Look at some of the big ticket issues Liverpool’s grappling with today and, chances are, they’re the same ones we were dealing with a century ago. We’re the original cyclical city.
In Liverpool, 800-odd years of history is no guarantee that we’ve got all the answers. Time and again in this city, we seem to be content to make the same mistakes over and over again. If we didn’t condemn ourselves to this feedback loop of endless repeats, maybe we might just start moving forward.
Whenever Liverpool’s found itself in a position so good it was ours to lose, guess what? We lost it. We had the docks sewn up. Import, export, trade. Happy days, for the Port of Liverpool, whose dues were so steep that Manchester’s business community petitioned for a waterway to bypass our greedy city’s taxes. And so it was the Manchester Ship Canal was born, and Manchester gained direct access to the sea. See also Liverpool’s cruise business. For so long, we were the country’s pre-eminent cruise terminal. But arrogance and complacency drove customer standards down, complaints rocketed, and Southampton saw an opportunity. The rest is history. See also Liverpool Airport – Peel (its previous owners) had low cost flights sewn up. Manchester wasn’t interested. Then the recession hit. But Peel didn’t bargain on Manchester wooing the no-frills. Big mistake. Now easyJet flies more routes from Manchester, and JLA has dropped out of the top ten. New owners, Vantage, have a solid recovery plan. But, we fear, the advantage has gone.
Why do we keep fucking up our waterfront? Time and again we repeat the same maneuvers. Ignore. Return. Fuck up. Ignore. Return. Fuck up. Repeat. Turn our backs on it, and we turn our backs on the city. So why do we allow such hideousness as the Crowne Plaza get built? Because we don’t respect our waterfront. Why do we proclaim the hugely successful ACC Liverpool as a triumph? Because it was built when we loved it. And the hideous (and now empty) Customs and Excise building? Because we built it when we were on a break. See also the Princes Dock Car Park and the Dolby frigging hotel. Yet the landscaping of the Leeds-Liverpool canal extension is a delight. Our schizophrenic relationship to our waterfront never ceases to depress/surprise us.
When we’re charged with something ‘Important’, or are seized with the ambition to get something big and proper – something that will impress the southerners – off the ground, the city seems to go into kernel panic, and assumes we’re incapable of delivering the goods. That we need to enlist outside help. That we have to do it with an adult present. See the disastrous appointment of Robyn Archer and Jason Harborrow for Capital of Culture. Clueless. Absolutely clueless. Now we’ve got IFB – and we couldn’t possibly market it, stage it or in any way take credit for it ourselves. So we’ve spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on a London based marketing consultancy (who, in our experience, have been pretty bloody useless so far), and a top-drawer events company to programme it. And when we want to start a festival in the city’s creative district, guess what, we ask London to help. Money well spent? Or is a little affirmative action what we need, if we’re to build skills in the city? It was the same when we staged the Shipperies Exhibition in 1886. We panicked. We brought in a London company. It was a disaster.
From Hatton’s expulsion to the Lib-Dem implosion, we’ve never quite managed to keep our dirty laundry inside the Whirlpool, have we? Some say that’s our passion bubbling over, and is all a healthy sign of a city engaging, honestly, with itself. Really? We’d say it was a symptom of those in Municipal Buildings conflating personal power with the city’s true priorities. So while other cities got on with building trams, Merseytravel and our politicians fought and raged and dithered over CPOs and routes and stops…and it was time out for the £300 million investment. See also the shambles of naming the new super authority. Wirral and St Helens holding Liverpool to ransom? It would be funny, if it wasn’t so narrow minded and damaging. A little less heat and a little more light, and maybe we’ll get somewhere.
THE ‘WE’RE NOT WORTHY’ MINDSET
Too often, we’ve sold the city’s soul not to the highest bidder, but simply to the first bidder that came along. It’s playing the short game that’s blighted the city with its tinned-up maze of pathfinder streets, its wholly inappropriate new builds – parachuted in with no thought of context, or longevity. See the Halifax’s boarded up HQ on the Strand (pic), who approved that? Whoever did probably talked of the thousands of jobs, the kickstarting of a Renaissance for the riverfront. Halifax took the bribes, hung around a few years, then fucked off. No deep investment in the city. Scars remain. See also the aforementioned Customs and Excise building, the handing over of all municipal golf courses to a private company for tuppence, the bargain-of-the-century we got from Liverpool Direct. So Sainsbury’s have coughed up cash for Project Jennifer. Great. But what price the 200 year old market? Why can’t we start playing the long game? Why can’t we be brave enough to stand our ground and plan for 30 years ahead, not three?
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
The Customs House didn’t need to be knocked down. Everyone knows that. Same goes for the Sailor’s Home, the Cotton Exchange, the colonnaded and gorgeous previous St John’s Market and much of the city’s grand old city centre warehouses and streets. But we’ve always been a little too jiggy with the wrecking ball around here, only to repent at leisure, haven’t we? Handsome Victorian terraces along Edge Lane, with a bit of damp? Blast them off the face of the earth and chuck up some tat with no class or character. What is it with Liverpool that makes us willfully raze our heritage to rubble? Would it be so bad if what we replaced it with something built to last?
We’ve mentioned the disaster that was (or wasn’t) Merseytram. But we could add to that the city’s ideologically bonkers dream to keep pedestrians floating above the city streets (which must have cost countless thousands in the pointless construction of buildings with first floor access.) Then we demolished the sublime Overhead Railway, still have no clue what to do with The Strand, have no rail connection to our airport, and failed to get a single penny in the Government’s cycle bonanza: £94 million was up for grabs. Our bid must have been spectacularly half-arsed. Our big idea? Let’s scrap the bus lanes. Genius.
A CHANCE TO MAKE AMENDS?
Tomorrow, though, we could be adding to this list, or we might just be able to say that, finally, Liverpool is learning from its lessons of the past.
Tomorrow, the city’s Planning office will meet to decide whether to allow the relocation of Great Homer Street market to a site that’s been confirmed as unsuitable.
Traders have been told that the new Dryden Street site is, at best, only fit to be a temporary solution. But, according to Cllr Kennedy, at a meeting with traders, the site(a third of a mile away from the market’s promised new site at the heart of Project Jennifer) will be considered to become a permanent one.
As Larry Neild points out in Liverpool Confidential, Planning Officers agree that the Dryden Street site is “not considered acceptable on a permanent basis” and that it would not fully comply with retail policies, but acknowledge the proposed use would be temporary to allow the first phase of the wider regeneration proposals to be carried out.
As every sensible person knows, street markets are increasingly vital to the health of a city. Cities across the country (and the world) are reconnecting to their heritage, and securing the economic health of tenacious communities, by investing in street markets – and placing them at the heart of any new retail scheme.
Planning officers have a chance, tomorrow. Not to listen to the crap, as spouted in the Echo and elsewhere, of Project Jennifer creating jobs for ‘up to 1,000 people.’ Rubbish.
There will be some zero hours and part time jobs, yes. But, if the market’s move goes ahead, there will be traders’ jobs lost, and – again – another lost opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past. We’ve messed up St John’s, lost much of our independent retail, and missed the Christmas Markets bonanza. But it’s not too late.
Don’t hold your breath…