Heaps Mill one of the iconic buildings in Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle which has been saved but where adjacent new build is destryiong the ethos of this quirky area
This morning I went for one of my normal bouts of depression. I attended, as a member, the Planning Committee of Liverpool City Council. I went on it because I believe that the physical fabric of our city is absolutely vital to the ongoing development of the city. What it looks and feels like will be the basis on which people commit to investing their lives and their money in our city.
As I have indicated before I want Liverpool to be different from any other city on Earth. Surprisingly that is not a difficult thing to do because most cities seem to be forgetting their roots and demolishing historic buildings and communities to create an identikit bland and boring neighbourhood differentiated only marginally from any other.
Today Liverpool took yet another step forward to doing the same. We dealt with a planning application which time might tell us was the tipping point in which we moved the area from being the quirky, edgy area which is beloved by people with life and imagination and converted it into a stolid, boring area. What is clearly happening is that the wishes and views of the early pioneers of the area are being ignored. The people who invested their money, imagination and initiative into taking the area from quasi-dereliction to a point where it is nationally recognised as a creative hub are losing ground to Johnny-come-lately developers who recognise the opportunity to profit from the initiatives of others.
The application today was not in itself exceptional in either a positive or negative sense. A load of waffle was given to us by the architect about how they had looked at other buildings, heights and windows and how this was a building in keeping with the area. Tosh! It’s a building that is no different from thousands of buildings in thousands of cities. You could pick it up and put down almost anywhere. It will provide yet more one bedroomed studios at a time when there are clear market reports that the city centre and its immediate environs are already stuffed with unsellable and un-lettable units. I just hope that this is not one of those developments where gullible investors from around the world are being drawn into a basically unsustainable development.
The Baltic Triangle does not need more bog standard apartments. It needs old buildings that can be converted into work spaces, offices, work/let units and ‘garrets’! It needs to develop by maintaining its edge and being substantially different from any other area. If people want a bog standard apartment for rent or sale or if they want a bog standard office or workspace at a high rent they can get them, in profusion.
Now you might think that I am a lone wolf baying at the moon. Not so – in this case anyway! In coming to their conclusion the planning committee ignored the views of Steve Mumby a long-standing Labour councillor; the Baltic Creative CIC which amongst other things acts a representative voice for those committed to the area and the Women’s Organisation an early pioneer which as a social enterprise took over a derelict site long before the Triangle became acceptable and made it into a success story not only in its own right but also for the businesses that it has promoted and spawned off.
These are the people who really know, understand and are committed to this area. They want to put into it and not profit from it. You might think that it would be difficult for me to support the views of a Labour councillor. Not so. Cllr Mumby knows that area well and his basic instincts to support communities and bottom up development are very similar to my own and apparently completely different to his colleagues on the planning committee.
So do I really mean what the headline to this article says? No not really but the fact is that allowing too much of the wrong sort of development will kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. We have surely reached the tipping point when the original development plan, agreed in 2008 and supported by all councillors since, for the area will be killed off because we are not keeping to it. If that is going to be the case then it would be better to be honest about it and let people use their initiative and talents in another area.
What I really want us to do is to reaffirm the 2008 plan and revisit it to improve it to take account of changes producing by the changing sands of time in our city. The people who decide the future of the area should not be developers who cannot even be bothered to turn up to justify their decisions, nor should it be councillors who seem not to know the area. The people in the driving seat for local communities should be the community itself and in the Baltic we have the people and the mechanisms to make sure that this is what will happen.
Later in the agenda we had a similar story. Yet another planning application for student blocks. Today we agreed 399 more units into a market already clearly saturated. For technical reasons I did not oppose this today but I did ask a question about the report on student accommodation which is shortly coming forward. A year ago in May I asked for a report to be done about the over provision of student accommodation and was told that it could not be done as a free standing report but would be included in our on-going deliberations about the Local Development Framework. As so often happens a few months after I was told that it was impossible to do this the Labour Party caught up with me and the Mayor has instigated a report. I am delighted that this will report next month and that a number of student accommodation applications have been put on hold pending this. I would be more sanguine about the effects of the report if the demand for a report from the Mayor had not come in the same month that a company in which the council is a shareholder had a planning application agreed near the Royal Liverpool Hospital for 2,000 student units!
Lastly in today’s rant a reflection on the Planning Committee. On the first item on which Cllr Radford and I raised her hands as we wished to ask questions about the Baltic Development we were described as Pinky and Perky by the Chair. Cllr Radford and I often ask questions. That is what we are there for! If we believe that the fabric of our city is important we should always be challenging in an appropriate way developers and their agents. At the end of the day it is our City and not theirs. At the end of the day we are accountable to the people of Liverpool and not them. It is not my job to sit on the planning committee, not ask questions and finally vote the way I am told. The Planning Committee is, or should be, a quasi-judicial committee in which every member exercises her/his own judgement on the issues before us. Regrettably in Liverpool I see few signs that this is indeed the case.