Liverpool City Council has responded to concerns over plans for a 45,000 sq ft office for Asif Hamid’s Contact Company on a prime waterfront site at Kings Dock, an area promoted by the LEP and council as a world-class tourist destination.
The site, the last remaining plot at Kings Dock, is highlighted by the Liverpool Enterprise Partnership, chaired by Contact Company boss Asif Hamid, in its visitor economy and destination management plan as ideal for an ice-rink or surf centre.
The call centre application, announced at the start of this month , is for less than half of the site, with residential and a multi-storey car park expected to be proposed in future applications. The local authority, which acquired the land from the Homes & Communities Agency earlier this year, said a major tourist attraction remains an aspiration for a later phase but has not presented any details to date.
The 11-acre plot is next to the Albert Dock, Echo Arena, and Exhibition Centre, and lies within the World Heritage Site Buffer Zone.
Applicant YPG Developments is partnering the Contact Company, advised by planning consultants at Knight Frank and architect Falconer Chester Hall. YPG proposes a four-storey building containing 45,000 sq ft for 1,500 Contact Company staff. The council’s March cabinet paper describes a larger building of 75,000 sq ft and reduced workforce of 875 people.
In the council’s masterplan for Kings Dock, refreshed in March, it emphasised the “ambition is to create a world-class vibrant, leisure based mixed use destination that will continue the appeal of the City’s famous waterfront, increasing footfall, and visitor spend and delivering investment and jobs.”
Both the LEP and council said the call centre is consistent with this mixed-use approach to Kings Dock and does not represent a conflict with the masterplan. The pair said this would also resolve the potential conflict of interest between the LEP’s tourism strategy and the business interests of its chairman.
A council spokesperson added: “No deal has yet been done [with the Contact Company] for this scheme – a planning application has been submitted and we will be going through the usual process, including carrying out due diligence on the organisations involved. The call centre forms just one element of the development planned for the land. Any deal that is done with The Contact Company will be on commercial terms so there is no element of public subsidy to their involvement.”
The site is one of Joe Anderson’s mayoral priorities, to “promote Kings Dock as a major investment opportunity on the city’s waterfront. [The masterplan] sets the bar high in terms of urban design and architectural quality in order to ensure this unique investment opportunity maximises its value to the city in terms of international profile, job creation and place-making.”
Critics including rival developers, who are angry there was no procurement contest for the site, question the quality of use for such a prominent and publicly owned site. They also argue the city’s office market needs occupiers in more suitable locations such as Old Hall Street, the traditional office core.
The council said later phases could be brought forward by other developers; and it offered alternative locations to the Contact Company but the firm chose Kings Dock.
Hamid has registered his potential conflict of interest in the land with the LEP. Neither the LEP nor Hamid responded to requests for an interview, other than a short statement from the LEP which said: “The Destination Management Plan [which promotes Kings Dock as a major visitor destination] was a document that set out a range of project opportunities over the lifetime of the strategy. These were identified by the Local Authorities and aren’t subject to final confirmation. For more information around schemes being worked on speak to the Local Authority.”
The council added: “Ownership of the site will enable the City Council to drive forward a mixed-use development scheme following a period of inactivity. Completing development of the site over the next few years will further establish Liverpool’s Waterfront as one of the principal waterfronts in Europe & the World.”
Statutory public consultation is due to begin at the end of September and expire on 30 November. Subject to planning approval, the call centre could be operational by autumn 2018.
The council responded as follows to a set of questions from Place North West:
Why is the leisure element not being done first as this is the priority for the site in the LEP’s own visitor economy plan?
“Two reasons: The potential jobs opportunity of 1,500 new jobs to the city is a requirement to be satisfied by December 2018. This means the office opportunity needs to be as early as possible if it is to be delivered in this period and there will be a need for some additional development in Phase 1 to support this, particularly a new multi-storey car park to cater for the eventual increase in workers and visitors across the site. Secondly, the site retains is priority status as a City Council and LEP destination priority. Indeed, the City Council’s Masterplan endorsed by Cabinet in March 2017 confirmed this to be the case. The Masterplan report confirmed the mixed use of this destination including office space. Note the reference to the interest in the site at that stage on page 12” http://councillors.liverpool.gov.uk/documents/s209690/Kings%20Dock%20-%20Masterplanning%20and%20Acquisition%20of%20land%20RTC39.pdf
Can you confirm the Regional Growth Fund grant for the development and the reasons for the award? According to the council in March the pot is the council’s North Liverpool enterprise programme. Kings Dock is not in North Liverpool.
“The Council’s acquisition of Kings Dock was one of three projects to be afforded support through the Governments allocation of RGF to Liverpool. Each application was independently appraised, endorsed by the relevant Government Department and approved by the City Council’s Cabinet in terms of providing delegated authority to conclude the work on the three projects. The Council’s acquisition of Kings Dock amounted to £4.1m. It is deemed the strategic acquisition of a major site to advance development and regeneration faster and more effectively than was the case with the previous owners the Government’s HCA. The Report to Cabinet RTC/46 was a public report and in paragraph three of the report with regards to Kings Dock quite clearly states that LCC were in talks with / negotiation with a development consortium regarding a significant job creating proposition.”
Property companies have been turned away by the council after showing interest and working up detailed plans for Kings Dock. Public contests have previously been run by the HCA, who sold the site to the council this year. How was the site advertised in this instance and what process was used to appoint YPG as development partner? Why was it not publicly procured?
“We do not turn away business. In fact, we embrace investment and development interest hence the £10bn pipeline of activity all across the city. In this case, no property companies have been turned away because the Council has never invited any interest since acquiring the site. Enquiries have been made by third parties but in each case the Council has been clear that it was considering a proposition involving significant job creation and it had to take that potential seriously. In terms of YPG they are the choice of the development consortium not the Council. The Council is in the process of undertaking due diligence into YPG and other businesses and people involved in the consortium and their role in this project.”
Are YPG to deliver all phases?
“No. The Council will oversee the delivery across the whole of the site and subject to due diligence will undertake a deal on commercial terms with the development consortium including YPG for Phase 1 of the site. [The council will] control the delivery of Phase 2 onwards and depending on the specifics around uses and named end users the Council will determine how they are to be delivered and who by.”
What public consultation has there been into these plans?
“Public Consultation has been done on the masterplans for Kings Dock. In the specific case of this project there will be public consultation on the Phase 1 development towards the end of September 2017.”
How does putting offices on to a leisure / tourism site help the office district? The Liverpool office market is struggling and needs occupiers. How does supporting office deals in Kings Dock help consolidate the city’s office market around the recognised commercial district of Pall Mall, Old Hall Street and surrounds?
“This is an occupier-led project. Other sites were proposed by the Council but the occupier preferred the Kings Dock location.”
The mayor says the masterplan for Kings Dock will boost the visitor economy – how does an office building attract tourists?
“The office development is the initial phase of this project. The visitor economy components of this scheme are currently being considered and plans will emerge in due course in line with the approved masterplan.”
How much of the site does each phase take up in acres?
“Overall the balance of Kings Dock is circa 4.5 hectares’ gross [11 acres]. This planning application for phase 1a and a subsequent application for Phase 1b which will comprise car parking, retail and some residential taking up less than 2 hectares [five acres] (final parameters to be determined), all in line with the aspirations of the revised and refreshed masterplan as approved by the City Council’s Cabinet on 17 March 2017 – RTC/39 Public Report” [link as above]