Fury as LEP chairman reveals plans to develop call centre on council land at Kings Dock
Developers have reacted angrily to a deal by Liverpool City Council to put a call centre for The Contact Company, a Birkenhead-based business owned by Asif Hamid, chairman of the city region’s Local Enterprise Partnership, on the final remaining plot at the prime waterfront development.
The LEP is the economic development agency and tourist board responsible for, amongst other things, promoting Kings Dock as a visitor destination.
The plot remains highlighted in the LEP’s visitor economy strategy and destination management plan as ideal for “Olympic standard ice rink, extreme sports centre and quality restaurants.”
The Kings Dock plot has long been eagerly sought after by property developers, who reacted bitterly to the confirmation of the long-rumoured deal with TCC. Several high-profile established developers expressed concerns over the deal, which they say does not represent best use of the site or public land. They also complain the development opportunity was not publicly advertised by the council and further undermines the city’s already struggling and fragmenting office market – Kings Dock is not an office area and the recognised commercial district around Old Hall Street and new development Pall Mall are in serious need of occupiers.
The director of one major regional developer already active in Liverpool, who asked not to be named, said: “We registered our interest and would love to do it but we got radio silence from the council. There should be something of quality there. The council asked for an ice-rink, there is the opportunity to do something spectacular on the waterfront, but a call centre, really?”
Mayor Joe Anderson called the Kings Dock deal with his LEP colleague “brilliant news for Liverpool” and said it “could ultimately lead to the creation of a new riverside destination, boosting our visitor economy and creating jobs for local people.”
A planning application was submitted on Thursday, according to the council, although the application has not yet been made public. The office has been designed by Falconer Chester Hall. Knight Frank is the planning adviser. Consultation is expected to begin this month.
TCC plans to build a four-storey 45,000 sq ft office for 1,500 staff to manage the growth in its outsourced customer service contracts business.
The site is the last prime waterfront plot at Kings Dock and sits next to the arena and convention centre, Pullman hotel, multi-storey car park and residential blocks.
The land was acquired by Liverpool City Council earlier this year from the Homes & Communities Agency using £6m from the Regional Growth Fund. The RGF is central government budget devolved to LEPs for distribution at a local level.
The council’s chosen developer to deliver the call centre and wider scheme is Yeung Property Group, a Liverpool-based developer established in 2015 and controlled by Ming Yeung.
The proposal is for three initial phases:
- the 45,000 sq ft office building in the first phase
- 120 apartments and multi-storey car park, retail and “office / heritage interpretation centre” in phase two
- 280 new homes, winter garden and public realm improvements in the third phase
Hamid acknowledges the Kings Dock deal represents a potential conflict of interest and submitted a declaration of his interest in the land for the LEP’s register of members’ interests last year in accordance with the organisation’s code of conduct, which lists “selflessness” as the first principle for board members to follow, adding members “should avoid putting themselves in a position where there is a conflict between their personal interests and their duties to the LCR LEP board.”
The LEP and Hamid did not respond to questions about the conflict of interest.
The 11-acre site has been used as a surface car park for many years and has been the subject of several aborted development contests by the HCA and predecessor English Partnerships.
The council said the ambitious tourist attraction element remains an option for later phases but no details have yet been released.
“The wider site has potential for a range of leisure uses that could include a 2,000-seat ice-rink, ten-pin bowling or an innovative virtual reality centre,” according to a letter sent by YPG advisers to local residents and obtained by Place North West.
A council spokesman said: “The Monarch’s Quay site is already allocated for mixed-use development in the Liverpool Unitary Development Plan, which has been widely consulted on over a number of years and dictates acceptable uses and design principles for the site.”
YPG has appointed Chris Bliss, former estate director of Grosvenor’s Liverpool One, who left this week after 20 years at Grosvenor, to manage the Kings Dock project. Bliss is a member of the Liverpool LEP’s visitor economy sub-board. Bliss said YPG has £180m of developments in its pipeline. These include apartment schemes Devon House and Kings Dock Mill, currently on site.
Steve Rotheram, mayor of Liverpool City Region, also praised the proposal, saying “the Contact Company is one of the city region’s more recent success stories.”
TCC reported turnover of £20m and gross profit of £5m in the year to April 2016. The Kings Dock office, due for completion at the end of 2018 subject to planning, would be the latest in a series of property expansions fuelled by public sector aid for Hamid’s business. In October 2016, TCC started operating from an £8.5m office of 48,000 sq ft developed by Longmeadow Estates on public land owned by the HCA in the tax advantageous Wirral Enterprise Zone with development grant funding and support from Wirral Council, Department for Communities & Local Government and European Regional Development Fund.
In October 2010, Hamid bought the 29,500 sq ft office of collapsed building firm Felton in Queensgate, Birkenhead from receivers with a £250,000 Wirral Council Think Big grant and a loan from NatWest.
Hamid is chairman of Wirral Chamber of Commerce and was awarded an MBE in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to business.