News that the Government is changing its treasury led rule book for public sector investment gives Liverpool a golden opportunity to reset our City and our economy. If we consider things properly and fully and add some sparkle of a long-term vision Liverpool can move to become one of the Worlds’ leading cities which do not have national capital status.
Big change is on its way. As a City we should not resist it but embrace it. Do that and we can move from always being a ‘glass half empty’ sort of a place to being a ‘glass half full’ sort of place with an opportunity to all to come and help us fill it. To do this is a complex task starting with a full understanding of how our City and District centres need to function in a post-virus society.
For those outside Liverpool who read this blog when we say, “I’m going into town”, we Scousers mean visiting the City Centre. In the light of the pandemic, which has accentuated a number of trends, we now need to re-evaluate not only the role of our City Centre as we will not be going into town so much but also understand what that means for district centres like Allerton Road, Woolton Village Aigburth Road, Old Swan and Walton Village.
Traditionally we go to town for four reasons all of which are now being challenged:
We go to work: There has a been a trend for years now with the advent of Wi-Fi, laptops and Zoom for many people to work at home for at least part of the time. That has been hugely magnified in recent months. More employers will downsize their premises and allow working from home for at least part of the working week. New premises are being built in the immediate outside of the city centre which will attract grade A tenants who need new and bigger space. This will shift next and existing tenants from our glorious but difficult to use listed buildings in our World Heritage commercial heartland.
We go to shop: White van man now rules supreme. We can buy just about anything on line and all the pundits suggest that there will only be a partial return to shopping in specialised or department stores. So, there will be a smaller footfall in the shopping areas which will be compounded by the fact that there will be less people ‘nipping out’ in the lunch hour or before they go home. Shopping won’t be dead but it will become part of a day out with shopping becoming part of almost a day trip.
We go to learn: Many of our educational institutions and the place students live is now concentrated in a square mile in and adjacent to the City Centre. This seems to be highly stable and the least affected of all our core city centre themes provided that nothing on the national level, such as Brexit, makes a national difference to the figures.
We go to enjoy ourselves. The City Centre is where our Theatres, Philharmonic, museums and main services are such as the Central Library. This is challenged by the realisation that many people have had of the culinary and cultural delights in many of our district centres. The big institutions will not make and will still attract core business from the region but there will be less local footfall and, for the foreseeable future, far fewer international and UK tourists.
In addition, of course, many more people live in our City Centre. Twenty years ago, it was largely caretakers. Now, in addition to students, many younger professionals live there until they have children and some older people move back when their children have left home.
I believe that the announcement that the Government will make this week about throwing away the ‘Green Book’ and providing new rules for treasury engagement which will benefit the North provides a major opportunity for Liverpool to shine. I believe that if Liverpool grasps the opportunity now with a through review of what the City Centre and our district centres are for, we can lead the way in repurposing our City and providing long term prosperity for our Citizens.
How would I do this? By setting up a long-term strategy guided by a public/private partnership to take the City forward. The Council has begun to do this with a Partnership established to deliver the Liverpool Recovery Plan. The recovery plan is not deigned to be a long-term strategic document but a plan which kick starts our growth out of an immediate slump. The partnership is not intended to have a long-term life and the Partnership is high on well thought through immediate aspiration but lacks the long-term thinking we now require. In addition, it is not clear to me where the political leadership is making an input into the process or whether they are now just signing off officer led ideas which are inputted more by outsiders than by the politicians whose leadership is crucial to long term planning.
That partnership needs to look at:
Where people live. How do we accentuate the trend for people of all ages to live in Town and ensure that there is high quality appropriate accommodation available for them? Do we need an element of residential zoning in or adjacent to our City Centre? How do we create communities out of a multiplicity of unconnected apartment blocks and provide a more diverse offer?
How people work. Which employers and employees will want to work in the Centre? What accommodation of what quality do we currently have? What do wee need? What will we do with the heritage buildings that businesses are likely to move out of?
How people study. Should we extend the concept of the campus shared by a number of institutions down from the new developments at Kensington down Brownlow Hill to the Adelphi area taking in adjacent learning buildings?
How people will shop. Why will they want to come into the City Centre instead of getting a brown box delivery? What else will they want to do to add to their shopping experience.
How District Centres will work. How can we ensure that the work needs of home workers are catered for within easy reach of their homes? How can we ensure that the ‘work, rest and play elements of life are accessible to localities without them impinging too much on residents close to the facilities required?
How will transport connect all this together. Does our public sector infrastructure need changing away from the ‘into the city centre’ bias to increased permeability between district centres?
How will tourism change: For a long time to come there will be less people thinking of jetting around although I would project and immediate splurge of sun seekers post vaccination. Do we need to be more attractive to people within easy reach in the UK and less dependent on foreign visitors?
These are big questions but Liverpool has the intellectual power to answer them and to develop a new vision with a new strategy to ensure that in future we will not measure ourselves against other cities but they will measure themselves against us.