A WORLD-CLASS commercial quarter in Liverpool, rivalling in size the £920m Paradise Street development, was yesterday given the go-ahead by city planners.
The approval by Liverpool City Council's planning committee paves the way for a 1.5m square foot development of office and commercial space between Tithebarn Street, Pall Mall and Leeds Street. It represents the biggest commercial scheme in the city's history.
Liverpool Vision, the council-backed regeneration company, won planning consent for a masterplan that will see high-quality buildings around squares and along new tree-lined boulevards on what was formerly Exchange Station.
The landowners, Israeli-owned Hilstep and its development partner NCP, who currently lease the land as a surface car park, will spearhead the development, expected to cost hundreds of millions of pounds.
As businesses move into the office blocks, it could have the potential to bring up to 3,000 jobs to the city.
Last night, Vision's chief executive, Jim Gill, said: "We are delighted that our master-plan has won approval. We are seeing the retail expansion by Grosvenor, in Paradise Street, but so far we have had no comprehensive site for a commercial development on this scale. This is the last site available in the city centre where a development of this scale could be accommodated.
"It will help Liverpool compete with its major rival cities for office space.
The past few years have seen renewed developer and investor confidence in the city centre office market through the success of schemes at Princes Dock, Temple Square, 101 Old Hall Street, City Square, St Paul's Square and the speculative scheme at Unity.
"The idea of a masterplan means we can create a modern, quality environment.
"Commercial space in Liverpool is being taken up at the rate of 400,000 sq ft a year, so we believe there will be demand in this new quarter. Interest in the site is already being shown by potential occupiers, and that is in advance of detailed plans."
The office blocks on the site will be complemented by new public spaces and associated car parking.
Hilstep, NCP and Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA), will now pursue expressions of interest from developers keen to gain a foothold in Liverpool's rapidly-expanding office market.
The outline planning consent means developers can now advance detailed planning applications for specific developments.
Mr Gill added: "There is serious developer interest in the Pall Mall site, which will become Liverpool's premier business address with the potential for over 3000 new jobs."
Liverpool council leader Mike Storey said: "We are successfully addressing the problem of the lack of high quality office space which held the city back and this development will mark a giant step forward for the business district."
Paul Lakin, NWDA area manager for Merseyside, said: "This decision paves the way for a major new commercial quarter that will breath new life into the city centre."
A masterplan, drawn up by London-based Urban Initiatives, was commissioned by Liverpool Vision, Liverpool Council and the NWDA.
It has been the subject of extensive consultation with local businesses and landowners.
Scheme will include 322 apartments
THE site spans just under four hectares and once housed Exchange Station and the adjoining engine sheds.
The station closed in the 1970s when the new Merseyrail system was opened. The station frontage was transformed into an office complex, Mercury Court, while the land behind became a car park.
As well as 1.25m sq ft of offices the plan envisages 322 apartments, a large multi storey car park, underground parking, retail and leisure facilities such as restaurants and bars, and open spaces.
There are two tunnels, carrying trains on the Northern line. The land above the tunnels will become green squares.