Langtree exits Festival Gardens as deadline passes

A decade after entering into a development agreement with Liverpool City Council at the 85-acre waterfront site, the developer controlled by Bill Ainscough has handed it back to the council, following expiry of a deadline to draw down long leases on the waterfront residential opportunity.

The council will now work up plans to create a cultural attraction at the site, alongside development of up to 1,300 residential units.

The move follows Langtree’s current business plan to focus on rental income, increasing net asset value without relying on asset disposal. Langtree, a commercial rather than residential property specialist, had planned to sell residential plots at the former landfill site to housebuilders when the market recovered but no sales completed following the recession.

In 2005, the council entered into a development agreement with Langtree under which it agreed to grant two new 150-year leases of the site subject to Langtree obtaining planning consent to develop the northern third of the site where the Festival Hall was formerly located, now demolished, and retain the remaining two thirds of the site as open space. Langtree had until 31 May to drawn down the leases, both of which must be taken together. That deadline expired at the start of this week but it is not known whether the leases were drawn down. Langtree declined to declare the sale price.

The council said it hoped the site would become an extension of the city’s current theatrical, musical and public art offer.

Langtree Real Estate Holdings, the ultimate parent of Langtree Festival Gardens, produced a profit for the year to the end of June 2014 of £4.1m, and had a net asset value of £81m. In the December 2014 directors’ report accompanying the group’s annual results, company secretary and director Malcolm Jackson wrote: “In the current climate the group is mindful of the risks associated with reducing asset values and wider economic factors. The group continues to operate with modest gearing and a business plan that is not reliant on asset sales for its profit stream.”

Mayor Anderson said: “This is a significant moment in the future of the Festival Gardens site and brings a bright new cultural future considerably closer to reality.”

Stephen Barnes, development director at Langtree, said: “We always recognised the strategic importance of this site to the future of the city and are pleased to be handing it on in a considerably better condition than we found it in 2005.

“The restored gardens provide a foundation stone upon which a new future for the entire site can be built and we wish the City well in their future endeavours.

“As a company, we remain committed to the Liverpool City Region and will continue to seek out development opportunities in the area.”

Langtree submitted a planning application in November 2006 for the development of 1,308 apartments and 66 town houses. Included within the plans were proposals to restore the Chinese and Japanese gardens, the lake and the creation of new woodland walks. The application was approved by the city council in May 2007 but was later called in for a public inquiry, with final consent being granted in July 2008. Langtree undertook a major programme of remediation to enable the public to use the garden site as open space, supported by a £3.7m grant from the North West Development Agency in 2010. That work was completed by the company and the gardens opened to the public in 2012.

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The Festival Gardens in Liverpool has become a wonderful park despite the stalled development by Langtree. It is well worth a visit from people from the wider region to appreciate the walks along the Mersey at its widest section or to hire a bike from CityBike and appreciate how lovely the Mersey can be on a clear day. You can walk through to Lark Lane too from the park and enjoy the café vibe of the Sefton Park area. I often walk from the city centre to the Gardens, eat in Lark Lane and take Merseyrail back from St. Michaels, and I live in Chester. Merseyrail’s Day Savers allow all that (including travel from Chester and unlimited travel in Merseyside) for £4.90.

By Paul Blackburn

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