expect to encounter in the vicinity of the City’s mainline Rail Station. The student accommodation element fronting onto Bolton Street to the rear of Lime Street is entirely appropriate, given the site’s location at the gateway of the City’s Knowledge Quarter, directly adjacent to LJMU’s expanding City Centre campus and opposite one of the City’s largest student blocks.
Misrepresentation is one thing, but it is opportunistic exploitation and the determination to make a point come what may, that is putting the future of this project and this street in jeopardy. From the beginning it has seemed that SAVE’s primary motivation has been to generate publicity and expose the supposed shortcomings of provincial philistinism. The idea that Liverpool simply cannot be trusted to safeguard the integrity of its own World Heritage Site without the benevolent scrutiny of enlightened metropolitans may have traction with some sections of the architectural and heritage establishment, but it is ultimately patronising and wrong.
’The scheme is not harmful, nor is it crass, insensitive or devoid of architectural merit’
The only argument behind SAVE’s series of legal challenges is that this scheme jeopardises the City’s World Heritage status. This is clearly untrue and SAVE is well aware of that fact. Any visit to the site would confirm the fact that the section of Lime Street to be redeveloped cannot even be seen from any point within the World Heritage Site. More fundamentally, the scheme is not harmful, nor is it crass, insensitive or devoid of architectural merit.
We have worked in good faith to repair a gaping breach in Liverpool’s urban fabric with intelligent architecture underpinned by suitable and sustainable commercial uses. The scheme has generated debate and disagreement; but SAVE’s ongoing campaign and the arguments advanced by their supporters now seem increasingly removed from the facts and specifics of this scheme. There are ways and means of making points, but PR-driven legal challenges, based on specious claims and abstract legal arguments may help to raise SAVE’s profile, but will surely, in time, diminish its reputation.