In the agenda for next week’s planning committee there is a recommendation from our chief planning officer that a planning application for the development of a bland and banal residential block on the river front at Waterloo Dock should be turned down. That should, of course be a regular occurrence. In Liverpool it’s unique. Dare we begin to hope that this marks a change in the way that our planning department deals with developers?
As regular readers of my blog now there are few who have been more dismissive of the planning department and planning committee than me. Just look at the dreadful stuff that has been erected in the city, even more look at those that will never be erected but are stumps disfiguring the approaches to our city. I’m the first to recognise that there have been three problems facing our planning department:
- They have been grossly understaffed for the past decade and therefore unable to deal in detail with some complex applications.
- They have been part of a department where there clearly was a bullying ethos and grossly incompetent managerial leadership capped off, of course, with an elected mayor who had no comprehension of the value to our city of a good physical environment.
- They always face the huge assumption that the developer is right and that an appeal to the planning inspectors by a developer would be almost certain to win with possible financial consequences to the council.
Included in the report published yesterday are contributions from Tom Crone, Nick Small and me. The three of us all cared about a significant planning application for our city even though it was not in our ward. Amazingly, not one of the Labour councillors for the area expressed an opinion. Part of my submission is here,
“Cllr Kemp expressed the view that further development of the type proposed will seriously damage the remaining heritage of this area.
To create a City with a Unique Selling Point and a brand that distinguishes it from its global competitors Liverpool needs to build on its past not obliterate it. The proposed development will have an immediate and serious deleterious impact on Liverpool as seen from the river. Buildings of a unique quality will be unseen behind modern developments which, whatever their design merit, can be found anywhere in the World.
With the support of Historic England and other statutory consultees there can be no comeback against a Council saying, “Enough is Enough”. Now is the time for the Council to be decisive and put bad planning back in its box. Instead, it needs to convert the rhetoric of place shaping and neighbourhood creation within the City Plan into a reality”.
A few weeks before Christmas I had a meeting with senior staff in the Regeneration Department at the suggestion of Deborah McLoughlin one of the Government’s Commissioners within the Council. During that meeting I put forward at a wider level the points that were reiterated in the submission of the Waterloo Dock.
If we want to be a successful city, we have to be a city that is different. We have to aspire to have the best jobs, the best air quality, the best green spaces, the best new buildings, the best, in short of everything. For the last 10 years we have dumbed down our aspirations. We had development at any cost, we had jobs at any level, and we suggested the selling of some of our historic parkland. In the hands of Joe Anderson Liverpool became ‘Chav City’.
I expressed to our officers the huge advantages that Liverpool has in terms of location, historic buildings, great parks, four universities, enterprising businesses and people with an indomitable spirit. I said that as a politician I want to aim realistic but high for our city and not treat it as a city happy to settle for a mundane role in a cul-de-sac at the end of a motorway system. I was very pleased with the reaction to what I said, and they gave me some ideas about the changes they were putting in hand which seemed great.
Interestingly yesterday’s recommendation came not from the planning case officer and not even the City Centre Planning manager although I am sure that they played a significant role in the decision. This recommendation came from the top. Sam Campbell, the City Planning Officer put her name to what, to some, will be the most controversial decision for a long time.
It showed that the Council now understands the need for high quality new buildings. It showed that they want to preserve our historic heritage even though we have lost (temporarily I hope) the World Heritage Status. It showed they were prepared to stand up to Peel Holdings who have ruled the roost for too long in our city. It showed that we are prepared to take on the vested interests who look for short term financial gratification at the long term cost to the city and its fabric.
I hope that this recommendation does show a new way forward for our city. We cannot undo quickly the bad decisions of the past 10 years but perhaps we can draw a line under them and move on a stronger way to create the city that the people deserve. So having made clear publicly so many times my disappointment with our planning department I place on record here my delight at what they are doing. Well done Sam Campbell and her boss Mark Bousfield for the boldness and clarity of this decision. Well done Tony Reeves, our Chief Executive, for so rapidly creating the major changes in transparency and probity that were so desperately needed.
There’s an upturn in my hopes for our city caused by the recommendation here. Let’s hope that firstly our Labour politicians on the planning committee and thereafter the planning inspectors who will make the final decision on the Waterloo Dock don’t let us down.