Byrom Street/Cartwright Place 1950s
For me, the most interesting news item over Christmas was the revelation that Geoffrey Howe had advocated the managed decline of Liverpool following the Toxteth Riots. I wasn’t particularly surprised by the ‘shock’ headlines, there had been suggestions soon after the Riots that the Government had been advocating a market forces strategy with Liverpool. What I did find intriguing is that a policy of managed decline only came into Cabinet discussions in 1981 – I thought that Liverpool’s whole post-War history had been planned to scale down the city.
Certainly the effects of wartime bombing had seriously damaged the city’s housing stock and infrastructure. Rebuilding in the immediate post-War period was frustrated by a chronic shortage of building materials and Liverpool limped through the 1950s attempting to reinstate its docks, city centre and housing. But there is more than a sneaking suspicion that the damage to the city had created a canvas that the politicians and planners could work with. Road schemes proposed in the pre-War years could become a reality and the ideas for a grandiose civic centre and new zones for shopping and business could take centre stage. (Not only in Liverpool, in Coventry the City Architect, Donald Gibson, the bombing was “a blessing in disguise. The Jerries cleared out the core of the (medieval) city, a chaotic mess, and we can start anew.”) Alderman Shennan, a practising architect and Chairman of the Planning Committee was a strong advocate of clearing out much of old Liverpool and creating a car-friendly transport system that would take out whole historic areas when implemented. In tandem, the city’s housing and industry was to be revamped by a dual policy of creating satellite towns in Kirkby, Skelmersdale, Speke, Runcorn and Northwich and by demolishing whole neighbourhoods to make way for tower block living.
This is an over-simplification but the policies led to a near halving of Liverpool’s population in less than forty years. If that wasn’t managed decline, I am not sure what is. Yet Liverpool is still officially England’s poorest city. Some management! The tragedy is that the voice of the people is never heard. It is left to a small handful of experts to impose their plans and, as has been shown time after time, they are deeply flawed in their assumptions (high rise living, new towns, importing large-scale industry which subsequently failed, destroying historic buildings for no gain). What I would like to see is a Royal Commission on the future of our cities and have a proper discussion about the future shape and function of Liverpool and its counterparts. It might take years to come to its conclusions but it would focus attention on so many pressing issues.
To illustrate one aspect of my point, the first photograph is of Byrom Street in the 1950s – a cobbled street with buildings of character, wide pavements for pedestrians and an efficient transport system. Below is an aerial view from 1964 showing a central block of buildings sandwiched between the Technical College (on the left – now part of Liverpool Museum) and the offices of Blackburn Assurance on the right. The next photograph captures this block in preparation for demolition to make way for road widening from the Mersey Tunnel. Finally, the 1978 photograph showing the end result. All character has been removed in favour of the motor car and the wide pavements reduced to a precarious sloping strip relegating the pedestrian to an afterthought. Geoffrey Howe couldn’t have done better!
Byrom Street 1964
Byrom Street 1966
Byrom Street 1978