We admit it, we were a little disappointed when the final of several plans to build a gateway tower at Lime Street (where the old Concourse House sat and crumbled) came to nothing. Sure, we miss the brekkie bar underneath, and we don’t know where to go for leather bomber jackets now. But we were wrong…the area’s scrubbed up a treat.
The new, restrained and open Lime Street Gateway (sans Tower) has just picked up a prestigious national award from National Railway Heritage Awards (NRHA) for its improved ‘Station Environment’.
NRHA is the UK body dedicated to encouraging best practice in the restoration of our railway landscapes, and this award, sponsored by HS1 Ltd, the company which owns the High Speed 1 railway, as well as the wonderfully refashioned St Pancras station, recognises the “magnificent setting for the now wonderfully uncluttered south station facade. Access to the station is now a pleasure rather than a task of negotiating obstructions as it was before”. The judges also referred to the “superb” lighting scheme, and commended the “concept, design, attention to detail and execution”.
All in all, a result. And a far cry from the days of claim and counterclaim that littered the route to the Gateway’s final destination.
The design’s gentle slopes and steps elegantly address its tricky geography, with a lift linking street level to the innards of Merseyrail below. Seating, tree planting, and feature lighting have been incorporated, there’s public art in the glazing of the façade and the stone paving traces a journey from Liverpool UK to Liverpool Nova Scotia. But that’s not something you’d want to do if your ticket’s not via Labrador.
There were, originally, two towers planned for the area,( as you can see in the pic, r) the 32 floor hotel and residential development – Grand Central Lime Street by developer Chieftain Constructions, just up Skelhorne Street, and the Lime Street Gateway Tower by Glenn Howells Architects for the site on the existing Concourse House.
Cheiftan’s taller tower was rejected by the council on grounds of quality. English Heritage agreed, saying it would affect the World Heritage Site and there should be only one tower in Lime Street.
However, the planned tower next door on Concourse House was supported by the council despite being a similar height. Criticisms of design and suitability for location notwithstanding, the main question remaining was why LCC would support a project so similar to one that all the major planning bodies opposed?
Then head of the planning committee, Lady Doreen Jones, said at the time that “there was a time in this city when we would accept second best, but that is no longer the case…”
Sadly, though, Lady Jones was being – at best – disingenuous. For all its pared down and mature £25million refurb, the new Lime Street Gateway – without a tower – does serve as a frame for the hideously grim, Soviet-styled halls of residences (pic r) clustered further up Skelhorne Street. But they’re not ‘second best’ – are they, Lady Jones? If only they aspired to be. How on Earth did they get planning permission on such an elevated sight, overlooking St George’s?
On receiving the award, Max Steinberg, Liverpool Vision’s Chief Executive, said: “The transformation of the Lime Street gateway from an unappealing mix of offices and shops into a magnificent area of public space providing a superb setting for the station frontage is one of the most significant developments in Liverpool city centre in recent years.”
There’s no denying it, Lime Street looks better than it has done in a generation. And the development roundly endorses the less is more approach to public spaces. The old station is magnificent – and the flow and access this new regeneration has brought certainly adds to the area’s appeal, without detracting from the main attraction.
When restoration began, Warren Bradley (remember him?) said: “When the people of Liverpool put Concourse House at the top of a ‘Blot on the Landscape’ poll, it was a clear message that they wanted to be proud of this part of the city.”
Well, with a nice new award – and plaque – to polish, we are. All we wish now is that the view from the other side of Lime Street was better.
But that’s a blot we’ll fight another day.