We must give Liverpool and its Centre a new purpose

Liverpool needs to take advantage of new Treasury rules and develop a role for itself as a leading global city. It can do this by understanding the new ‘post-covid’ world and thinking big.

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.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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2 Responses to We must give Liverpool and its Centre a new purpose

  1. Henry Penshaw says:

    Manchester has recently created a business funded public-private research and lobby partnership, designed to get people back into the city centre.
    On top, numerous developers are pressing ahead with large office developments.
    In this country, money talks. They will succeed.
    Enough of commercial Liverpool has been turned into (what can barely be described as) residential already.
    The notion of our heritage buildings being hard to use as modern commercial property is and always was a lie, sold to us by those who either gained from this or gained from having an easy life by not challenging it
    Look at the premises Amazon is moving into in Manchester. Visit, to see many other examples of companies very happily and proudly occupying historic premises being used for their intended purpose.
    Any suggestion that our city centre needs to become a mere inner suburb not only risks everything we’ve got left, it also provides an open door for those waiting in the wings for any opportunity to rob it (an appropriate metaphor, given the types involved in our property scene).
    The various civil service relocations, the relocations of TV channels, the upcoming move of the Treasury, we should have been grabbing these. The fact we haven’t, while our physical commercial footprint has been shrinking, has left us at a dangerous disadvantage.
    If research and plans should be dedicated to anything, in light of government plans, it should be this. Go back to the Heseltine Leahy reports and show how they were right. Show how and why the government must now urgently commit to massive interventions in Liverpool’s economy (including assisting with democratic reform and corruption-proofing). Show there are consequences to the UK of not doing so, and returns on offer if they do.
    I applaud focus on townships and local high streets. But that has to be coupled with a determination to restore Liverpool’s commercial clout to that of a second tier city, not further diminish it further. Without an engine, we’re just going to sit and rust away.
    Some will be all too happy to see it happen, and wilfully misinform to make it so. Please don’t listen to them!

  2. Henry Penshaw says:

    Case in point Richard: https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/whats-on/shopping/whats-planned-manchesters-landmark-debenhams-19399510

    Our Debenhams space may not share the same flexibility, but our historic buildings do.

    As the end of the Anderson (and hopefully Labour) era draws near, please refresh your memory of life before they came along, when our city could and did look forward to this kind of use of real estate. Offices are still needed, and we deserve a better future than having to commute to Manchester!

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