External view (2) 21.03.13 2

There is no doubt, our city (and especially Liverpool Vision’s stewardship of inward investment) has done good. With £4 billion invested in the past decade, and big-ticket hits like LiverpoolONE, the ACC and the cruise terminal, we’ve a lot (a heck of a lot) to be happy about.

Earlier this year, Liverpool Council launched its new SIF (Strategic Investment Framework). A 15 year plan to push the city forward, the framework is part public proclamation of stuff we know is definitely happening (the Exhibition Centre and Bio Park) and part wish-list of woolly stuff we’d like to happen (but haven’t really got the cash).

But this shiny new framework is the latest in a long line of wish lists by successive councils. And so much of the new SIF reads uncannily like its predecessor a full 13 years ago. Which got us thinking: how much of the rebooted framework is more ‘long-grass-kicking’ than ‘blue sky thinking’?

It takes more than big buildings and big projects to re-engineer a city’s sense of purpose. It takes a determination to focus on the places in between, too. So, with that in mind, let’s wind back the clock. Because the devil always hides in the details…

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What they said in 2000

“Active ground floor uses in the Three Graces will help contribute to a vibrant Pier Head and can serve as an attraction in their own right. The Festival Markets found at the harbours in Baltimore and Boston, and cafe society areas, might serve as a model for the redevelopment of these areas with good quality street traders and stalls…”

2013

On a recent RIBA walking tour, the grumpy concierge in the Cunard building wouldn’t even let us peek inside the building’s former first class cruise liner lounges. So it’s safe to say active ground floor uses of the Three Graces (save for a Biennial stop over) is still a pipe dream. Shame. And the city’s markets and street traders? At an all time low.

✘ FAIL

What they said in 2000

“The Cultural Quarter, defined by William Brown Street, St Georges Hall and St John’s Gardens, is isolated from its surroundings, an island surrounded by wide streets with fast flows of traffic.”

2013

We can see no real improvement here. The SIF 2013 talks, again, about the city’s desire to deal with these areas, but, with zero improvements in the past 13 years, you have to wonder. 

✘ FAIL

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What they said in 2000

A central tenet of the 2000 framework was the ‘City Centre Movement Strategy’, which aimed to ‘radically improve the quality of the environment through pedestrian friendly design’ [by] improving the walking environment, creating opportunities for the rediscovery and development of public spaces and public activities.

“Traffic management and the creation of strong north south pedestrian linkages between the Commercial District and the Main Retail Area should deliver an unrivalled public environment, visually attractive art, and public performances (in places like Temple Court, and the car parks around Moorfields)… and a network of pedestrian-only lanes between Dale and Victoria Street.”

2013

We’ve seen no evidence of these ‘pedestrian friendly’ lanes. Yes, Castle Street has been narrowed, and decent public realm seating introduced. But elsewhere, the levelled ground car parks and dank little lanes look as unloved as they did 13 years ago. And the only public performances in these alleys are probably not for delicate eyes.

✘ FAIL

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What they said in 2000

Gateways to the city centre function differently at night. The first and last impression for a visitor will be a car park, train station, taxi rank, Merseytram or bus stop (there’s a lot about Merseytram)

2013

No trams. Let’s not dig up that sorry tale again, eh?

✘ FAIL (although it’s good to see Paradise Street’s bus station gone)

What they said in 2000

“The closing of the gap between leisure and work time has generated a need to address after dark requirements regarding safety and visual appearance. Emphasising key nighttime pedestrian networks with improved qualities of light focused upon the pedestrian environment rather than traffic needs alone is required.”

“Principal pedestrian routes, linking the main character areas, architecturally significant buildings and open spaces, form the Key Pedestrian Network. This will be a pedestrian dominated environment with very limited vehicle access. The Lanes should be enhanced to create more inviting and higher quality pedestrian places.

“Within the district there are currently a number of vacant lots used as surface car parks; the most appropriate should be re-designed as open spaces including squares, playlots and gardens.

2013

Do you know of the city’s Key Pedestrian Network? How well lit is Leather Lane at night? Or Ryley’s Gardens? Yes, our Lighting Strategy has brightened our city. But, rather than illuminate pedestrian ways, the Council elected to illuminate the Churchill Way Flyover with fancy, illuminated rows of LEDs, at a cost of thousands (which have now been switched off).

✘ FAIL

Oh, and has anyone spotted a playlot?

Screen-Shot-2012-10-31-at-21.31.48-400x217What they said in 2000

“The SRF requires the creation of a maritime boulevard along the full length of the Strand, providing pedestrian priority throughout its length. The objective for The Strand is to create a boulevard in a city streetscape with enhanced pedestrian crossings to support desire lines and alleviate the barrier between the waterfront and city centre. The Strand in particular provides an opportunity for extensive tree planting and public art, and tunnelling underneath is being considered…”

2013

Nothing to see here, people. Move along. Suffice to say the same rhetoric is being churned out in the all new SIF. Let’s wait and see. A super-crossing at LiverpoolONE does not a European Boulevard make. And, erm, public art? Tunnelling? That’s gone to ground too.

✘ FAIL

What they said in 2000

“The Albert, Canning and Princes dock system provides the potential for the creation of ‘water squares’ that provide concentrated pedestrian activity at their edges and water-based activity in their centres, with fountains and water sculptures. The development of the Fourth Grace and public facilities at Kings Dock will be a catalyst for public realm activity around the dock system that will revitalise this unique waterfront.

“Consideration should be given to mixed-use buildings rather than pure office accommodation, and floating restaurants…”

2013

No fountains, floating restaurants (shame. We wish Matou would float away), mixed-use buildings or water squares as such, but it’s hard to quibble with the public realm renovations around Museum of Liverpool and the Leeds Liverpool canal extension, and the new wakeboarding centre at Queens Dock looks like great fun. No Fourth Grace, but maybe that was for the best, in retrospect.

✔ PASS 

What they said in 2000

“It is also important to remember the origins of Liverpool, which is the now culverted Pool that linked the Cultural Quarter with the Mersey via Whitechapel and Canning Place. The river has long gone but the valley remains, providing a potential context for reinterpretation through public arts that re-establishes this link and reinforces pedestrian movement…”

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So that’ll be the smelly drains of Whitechapel, then? Can you spot any interpretive public art outside Toni and Guys, or Trailfinders? Nah. What happened to the ‘Ribbon of Life’ on Church Street. Lasted for, ooh, two months? (pic)

✘ FAIL

What they said in 2000

“With huge potential as a multi-functional area for staging events, Derby Square, Castle Street and Exchange Flags must be designed as one place, which will provide a backdrop to the unique setting of Castle Street. A new commercial square is proposed within the Commercial District as part of a masterplan. Each of these squares will generate their own unique identity… part of a public space network.

“Exchange Flags should serve as a major public open space for the entire area including the business area to the north. This hard-surfaced plaza could contain outdoor seating, cafes and restaurants, and be the focus for outdoor art installations.”

2013

Sorry, but try as they might, St Paul’s Square remains a windblown abyss of monolithic office blocks, devoid of life and devoid of any sign of a plan. Same with Derby and Exchange squares. Oh, there was a homophobic minister with a microphone there, last week. Is that public art? We’re not sure.

✘ FAIL

8_liverpool_oneWhat they said in 2000

“The retail offer must be modern and present a unique image of Liverpool. It must provide for a wide cross-section of the community. It must also provide specialist and niche products for the discerning customer to differentiate Liverpool’s shopping offer…. need to develop the site currently occupied by the St John’s Shopping Centre as a public events complex to strengthen this area’s role as a node of civic facilities.

2013

Can’t argue against LiverpoolONE. It’s been a triumph, and is a real asset to the city (and region). But specialist and niche products? Not really. And a node of civic facilities outside St Johns? Well, there’s a bloke selling dodgy Burberry scarves, if that counts? And some seats outside Costa. But leery footie fans did for communal match-watching on the big screen.

✔ PASS

What they said in 2000

“The Ugly Building Initiative (UBI) has been developed by the City Council to tackle the problem of poorly maintained and decorated buildings in the City Centre. Owners and occupiers of problem buildings are contacted and invited to discuss their plans for improvements. If no action is taken to rectify the problems, notices are issued to require improvement works to be undertaken…”

2013

We don’t know how many of these notices were issued, but we can’t see any massive sea change in the state of some of our empty and forlorn city centre buildings. Those that aren’t becoming student flats, that is.

✘ FAIL

What they said in 2000

“The Gold Zone Initiative has been developed by the City Council in partnership with Liverpool Vision, Rope Walks Partnership, Tidy Britain Group and local businesses to improve the overall appearance of the City Centre, in Bold Street, the Cavern Quarter, Lime Street, Williamson Square, Clayton Square, Church Street and London Road…”

2013

Is there less sick in the Cavern Quarter? Less golden rivulets of piss? Oh, maybe that’s why it’s called the Gold Zone? Lime Street any better (outside of the lovely steps?)

✘ FAIL

What they said in 2000

“To help achieve a safe and secure City Centre it is critical that the final PSDA scheme is permeable in all directions and encourages connections to other areas (back then, Liverpool ONE was merely the Paradise Street Development Area). Furthermore, the scheme must not be seen as a barrier after closing hours; therefore, it is recommended that Paradise Street itself be maintained as an open, public route for pedestrians.

2013

Pass, although the area isn’t a public route, as it’s owned by Grosvenor. Academic really, until you try to busk there, or hawk a £3 a month donation to the Dogs Trust. The promised LiverpoolONE markets never materialised though, which is a shame.

✔ PASS

What they said in 2000

St George’s Hall is one of the great buildings of Liverpool and a permanent, public use of the facility should be sought. One possibility is to establish the building as the centrepiece of a new, international conference centre. The building’s location, adjacent to Lime Street Station, ensures easy access for out-of-town visitors as well as the citizens of Liverpool.

2013

We still don’t know what to do with our glorious neo-classical temple.

✘ FAIL

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“Employment opportunities in the City Centre will be concentrated into the Parliament Street Light Industrial Improvement Area. Work to be carried out could include streetscape and redevelopment of derelict sites and buildings into low rent start-up units.

“Substantial improvement to the streetscape on Jamaica Street and Park Lane should also be carried out to provide an alternative route from the City Centre and a future PSDA (relieving traffic on the Strand). In addition, a bus park should be established off Jamaica Street for visiting coaches after dropping off passengers at their destination.”

2013

We now know the cheekily titled Parliament Street Light Industrial Improvement Area at the Baltic Triangle (thank god for that). And there is a lot to praise here (although we doubt our branding and app developer neighbours are particularly ‘light industrial’). But that bus park? Hey, we’d settle for a bus route.

✔ PASS

The city centre has improved dramatically in the past 13 years. But it would be a mistake to assume the job is done. The next years will be difficult, and much development that is currently planned in the new SIF may not happen. But we’d argue much of it is every bit as important as a shiny new convention centre, because much of it is concerned not with inward investment and tourism, but with us. Us, who chose to live, work and raise families here.

The next ten years will define our city’s future – and if we’re really to capitalise on the great strides we’ve made, a far higher percentage of our latest SIF’s wish list needs to get off the drawing board and into the city.

We’ll be watching.

  • Ramsey Campbell

    ““It is also important to remember the origins of Liverpool, which is the now culverted Pool …”

    I warned the world in CREATURES OF THE POOL what might be disturbed…

  • http://www.robinbrown.co.uk/ Robin Brown

    Haha – I thought of Creature of the Pool. Perhaps that’s what kiboshed the redevelopment.

  • Klaus Joynson

    They should just pedestrianise the whole city centre, from Dale Street to Lime Street to Berry Street. The traffic adds nothing to the city centre. Shame the taxi firms are all-powerful.

  • Joe Shooman

    I remember talking a few years back with Roger Hill I think and he mentioned that at one stage there was a plan to make the Bold Street, Lecce, Hardman roads totally pedestrianised a la Las Ramblas in Barcelona. Interesting idea.

  • david_lloyd

    i remember that too. Which is funny, because I’ve a terrible memory. But then again, la ramblas is full of tat innit?

  • Joe Shooman

    tat, thieves and tourists: the holy trinity

  • andrew

    St Georges Hall is now home to the Registery office, and used as the city’s new favourite wedding venue. Exchange flags is used for numerous events, most recently light night.

  • thewilk

    Floating restaurants – I know this one!

    Liverpool Council granted Vauxhall Neighbourhood Council over £150k to launch a restaurant boat to be based in the new Mann Island basin and travel up the Leeds Liverpool canal. In the four years it took to build the boat (the Floating Grace) no one ever bothered to check the height of the bridges in the Stanley Dock and it was too big to get under them. After less than 10 or so cruises the project folded.

    This leaves the Liverpool Link, one of the newest stretches of canal in the country and undoubtedly one of the grandest, inaccessible to everyone except private boat owners.

  • david_lloyd

    oh that’ brilliant. I remember that too. Thanks for sharing!

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