St George’s Hall – A planning success from the 19th Century
Does anyone now remember the monstrous buildings which for 5.5 decades obscured the magnificent frontage of Lime Street station? 6 big shops and a tower block, Concourse House, which just 10 years or so after it was built faced calls for its demolition. I am sure that 60 years ago someone told the planning committee about this brave modern design that would shape the City Centre and was just what the city needed.
It was all demolished about 8/9 years ago and its demolition destroyed one of my key stories about planning. I have on a number of cases given ‘master classes’ in strategic planning from a councillors view point. My story went like this, “As you come out of Lime Street look ahead of you at what was built in the 1850s. St George’s Hall and William Brown Street. A brilliant vision for a unique city centre. BUT look behind you at what was built in the 1950s and you will see a council and private sector with no taste, no vision and no sense about what is Liverpool. I want people to come out of our station and know that they are somewhere special and to have their breath taken away from them.”
It seems we don’t learn from our past! We have just approved on the other part of Lime Street a proposal which has little merit. It is not in itself a bad building. I am sure that in certain locations it would be a fine building which might just pass the test of time. However, I am absolutely convinced that it is the wrong building for this location. It certainly fails the wow test. At the front it mimics the roof level of the listed buildings that will be retained at either end. But modern buildings will replace the old buildings which could be so special. I know that the Futurist could not be saved in its present form but more could have been done to preserve its façade and this preserve the area’s history.
But behind that is just another large block which will totally over face the lower buildings on the Lime Street frontage. Yes folks we will have more desperately needed hotel and student bed spaces. This approval being given just before a comprehensive report on student accommodation which the Mayor has asked for being published in September.
I asked a simple question. “What is there about this building which in any way screams Liverpool at you” The answer that I got was that the signage would speak for itself! Well St George’s Hall does not depend on signage and cladding to make a statement. Its form and function speaks for itself.
Some people think that I am against all new development and want to preserve everything that is old. That is not true but Liverpool is partly dependent on its past and part of that past is its building heritage. That is why I defend the UNESCO World Heritage site which is not just a ‘plaque on the wall in the Town Hall’ that the Labour Party claim it is. Our future must be built in our past. We must use the unique nature of our built environment and history as the foundations of a new, interesting, vibrant and different city.
If we want them to come to our city we want them to say “Wow!” That wowness is not just about buildings but about the whole of our cultural, eating and historical offer. But we are blessed with more good buildings than any other city in the Country outside London. People will not want to visit us to live, work or play if all we offer is more of the same. They will come if they can say when they go home, “You must go and visit Liverpool”.
We are more likely to achieve that if we preserve what is best in our city today. I said this morning that Neptune Developments had already moved considerably from their first suggested plan which was absolutely abysmal to one which was merely tedious. If the Planning Committee had guts, determination and vision it would have held out for a step change in development which we could all have supported. Instead, as usually happens the white flag when up and we gave way to developers who have in the past done much better for us.
Perhaps in 100 years’ time there will be some know-it-all councillor giving ‘master classes in strategic planning from a councillor’s viewpoint’ and saying, “Look at what they did in the 1850s it was magnificent, we cannot show you what they did in the 1950s because it was so bad they knocked it down, but oh dear just look what they did in the early years of the 21st century”.
Somewhere in the signage that they propose for this building I hope that there will be at least one small message for posterity saying, “Not everyone wanted this built – two councillors fought for a better building here!”