Last week I went to Benidorm. We have stayed several times at a nearby small Spanish town with Erica’s sister but we decided that we would go and have look at Benidorm having spent so many hours in planes to Alicante with hen or stag dos in them.
And as soon as I got off the tram the obvious hit me! The Labour group had held an away weekend in the town and had established this as their dream of the future for Liverpool! I can just imagine the scenes at Liverpool airport. 60 or so of them gathered in red t-shirts with “Joe’s tour to Bemidorm 2012” in the front and their nicknames on the back. ‘Brains’, ‘the enforcer’, ‘the podgy one’, ‘the smoker’. I’ll leave it to imagination to work who is who and what other names might be added!
So what did I think of Benidorm that made me think of the Labour Party. Well it is a characterless city with featureless blocks all over the place massed to ensure the maximum effect of ugliness. The buildings could be anywhere. They have no features which relate to Spanish antecedents. The concept of town planning appears to have passed the council by. The one thing that they have got right is an excellent tram system albeit placed 15 minutes walk up a steep hill from the city centre. Well that’s more than we could manage!
I then place that in the context of Liverpool and you will see what I mean. Look at what has already been agreed for the Lime Street area. A bland, boring but overpowering building which will have some signs and cladding on which will somehow remind people of Liverpool’s heritage. There’s even worse being recommended at next Tuesday’s planning committee which will overpower the overpowering!
Throughout Spain but most markedly in places like Benidorm there is a glut of apartment blocks which have seen prices plummet where they have been sellable at all. The same market signs are their in Liverpool. More than 1000 new units of student accommodation have been approved SINCE we agreed a curfew whilst a report on such accommodation was prepared. Estate agents warn of a drastic slowing of the market for more conventional flats and apartments. Yet still more gets built because developers have found gullible investors, often from abroad.
Like Benidorm Liverpool seems intent on demolishing its heritage. In 2011 Labour put out a leaflet which heavily criticised me for supporting the World Heritage Site at the expense of the Liverpool Waters Debelopment. Liverpool was told how the Lib Dems and I were opposed to jobs in the city and the Heritage Status was just a plaque in the wall at the Town Hall. An interesting reflection is, of course that Peel Holdings have yet to create a single job in the Liverpool Waters development. Nor are they likely to. They were heavily dependent on cheap Chinese funding although the office of the person they claimed would be the source of the money was over a West Midlands Chippy in this Country and was untraceable when the Financial Times went looking in China.
We should be proud of our heritage and defend it because it is that heritage which is bringing jobs to our city today. We should want people to get out of the train and say, “I am in a great city”, and not, “where the hell am I?!”
The Planning Committee in Liverpool serves no useful role. Most of its members sit there and challenge nothing, ask nothing, say nothing. When Cllr Radford and I ask questions and challenge developers we can hear the tuts of disapproval and the comments like,”them again”. But that is what we are there for. As politicians we should have an idea of the te of city we want to see and we should have discussed that with the people of the city. But no such discussion has taken place – no such compelling vision of our city has been formed.
When I ask questions of architects and developers about what relationship the building has with the history of that site or the city as a whole they look at me with amazement if they understand the question at all. Most of them have just brought along plan 101b adapted for the specifics of the site. It’s usually the same urban tat that they would inflict on on any city.
But it’s not only in the City Centre that our heritage is under threat. In my own ward the Cabinet has agreed that the Harthill Estate will be regenerated. This will not only change the Estate itself but will have a major impact on the Calderstones Park and neighbourhood that it borders. The scale of development there dwarfs the equally sensitive Woolton Woods and Sefton Park land grabs.
We need four things:
1. A Mayor who values our past and realises that we need to figuratively build on that past rather than physically build on it!
2. We need a design code which strengthens the hand of the Council in enforcing high quality buildings throughout the City.
3. We need organisations like the Civic Society to sit in the planning committee as advisory members to provide a professional critique of what is proposed on a case by case basis.
4. Above all we need to take our planning process out of the jargon infested waters loved by professionals and into the real world. “What sort of neighbourhood and what sort of city do you want to live in”, should be our ask of the people of Liverpool and then our job as politicians is to deliver it.