Over the past few days, I have taken part in a number of debates about the false dichotomy of whether the way forward in our City is heritage or development. I have urged in those debates that if we set our stall our right, we can have both. Indeed, if we want Liverpool to rise again as a major European city, we must do both.
But if we are to achieve greatness, we need to think both big and realistic. I used to give talks for the Town & Country Planning Association about the role of strategic planning. I used to say come out of Lime Street Station (that’s how 38% of our visitors arrive) and see before you William Brown Street and St Georges Hall which was built in the 1850s. Look behind you and you can see the concrete mess that was built in the 1950s and which needs demolishing.
Of course, that is what has happened. The row of grim shops and Concourse House is gone exposing the magnificent end elevation of the station. They get off the train straight into the wow factor that is Liverpool. In another hundred years I want someone to be saying that had good councillors in the 2020s – just look at the quality of the City that they have given to us. “Wow” they will say as they out of the train or whatever has replaced it, “I am pleased to be here”.
Liverpool has no compelling vision for the future that we can all sign up to. Much of what has been built in the past 15 years (yes that does include the period when the Lib Dems controlled the Council, has been inferior quality. So, its not just a question of having a vision, because we did have one, it’s having the determination and the powers to deliver it.
Our development framework is in a mess. We were 7 years late in putting in a new planning document for approval by the Government. The last Plan was developed by the Lib Dems 20 years ago. It is now grossly out of date which means that the Council, even if it had wanted to, would find it hard to dictate standards, quality and appropriate uses. The result is a mess of poor-quality buildings and even worse buildings that have been unfinished for 4 years+ which will, without a doubt need to be demolished.
To get out of this situation we need to create a vision. We need to start again and think through where we are, where we’ve come from, what we’ve got as a basis for action and lastly the direction that we want to go in. In short, to use business jargon we need to do a SWOT, Strengths, Opportunities, Weaknesses and Threats, analysis.
Liverpool is at the heart of the Liverpool conurbation which has much to offer the world. Our location is good for some things; we have three universities; a thriving bio-chemical sector; a strong off shore and ship repair sector; two good car producing firms; football, the Beatles and other musical sections including the philharmonic and a strong physical heritage with 981 listed buildings and 50 conservation area. We are in easy reach of facilities such as Open golf courses and the countryside of the Peak and Lake districts and the Welsh Hills.
We have our downsides. A poorly performing schools’ sector; a poor location on the fringe for some things. Poor connections by rail, both freight and passenger to the North of England and a West Coast main line which as at the limit of its capacity. Our housing stock is poor with far too many homes being inadequate and our low house price level means a buying up of stock which then gets filled with immigrants, of which I am generally in favour, at too high a concentration. Many of our work force are unskilled.
In both columns would be our reputation. Liverpool is intricately connected with County Lines drug schemes and a 30-year-old phrase, “I can do that give us a job.” On the other hand, people who come here say what a great City it is and how friendly the people are.
Moving the City forward involves making hard decisions from this complex set of circumstances. In the words of the song there’s got to be, ‘a little bit of this, a little bit of that.’ The development of the City can only be achieved by understanding this complexity. It can only really be successful if we realise where we are today and set us a strong direction and coherent vision for the future. It cannot be heritage or development it must be high quality development which values and recognises our heritage. The list of strengths easily adds up to more than the list of weaknesses but we have never been able to capitalise on them because of our lack of direction and lack of partnership.
I want Liverpool to be the best regional core city in Europe because we are still a European City whether we are in the EU or not. We cannot be London, or Paris or Milan or Lisbon but we can lay claim to being on the same level as Rotterdam; Leipzig; Barcelona or Florence.
If we are to do that we have to say no to development at any price. We need, as was said in Men in Black I to be the best of the best of the best!
That’s why the zipwire debate is so important as is our continued attempt to get to the bottom of fractional investment and attract high quality to developers to the City. Each time we pander to the cheap, nasty and tawdry we spurn the potential investment from people who want to build well and to build for the long-term.
In the run up to the Mayoral and Council elections next year we will spell out our Vision for the City. Second place isn’t good enough for Liverpool Football Club and second rate should not be good enough for our City.
If we set out a first-rate direction based on facts, we can attract first rate businesses to our City which will create first class and well-paying jobs for our people. We will create the housing that they want so that they will stay in our City rather than the low-grade that that has been the epitome of the last decade and longer. We will create the education that all children need so that they will want to stay here and bring their children up here.
In Liverpool while the Labour Party plans low the Liberal Democrats will plan high. The people of Liverpool deserve no less than the best of the best of the best.