Features & Comment
Let Liverpool Grow Spencer Montagu The concrete spires and tower cranes of Merepark’s Central Village are beginning to rise above Bold Street and Renshaw Street, marking the birth of what some locals are already calling ‘Liverpool Two’. Local sources seem to believe that Peel Holding’s Liverpool Waters project is to get the green light when its fate is decided on the 6th of March. With these two huge development projects in their infancy I find myself reflecting on whether Liverpool is in need of development. Bereft of large scale investment and development throughout the 80s and 90s, this influx following Liverpool One’s success can only be beneficial, right? On the other hand Liverpool has only recently grasped the full potential of its heritage, with the acquisition of both UNESCO’s World Heritage Status in 2004 and the coveted European Capital of Culture award in 2008, helping the city rise up from its less than glorious recent past. Tourists are now flooding into the city at an unprecedented rate, bringing with them money and returning a metropolitan feel that Liverpool was once famous for. So if further development is to harm this, as both UNESCO and English Heritage believe, is it fair to continue? The biggest of these projects, causing the most commotion, is Liverpool Waters, on which I have spent hours reading the proposed plans and their counter-arguments. The main points of contention stem from UNESCO arguing of Liverpool’s past as a horizontal landscape (a characteristic of the warehouses which lined the coast in its maritime prime) would be
damaged by the further inclusion of skyscrapers to the north, in turn distorting the perceived symmetry of the Pier Head. The points of contention make me question whether UNESCO are missing the point a little. On paper the city was awarded the heritage status for bring ‘outstanding universal value’ on three grounds: Dock construction and innovation. Maritime mercantile culture. Example of a world class mercantile city. The grounds for contempt do not seem to fall under any of these categories. It could be argued that warehouses fall under Dockland innovation, yet in their current state of abandonment and disrepair they serve to highlight nothing of Liverpool’s past. Peel holdings have clearly stated that all heritage assets, will be restored with information
Liverpool Waters What’s proposed?
60 hectare site £5.5b developments Extensive canal links Rapid transit railway Cruise liner terminal Residential, cultural & commercial buildings
explaining their historical use and in the case of the actual docks, they will be once again put into use. Surely the revival and restoration, as opposed to the current state of degradation, can only enhance the first two of UNESCO’s original conditions? As for the third (more social) condition, this was apparent through Europe’s first China town, Britain’s first black
community, and the world’s first hospital devoted to tropical medicine. All these things are a testament to a city that has prided itself on being international and metropolitan something which this project cannot harm. With the amount of foreign investment towards the project, it can o n l y b o l s t e r L i v e r p o o l ’s Internationalism. In UNESCO’s defences they have not said Liverpool will definitely lose its World Heritage Status, they’ve merely hinted at it. Even so, it’s a bold claim as the land in question is made up by less than half World Heritage land and in total only makes up 22% of the World Heritage allocation. If we look at the similar example of HafenCity in Hamburg, while devoid of World Heritage Status, it is still a city which shares not only Liverpool’s maritime past but was also severely destroyed during the war and even claims a stake in the cash cow that is Beatles history. On visiting I felt the renovations of the former dockland warehouses enhanced the maritime past of the city, yet allowed the city to also continue in another direction. I am confident in Liverpool Waters ability to re-create the same atmosphere in our city. It’s hard to effectively argue that the project is damaging Liverpool’s heritage when the area is currently out of reach to the public and razed to the ground. Central Village causes mixed emotions. As with Liverpool Waters, the regeneration of an area of unused land is necessarily a positive, but with Central Village the problems which arise concern what shall be placed in this land. Crucial to this project is the reworking of Central Station, a blessing for anyone who commutes
daily, all 46,000 of them. Regularly voted one of the worst stations in the country whilst being the second busiest underground station outside of London, this work is long overdue. Other positives of the scheme include reviving the Lewis’ department store
“Liverpool One may have been a commercial success, but it homogenised the city, a trend I believe Central Village will continue” building, which otherwise would have lay abandoned. It will form part of the additional 442 hotel rooms Central Village is adding to the city. Currently it’s practically impossible to get a room in Liverpool at the weekend, thus the rise of hotels everywhere, so assuming the trend continues and stabilises, it’s a welcome addition to our city. Conversely, other tenants of the project are less impressive. Odeon the anchor tenant causes much trepidation. The proposal to include a smaller (6 screen) Odeon cinema in such close proximity to F.A.C.T could be deadly for the latter which has become an institution since its inception. While F.A.C.T no doubt caters to a different audience than your conventional megaplex, screening more art-house films and playing host to various art exhibitions, it’s fair to suggest a part of its revenue comes from more
casual cinema goers. Littered throughout the other named tenants are typically bland eateries found in every and all cities, which are at complete odds with the atmosphere and ethos of Bold Street and RopeWalks surrounding them. Liverpool One may have been a success in bringing franchises that the city lacked, but in doing so it homogenised the city - a trend I believe Central Village will continue. All the while, this is at the expense of Liverpool’s more culturally diverse shopping areas, namely Quiggins and the independent shops lining Bold Street which flank the development site. This problem stems from the high rents of new builds which alienate local commerce, who could counter the invasion of a beige shopping monoculture. At the heart of it, there isn’t a war to be fought between heritage and development. Development must continue, lest Liverpool return to the deprived and neglected 80s, but just as crucially, however, it must respect the past of the city it is trying to rejuvenate. I firmly believe that Liverpool Waters will find the correct balance, for conservation of desolate ground in the name of heritage seems completely redundant. Similar objections were made during the conception of the Three Graces, and yet they are now some of the most beloved buildings in the country, playing a huge part in tourism. My reservations still stand towards Central Village; another identikit development in the city centre doesn’t make sense to me. But I guess only time can tell if the place becomes a success, and whether or not this will come at the expense of its surroundings.