Stanley Dock and Tobacco Warehouse, 1920s.
I had an interesting conversation with one of Liverpool’s leading urban planners last week about how much Liverpool had improved in the last decade. Take retailing, for example. Before Liverpool One opened in 2008, the city was languishing in 25th spot as a shopping centre – alongside Stockport and Bolton. Now it is up to 5th place – almost up to its pre-War position. By any measure this is a remarkable achievement. What is particularly impressive is how Liverpool One has fitted almost seamlessly into the urban fabric, opening up the riverfront and Albert Dock along the way.
Our discussion shifted to the ‘next step’, the development that could make an even bigger impact on Liverpool’s future: Peel’s Liverpool Waters. It would appear that this is the year in which progress will be made. Peel are committed to pushing forward the development of the neglected docklands north of Waterloo Dock – although the plans are still largely under wraps. I am very much in favour of Liverpool Waters in principle. Threats to remove World Heritage status are largely a red herring – after all London built The Shard which impacts on three World Heritage sites in London (Palace of Westminster/Tower of London/Greenwich). It appears that the commissioners have chosen to pick a fight with Liverpool – a softer option than the centre of power and finance. The bottom line is what is more important – an accolade that is being increasingly handed out and will eventually become almost meaningless or a major regeneration of a neglected area of Liverpool that could create 1000s of jobs and a sustainable future.
My photograph is of Stanley Dock and the gigantic Tobacco Warehouse. A decade ago, plans seemed to favour demolishing the monument to smoking (it has very low ceiling heights and conversion seemed beyond the resources of any willing developer). Now it appears that Harcourt Development are pushing forward with plans for apartments, retailing and offices within the giant building. Their successful renovation of the Jesse Hartley warehouse next door into the 153 room Titanic Hotel is just the start of their ambitious plans. A point of interest in the photograph is the Overhead Railway, which connected the city centre to the network of docks from Dingle to Seaforth. Now word has it that a tramway is proposed to link Peel’s planned development with the centre (after all, improved transport is essential to the success of the scheme).
This is the start of a new phase in Liverpool’s history. The waterfront has been almost criminally neglected since the 1960s. We now have an opportunity to create a new and spectacular face to the river. I hope the developments are worthy of the setting.