Ropewalks 2.0

There's been a lot of trumpeting of the success of Liverpool's Baltic Triangle area as a hotbed for creative and digital occupiers in the local press and on social media lately. The area has enjoyed significant public investment and, as a long-neglected industrial area of big brick warehouses in a public transport void outside the city centre, it has scrubbed up well. I love Camp & Furnace, a diverse self-proclaimed indoor festival site, and there are lots of happy tenants in the Baltic Creative business centre.

The big BUT for me is that the same plan followed in Baltic was applied in the 1990s to the Ropewalks area of Liverpool around Bold Street, Fleet Street, Wood Street. Now Ropewalks is better known for its noisy bars and endless spats between pub owners and residents above about anti-social behaviour than for its creative business base.

Urban Splash led the way in the Ropewalks area – its first ever schemes were on Concert Square. Splash's Tea Factory offices-over-bars project completed in 2000 in an old warehouse was an exemplar of urban regeneration in its day. Now it's a virtually empty hulk of a building and looking very sad. I've worked with many firms in there over the years from architects to advertising agencies; now all moved out to other parts of the city. Perhaps that says more about the changing fortunes of Urban Splash in the past decade than the glue holding Ropewalks together, but repeating the Ropewalks vision a mile away at Baltic, moving the magnet of publicly-subsidised business space from one area to another in an office market weak enough as it is, doesn't seem like great city planning to me.

Your Comments

I love the Baltic Triangle too, Camp and furnace, Constellations, Baltic Creative, Castle Fine Arts and the Baltic Bakehouse are all fantastic and uniquely Liverpool places. I think that the key to the success of the area and revitalisation of the Rope Walks is to improve walking links between the two and the attractiveness of Jamaica Street. Although at the moment, these areas have not made it onto the initial published list of sites suitable for meanwhile use, as a landscape architect, they are very much the inspiration behind my Northern Futures pitch https://www.gov.uk/government/news/deputy-prime-minister-plans-to-bring-empty-buildings-back-to-life-in-the-north

By Elaine Cresswell

Christ, you have got in in for Liverpool a bit aint ya Paul? I sort of see what you’re getting at with Ropewalks, was a creative hub, now bars and resi, but that’s how gentrification works! Go look at East London. Baltic is the next phase then a few creative organisations are already heading the Northern Docks. As for public subsidy, well they did some road improvements around there and indeed Baltic Studios had some development money, but I’m pretty sure all the other initiatives around there, from Glass Factory to Camp and Furnace to Constellation, Elevator Studios are all independent and unsubsidised. More than can be said for MediaCity or the Sharp Project. Weren’t you banging on the other day that the School of Tropical Medicine couldn’t find a site and that was an example of Liverpool being a bit rubbish? Would that be the same school of Tropical Medicine which has been on site for a while across the road from its already hugely-expanded campus, saving the historic Galkof’s frontage at the same time? Give us a break.

By KS

Nonsense. Much of Merseyside has long had Assisted Area status and for much of that time has been eligible for assistance at the highest rates. This has benefitted thousands of businesses, hundreds of buildings and countless hectares of land. As such there is little economic activity that has not benefitted from regional assistance of one form or another.

By Shoulder chip

Yep, Merseyside has assisted area status, but I sincerely doubt Baltic Bakehouse, the micro breweries, Constellations etc in this area, have seen much of anything from that. Baltic is not even in Merseyside’s ‘Enterprise Zone’, so again, suggesting that this development around Baltic is entirely developed due to public subsidy and is just shifting empty space is the real nonsense. Ropewalks was arts dominated, now it’s lesuire/resi dominated so the grassroots thing has moved. Baltic did benefit from public funds – roads, the UTC college, women’s centre, but there has been a lost of unsubsidised grassroots redevelopmnent. Simiarly, Manchester’s Metrolink, Commonweath Games, MediaCity, Post-bomb retail regeneration etc, would not have happend without significant public subsidy.

By KS

The point being made was about publicly funded business space for creative industries not bakeries or the latest trendy bar concept. Baltic Creative, like the defunct CUC, like the incubator space within Elevator, like the public realm improvements, like all the building renovation and land grants are the fruits of the public sector’s attempts to stimulate Liverpool’s creative economy. And rightly so. The city has a good stock of sturdy if underused buildings and some bright and creative people. Any attempts to help diversify the city’s economy where the private sector has been unable to do so on it’s own should be recognised and supported rather than getting all churlish and chippy about. As the blog points out though for these efforts to represent value for money, they need to be sustainable and generate critical mass. Let’s hope the Baltic area provides a permanent home for the city’s creative community.

By Shoulder chip

I’m afraid I still have to question your orginal piece and subsequent comments. What public money did Elevator receive when it began? Or Glass Factory? Or Arena Studios – which moved in before it was even called ‘Baltic’. I’m not aware of any. The CUC was also predominantly an arts charity not a place for ‘creative businesses’, though the issues with that are an whole other story. My churlishness came from the dismissive of your tone in the along with what I felt were some inaccuracies, so I made what I feel are fair criticisms. Calling your self ‘shoulderchip’ meanwhile is childish and snide. Not becoming of an editor. The tone of my response was further influenced by what I read as further inaccuracies and dimissiveness of Liverpool in relation to your comments on the School of Tropical Medicine in a previous piece. Snide comments about bar concepts and trendy bakeries also undermine your argument – spaces like these are vital to make the place ‘liveable’, for business meetings, networking etc and are vital to any ‘creative quarter’. They’re also good example of private enterprise in what was once a half-dead area. They are also in there own way, ‘creative’ businesses, it isn’t all about apps. Again, my key point was that the fundamental argument of your piece is flawed in my humble opinion as someone who has been studying these models for a while. You suggest spending public money in Ropewalks now that is a lesuire/resi area and the creative quarter has moved was a bad idea and it’s being repeated. Not so in my view. If anything it highlights exactly why it worked – that once half-dead area has been redeveloped and continues to do so and so the ‘creatives’ moved on to the next space, Baltic, with the process happening again and they’ll likely move again when that reaches a critical mass to the next cheaper space, probably the northern docks. This is a classic model of gentrification as I said in my first comment, something repeated the world over. Meanwhile, in terms of questioning ‘value for money’ in relation to creativity, £78 million quid on a massive events space (The Factory) for a festival that only happens every two years that has been given to MCR without any open bidding process and seperate from the Arts Council who is supposed to govern this stuff (If it’s ‘for the North’ why not Leeds or Liverpool instead of Manchester?)while many other long-established arts organisations, including those in MCR, continue to struggle with cuts, I think would make a more relevant article.

By KS

A muddled rant, KS. If gentrification, a market led process, is pushing out high value, high-skilled businesses in subsidised space for bars and clubs then there is something seriously awry. Who’s to say the process won’t be repeated in the Baltic Quarter? This is wasteful of public money and speaks of a culture of grant chasing rather than a properly thought through, strategic approach to diversifying the city’s economy. This sort of gentrification is absolutely not what subsidised sector-targetted workspace is designed to achieve. An altogether better example might be the Tate Liverpool which despite having no connection to the city whatsoever, was gifted to the city by government in top-down fashion, ostensibly to help regenerate the Albert Dock (although there are other theories surrounding it being a political sop to Liverpool following Toxteth). However the gallery combines superbly with other publicly funded attractions such as the Slavery Museum, the Maritime Museum, the Museum of Liverpool, the ACC and even Mann Island (a flagship project for the NWDA) to create a unique and quintessentially Liverpudlian cultural and leisure destination of real quality and critical mass. Here the bars, restaurants and trendy bakeries complement the offer rather than replace it (as they should as secondary services) and the area has finally shown signs of generating its own ecosystem pulling in a regional RIBA office, a self-funded exhibition centre and privately funded apartments and hotels. The area is a resounding and sustainable success story that is finally paying dividends on the eye watering amounts of public money invested there. What the Ropeworks shows is a lack of a strategic approach. It is not acceptable to waste public money on subsidised workspace if that space quickly becomes redundant due to a lack of any proper long term sector based strategy and understanding of the factors that will help it grow and compete. Ultimately it is the people of Liverpool who will suffer if the aforementioned subsidised facilities in the Baltic fail to create the number of opportunities that the city deserves. Oh by the way, I am nothing to do with PlaceNorthWest. I think the editor of this website has better things to do than respond to ill conceived diatribes such as yours.

By Shoulder chip

Once again you demonstrate some ignorance of Liverpool and urban regeneration in general. Apologies I was indeed mistaken that you were the editor. Perhaps he has better things to do than respond to me, seemingly you don’t though? Glad I am giving you something to do.

“If gentrification, a market led process, is pushing out high value, high-skilled businesses in subsidised space for bars and clubs then there is something seriously awry” Few of the spaces in Ropewalks were actually subsidised for creative businesses in terms of rent for space. Although public money indeed was spent on building redevelopment, the idea was to get new business in there, not just ‘creative’. Although it was designated a vaguely ‘creative quarter’ it was very much around the Dublin Temple Bar model, also full of bars/venues a ‘party’ area. This is well documented. Issues around Ropewalks also stem from the confused ownerships issues in the area stemming from the Council sell-off, Frensons etc, again well documented if of interest. “subsidised workspace if that space quickly becomes redundant” – again it’s not redundant it is being used for different things, Ropewalks has more buildings being used than ever, with conversions and new builds happening as we speak. How about the high value jobs being created in the new-build ACL office documented on this website? Sure, not ‘creative’ per se, but then some of the IT firms in Sharp Project are hardly making art, but a product of using the creative sector to make that area more attractive to investment and it then moving on to the next space.

You also have some ignorance around Tate being ‘gifted’ to the city. The Government told them to go regional, true, but not where, they chose Liverpool. They did consider Manchester, the building that became the Palace Hotel no less! But decided against. It’s on there website if you want to look. The Albert Dock in general is a bad comparison, yes it’s cultural in the ‘tourist attraction’ sense but that is a different model – and indeed one that had various up and downs over its 30 year gestation. There are not many ‘high value, high skilled’ businesses based in the Albert Dock, except perhaps the subsidised ones you mention.

Once again you ignore one of my core points that only a couple of the spaces in Baltic are subsidised, thought it’s true money has been spent on roads and separately things like the UTCs as I have said previously, but Baltic Creative received no where near the public money of Sharp Project, for example. Any thoughts as I asked on the huge subsidy for ‘The Factory’ while other Manchester arts organisations struggle with cuts, or how it will sustain itself?

By KS

It seems you are confusing urban regeneration and economic development KS. Sure there is some overlap but much of the narrative surrounding Ropeworks and now the Baltic surrounds the diversification of Liverpools economy, specifically the nurturing of creative / TMT sectors. Whilst the blanket labelling of the subsidised space in the Ropeworks as a ‘creative quarter’ might not have been the most successful strategy (if it is fair to even call it a strategy), I would hope that the public funding pumped into the new supported space in the Baltic area comes with a bit more of a strategic approach towards genuine economic development rather than a conventional regeneration and renovation model. The reference to the Pier Head and the catalytic effect that the parachuting-in of the Tate to the city was to illustrate by way of analogy the way in which clusters of certain activities can transform a place and an economy in a sustainable way. The visitor economy is now a major contributor to Liverpool’s current prosperity and it is clear that the government’s directing of that institution towards Liverpool together with other carefully planned and complimentary uses was fundamental to realising what is a physical, social, economic and cultural success story for the city. With Baltic Creative, the incubator space within Elevator, the successor to the CUC and the innumerable building improvement and business investment grants, the public sector now has a major stake in the Baltic Quarter. For the sake of the city’s economy as well as the public purse now that public funding is now much thinner on the ground, it is to be hoped that this stake will reap large scale and sustainable dividends for the city’s creative sector.

By Shoulder chip

No-one has pointed out that Henry Tate, the founder of what became Tate and Lyle started as grocer’s apprentice in Liverpool at 13 and largely made his money there before setting up his sugar business there as well as in London later. Tate therefore owed something to the city where he made his fortune and it was entirely appropriate that Liverpool should be chosen for the Tate of the North. The sugar workers at the Love Lane factory got little thanks when the factory shut and the gallery is but small recompense to the city.

By Paul Blackburn

In terms of public sector investment in the Baltic Triangle it’s been actually very little and is miniscule compared to the job that needs doing. This is an old dockland area like the Salford Quays area and Trafford on the other side of the canal. It’s miraculous that Baltic is coming back with hardly any public sector investment. The public purse contributed considerably to Salford and Trafford and still does. Dockland areas usually need some pump priming to regenerate. Liverpool’s Victorian docks where built by the city from the city’s own purse and during it’s heyday the Liverpool Custom House was the greatest contributor to the national exchequer.

By Paul Blackburn
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