As part of our feature on living in the city, kicked off yesterday with a look at the Liverpool city centre housing market, we spent a night at new Liverpool mixed-use development St Paul’s Square. Here’s what we thought…
The billions of pounds thrown around in Liverpool due to the redevelopment of Liverpool One – and billions more in the the mooted Liverpool Waters project (like Venice! In Bootle!) – suggest that confidence is high in Liverpool.
Every week brings a new ‘tallest skyscraper’ or ‘Steven Gerrard penthouse’ and there are still plenty of developments under way in Liverpool, three years after Capital of Culture. But it’s not all erection-waving architects, 31st floor balconies and helicopter pads.
The recent St Paul’s Square development – in the commercial quarter’s St Paul’s Square, funnily enough – is the classic glass and steel effort that seems to spring up in no time.
St Paul’s Square boasts a shared equity scheme, gives buyers the opportunity move into two-bed apartments for 80% of the full purchase price; theoretically helping people onto the property ladder who may otherwise struggle.
The remainder is covered by a ten-year interest free loan from the developer secured against the property. A five per cent deposit – seven and a half grand – is all that’s required to get into the development and onto the housing ladder.
A two-bedroom apartment starts at £119,960, which is 80% of the open market price of £149,950 under the equity scheme, which is bank-rolled by the government’s English Cities Fund (ECF). A single bedroom apartment costs £100K but is not available under the shared equity scheme.
The ECF is designed, in its own words to offer “worthwhile opportunities for institutional investors in the medium to long term, alongside lasting community benefits and environmental improvements”.
Certainly shared equity is an obvious way to help first-time buyers and the like onto the property ladder, and lever the property market out of the hands of investors, speculators and the modern-day slum landlords that fester parts of Liverpool.
As we’ve seen in our look at Liverpool’s exploding rental market, there’s a real squeeze on property to buy in the city due to an unfortunate confluence of economic conditions, local issues, initial oversupply and glut of properties that fail to meet the needs of owner-occupiers.
So the St Paul’s Sqaure development looks promising in its incentivisation to buy, particularly for first timers who are less likely to have significant deposits. And the apartments in St Paul’s should be ideal for first-time buyers who are looking to be owner-occupiers.
Lessening some of the financial uncertainty surrounding the purchase of a property and removing further unknowns through a service charge (around a grand a year) will certainly appeal to newbies and those who can’t be bothered with the myriad hassles and responsibilities that a new home brings.
I spent a night there and, though I could see the advantage of a ready-made home with all the bells and whistles, found it a chilly, impersonal space.
The one-bed apartment I stayed in was plenty big enough for two and – in the main, though not exclusively – I though it well-appointed.
Hardwood doors meant I hardly heard a whisper from any of the other apartments, though all the apartments have small balcony areas that allow the occupant to drink in… well, nothing. Outside it’s as quiet as it is in.
The fitted kitchen and bathroom feel reassuringly solid, but some of the fittings seemed flimsy to me. The furniture seemed almost Kubrickian; a 2001 Space Odyssey range of tables, chairs and binnacles. Almost futuristic; wipe-clean; blank.
Whitewashed corridors and ultra-minimalist decor throughout the building feel designed to give the impression of a sterile environment, perhaps deliberately. Neutral spaces must be easier to sell than bold design flourishes, after all.
I caught sight of one other person during my stay, on his way down one of the white corridors. “What did he like about the place?”, I wondered. “What drew him to St Paul’s?”. But he ignored my greeting and marched on towards his own personal slice of city-centre puragtory.
The experience confirmed everything that I’d previously felt about city centre apartments; wind howls around St Paul’s Square as it does down nearby Old Hall Street, outside it’s deserted. It just doesn’t feel homely to me.
The development as a whole, which includes more retail and business space and a car-park has been designed to be “seen from every angle” and to fit in with the “local vernacular”. Make of that what you will. It has been built to as environmentally-friendly as possible though, which is good.
Moreover, exiting onto the square in the morning to see a bustling Brew and Franklin’s deli was pleasing; as was a very short walk to work that morning. Therein lies the appeal. If you’re a metropolitan sort of soul you can have everything you need within walking distance, day or night.
Amenities are springing up around everywhere around Old Hall Street – though parking might be worth considering for those hanging onto their wheels – and quality eatieres are moving in with them; Etsu and Viva Brazil are close by, as is the excellent White Bar in the Radisson and a number of excellent local boozers. There’s Moorfields down the road – and arterial roads and the tunnels are close by.
For the city-centric with a yen to get on the housing ladder, St Paul’s Square is a no-brainer. Demonstrably, as the apartments seem to be selling out quickly. The equity scheme can’t hurt and perhaps – rental market boom or no, personal dislikes be damned – it’s back to that old mantra about location, location, location. St Paul’s is perfectly located, if that’s your thing.
I didn’t like, but so what? I think the brochure for St Paul’s Square has got a bloody cheek advertising its identikit apartments as places for “the individual”. But it’s not built for me; it’s for young, urban professionals who don’t care about such things.
If anything it’s a place to forget you’re an individual and give yourself over to the building and its white corridors; to anonymity; to the city.