Liverpool City Region Development Update | Photos and summary
With a freeport, investment zone, internationally recognised brand, and an extensive pipeline of projects, Liverpool City Region is loaded with opportunity.
Nearly 200 property professionals attended Place North West’s Liverpool City Region Development Update conference on 9 November to find out more about the region’s development scene and what is being done to capitalise on its advantages.
The event was held at INNSiDE by Melia in the city’s business district and hosted by Place North West editor Julia Hatmaker. The conference was sponsored by Morgan Sindall Construction, Telcom, Fairhursts Design Group, and Freeths.
The breaking news of the day was Liverpool City Council’s surrender of the lease of its cruise terminal on the Mersey – something which was quickly addressed by Cllr Liam Robinson, Leader of the city council, in a Q&A with Hatmaker.
He said: “We need to position this as a good news story. The city council has pump-primed the cruise industry. Now is the right time to step away.”
He pointed out that Liverpool’s cruise terminal is the only one in the country to be operated by a local authority and added: “The private sector can do a better job. We need to look at how we can take this to the next level.”
Time to deliver
Robinson also addressed the city council’s recent period of instability and said: “It’s about hard work not fireworks. Our focus is on doing and delivering.”
He detailed a new senior management team and a series of projects that are not new to the city but who have national significance. Listing some of the key areas receiving immediate attention he named the new Everton stadium, King’s Dock, Festival Gardens, and Liverpool Waters, which encompasses the northern docks.
A question from the audience asked why the crane count on the skyline was only about a dozen, and why international investment was below that of the likes of Preston and Warrington.
Robinson replied: “Our international brand is superb – Liverpool is the 10th most recognised city in the world – but that hasn’t translated into direct foreign investment and that’s not good enough. We have to reach out more.”
In relation to financial pressures for local government, he said: “One of the biggest challenges we have is finance and budget but this city council will not be going bust. We are being very prudent.”
Asked about rail links to Bramley Moore, the site of Everton’s new stadium, Robinson said the business case “didn’t stack up” for a new station that would only be used on match days. Neither did he think trams would be re-introduced due to the costs and practicalities of infrastructure. However, he did say conversations were being had about bringing bus lanes back, a bus rapid transit system, and creating a more “reliable and comprehensive” network of public transport routes.
Stephen Cowperthwaite, principal and managing director for the regions and Liverpool at Avison Young, said the city has office vacancy rates of just 0.2%: “We just haven’t got the stock.”
He added that Avison Young’s comparison of the Big Nine cities showed Liverpool had the lowest rents. “Add to that rising construction costs and that’s a major challenge,” he said regarding viability.
But he also said there were positives: “There is a huge opportunity to focus on key sectors – health and life sciences, creative and digital.”
Samantha McCauley, head of sales at City Residential, said things are “on the up” in her sector adding: “The stabilising of interest rates will help regain buyer confidence.”
But she highlighted how Liverpool had the highest number of university campuses of any city in the UK which impacted housing stock already in short supply. She also said: “We need affordable options as well.”
Robinson was also asked about the large volume of student accommodation and said efforts were being made to introduce more multigenerational living in the city centre, saying the council needs to work to “complement the mix”.
Alan McBride, technical director at placemakers Muse, said creating family housing was harder than putting up apartments very quickly: “It’s challenging because you build to your sales rate. It comes back to viability but when we can do it, we do it.”
Malcolm Jackson, chief operating officer at Langtree, said his teams were experiencing consistency in demand, year on year, in enquiries about small box industrial accommodation, but that these weren’t always translating into viewings. He added that big box land values had come down.
However, he was excited for the opportunities the development of the Parkside Colliery site would bring for logistics and manufacturing. He also discussed Liverpool City Region’s freeport, stating that it “will be a big boost” for the industrial sector.
Andy Devaney, assistant director of investment at Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, said the benefits of the freeport were already being seen, with St Helens a key part of this. Devaney added: “The first site is live and nine and in the pipeline. People are interested in the tax benefits and incentives.”
Andrew Nichol, managing partner of law firm Freeths, said his firm was busy, with much activity in the leisure sector because of a lot of vacant spaces in retail sites. Two of his quirkier examples included a go-kart experience in the former Debenhams premises, and a bingo hall moving into a former Next store. But he warned: “We mustn’t lose sight of a sensible balance of leisure and business.”
Hatmaker asked about property hotspots across the Liverpool City Region. Unsurprisingly, McCauley said demand on the waterfront was high – from Bramley Moore to the Festival Gardens. “How many other cities have that advantage?” she asked. “That will spur on the city centre.”
Jackson said the science and laboratory sector was one to watch in the city region. The science sector is experiencing lab shortages. Playing to the region’s strength is that “people in a science environment want to be in a focused location,” Jackson said. Good news for SciTech Daresbury and the future investment zone.
Cowperthwaite sang the praises of the LCR towns, singling out Sefton Council’s purchase of Bootle Strand Shopping Centre as one example of a “catalyst” for the area.
Liverpool’s tall building policy was questioned by the audience, with Nuala Gallagher, corporate director of city development at Liverpool City Council, defending the authority’s stance. She said: “We see this as a positive document. We want good quality in the right location.”
Sticking with the subject of strategy documents, Ian Ford, associate at Arup, said guidance was key and that it helped eliminate risk for councils and their communities, helping to ensure stability, giving a vision, and a baseline.
The seemingly endless issue of planning department delays were raised once more. McBride said: “We look at planning as one of our biggest risks. I am all for democracy but officers can be with you and then politics comes into play.”
Talking about the staffing issues, Cathy Palmer, head of regeneration delivery at Wirral Council, said: “It is ridiculously hard to recruit. There is a massive skills shortage.”
Big on brand
‘Liver-politan’ became one of the words of the morning – with a mixed love/hate response – amid many references to the city region’s strength of brand. The term was meant to convey a united city region – a term that those in Knowsley, Sefton, Halton, St Helens, and Wirral can use as much as those in Liverpool.
Building up the city region’s brand are football, music, life sciences and digital expertise – alongside Liverpool’s huge visitor economy.
Palmer said culture was LCR’s USP, and Gallagher agreed, while Devaney said the city’s global brand surpassed that of Manchester. He added: “There is so much opportunity here that needs eking out.”
Ford said: “Liverpool is known for being brave and confident, putting a head above the parapet. People aren’t afraid to go for it.”
Debating what part culture has to play in regeneration, Stephen Watson, executive director of place at Sefton Council, detailed positive steps being taken around the Marine Lake Events Centre on the site of the former Southport Theatre. He said: “We are looking at something that drives visitors from outside the region. We’ve got to do things that stimulate adjacent interest.”
Matthew McMillan, head of development for BOXPARK, was asked about placemaking and he said it was about creating a space for producers and entertainment, while building something people could identify with.
Rob Deacon, director of asset management for Liverpool ONE at Grosvenor, said this was vital and added: “As a destination, you need to offer more than a transactional experience – the best brands, the best fit out, and the best customer experience.”
Janet Nuzum, sector manager of visitor economy at Growth Platform, the Liverpool City Region Growth Company, said culture is at the centre of everything they do as it shows the region can provide a “platform to invest”. She added: “It brings a sense of uniqueness that is not only good for residents but also brings the tourists in.”
McMillan added that his company had had Liverpool in its sights since 2016, considering more than 60 sites before settling on the Baltic Triangle in their first BOXPARK-branded location outside London. He said: “To make it unique we have to make it local. But it’s not just the city region, it’s beyond. When we do a heat map of where people come to our venues we are amazed – customers from all over the country come to our spaces.”
Speaking more widely about growth, he said: “Culture comes from the bottom up. You’ve got to make sure there’s a multiplicity of venues so everyone’s got a chance to produce something, host an event or come to an event. That’s where things start to grow.”
Singing the praises of the Scouse identity, Nuzum said: “At the heart of all of this are the people of the city region. Understanding what your target audience is to resonate with that community, that’s so important. People bring the uniqueness.”
Singing from the same hymn sheet?
There was no suggestion that Eurovision hadn’t reinforced Liverpool’s place on the world stage or that huge events like this shouldn’t happen, but a displacement of economic benefit was discussed. Hatmaker cited a report which said £54m was contributed to the visitor economy, with 473,000 attendees.
Deacon said: “From a retail perspective, the impact was fairly neutral. The restaurants and F&B benefited more. What Eurovision did is showcase Liverpool in its best light.”
Nuzum added: “It solidified our global reputation but we do need to understand and consider the dislocation of activity and recognise the disruption for certain areas, then bring businesses into the supply chain of future events.”
Watson said: “There’s something about capturing good practice and lessons learnt from elsewhere, and finding that balance between a lift-and-shift dynamic – making sure we make the most of opportunities when they come.”
Jamiejohn Anderson, executive director of visitor experience, commercial and operations at National Museums Liverpool, gave an update on his venues’ progress. He said the International Slavery Museum and Maritime Museum were currently in a tender process for a new architect, with an announcement due at the end of the year.
Anderson also described the museum’s push to get the community more involved in the design process for its revamp projects, ensuring that the schemes are inclusive and represent a diverse set of city voices. Anderson described the museum’s take as “co-production”.
Discussing wider decision-making processes in the cultural sector, Anderson was asked if focusing on inclusion could “dilute a design vision”. He gave a definite no to the question adding: “Co-production is not altering the design process. It’s enabling us to get to people and get them into the conversation. It’s allowing other voices into the room.”
The UK has ambitions to be a global science and technology superpower by 2030 and venture capitalists are paying attention – more than doubling their investment in the life science sector last year. Take the temperature of the red hot life sciences sector at Place’s Labs of the Future: Life Sciences Property Update on 23 November in Manchester. Book your ticket.
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