Is this a prison? Bare block walling, barbed wire, blacked-out windows. Ugly, unwelcoming and unfriendly. No, this is the regenerated promenade at New Brighton, and someone has plonked a retail park on the seafront with its ugly backside facing the waterfront.
Even from the 'front' the buildings are bland boxes offering no differentiation between hotel, furniture store and supermarket. This is everywhere architecture. But it's not in some out-of-town retail park tucked alongside a dual carriageway, it's slap bang on the seafront. Where is the visual appropriateness, never mind the visual richness? What happened to consulting the genius loci – has it gone out of fashion?
Marine Point, New Brighton is a new mixed-use regeneration development by Neptune Developments, overloooking New Brighton beach, the Irish Sea and the Liverpool Estuary. I'm here with my aunt from South Wirral, who has just shared with me the exciting news that her neighbour Shirley once won the Miss New Brighton contest at the original lido here. That was back when the resort was a little more glamorous.
Sitting outside Caffe Cream, a great independent café within the development, I chat to the lady at the next table. I'm coveting her homemade ice cream and urgently need to know what flavour it is. She hasn't been to New Brighton for years and thinks it's a "vast improvement for a troubled resort".
To be fair, this rare sunny weekend does see two boats sailing in the refurbished marine lake, and there are plenty more in the model boat pool. The sky is blue and people are out and about; dog walkers, roller bladers, families with buckets for crabs. They're enjoying New Brighton.
Two restaurants, a Prezzo and Brooklyn's Diner, have outside seating overlooking the marine lake, which was completely empty. Maybe it's because it was in shade at lunchtime and throughout the afternoon. I'm sure it looked great in the CGIs.
There is a pedestrian plaza with some decent stone seating, but two nearly-dead birch trees and a few barren planting beds let it down.
Is any development better than no development? Money has been spent, the place is busy and people are enjoying themselves. Will this be a catalyst for further development? What if the bland new concrete flood defence wall had been turned into an opportunity for a public art project? If the designers had thought about sense of place and appropriate design? If the planners had demanded higher quality?
My aunt and I have a pleasant day. We walk along the beach in the sun and see some incredible views of Liverpool over the water. The homemade Ferrero Rocher ice cream is sublime.
But there again, I just can't get away from the shock of the promenade. I thought we all knew about buildings facing outwards onto public space having active frontages. Activities should be offered that benefit from interaction with the public realm and contribute to the life of the public space itself. But this is the barbed-wire back entrance to the service yard. ON THE SEAFRONT. How was this allowed to happen?
- Carolyn Willitts is a landscape architect and director of Carolyn Willitts Design.
Photography by Carolyn Willitts