India Buildings 22, HMRC, C Christian Smith For Place North West

GALLERY | The rebirth of Liverpool’s India Buildings  

Dan Whelan

After four years, three contractors and countless obstacles to overcome, HMRC’s 270,000 sq ft Liverpool hub is complete and the first of 4,500 staff have moved in. Place North West went to have a look around.

HMRC’s estate strategy will eventually see all of its existing 180 offices close as staff are decanted into 13 regional hubs across the country. 

India Buildings 41, HMRC, C Christian Smith For Place North West

The old arcade at the India Buildings has been reimagined. Credit: Christian Smith for Place North West

India Buildings in Liverpool, bought by L&G in 2017 for £125m, is one of them. But it is unique in this sense in that it is the only one of HMRC’s future offices that is not a new build. 

“The others have been more straightforward,” said Andrew Leggett, HMRC’s senior sponsor for India Buildings.

The need to be centrally located, coupled with a lack of modern office stock coming forward in Liverpool, played a part in HMRC’s decision to plump for the grade two star-listed block.

“Depending on the city, it is not always easy to find good new build opportunities [in the city centre]. There was a lot more effort that has had to be put into this but I think it has been worth it,” Leggett added. 

All parties seem pleased with the outcome but admit that striking a balance between preserving the historic fabric of the Water Street building and creating a modern workspace was challenging. 

“I think it is a triumph of collaboration when you look at what has been achieved,” said Alex Harrison, senior architect at Falconer Chester Hall.  

“The building was starting to get into a state of disrepair because it wasn’t being looked after and now it has been completely brought back to life.” 

An example of one of the headaches the team faced was in meeting fire safety regulations, which have become significantly stricter since the building was last refurbished. 

A pair of new lifts and two additional staircases were required to make the building compliant, while solutions to a myriad of other problems had to be plucked out thin air to keep the project rolling along. 

India Buildings 40, HMRC, C Christian Smith For Place North West

White noise speakers cleverly solve a privacy problem at India Buildings. Credit: Christian Smith for Place North West

The second floor, the one truest to the building’s original form, is made up of meeting and conference rooms while the rest of the building, aside from the ground and first floors, is given over to an open office space plan. 

However, the walls on the second floor are old and thin meaning that potentially sensitive information shared in HMRC meetings could leak out into the corridors and other communal areas. 

The walls, being historic, could not be touched, so another non-invasive solution was needed. 

After some head-scratching, the project team found one. Small white speakers are strategically placed around the second floor pumping out white noise to eliminate the chances of state secrets being divulged, while also maintaining the historic integrity of the building. 

On the ground floor, the former Holt’s Arcade used to be home to shops but those units are now given over to quaint meeting rooms adorned with paintings of the past and knickknacks used and collected by the government department over the years. 

India Buildings 16, HMRC, C Christian Smith For Place North West

One of the many historic artefacts on display at the India Buildings. Credit: Christian Smith for Place North West

In numbers 

  • 270,000 sq ft – the amount of workspace leases by HMRC in the India Buildings 
  • 63,000 – HMRC’s headcount across the country 
  • 4,500 – the number of staff expected to relocate to India Buildings 
  • One – the number of floors occupied prior to L&G buying the building – law firm DLA Piper 
  • £11m – estimated cost of the refurbishment 
  • Two – the number of new lifts installed 
  • Three – the number of contractors that worked on the project 
  • 13 – the number of regional hubs HMRC is decanting to 
  • 180 – the number of offices it is vacating 
  • £80m – annual saving to HMRC as a result of the estate reshuffle. 

To the chagrin of some, the arcade will no longer be open to the public as it was previously – it is a government building after all. But regular architectural tours are planned so the public can visit and admire the space. 

From the arcade, a set of steps leads to the Regency Suite, the largest single space in the building. The room can be used as break out space, a canteen, and for holding large events. The mezzanine floor has been ripped out to restore the original double-height ceilings, and the glass in the atrium windows replaced to allow more light in. 

The project may be complete and the end user seems happy but it was not without its setbacks. 

A three-year programme became four after original contractor Styles & Wood had its contract terminated in September 2019. 

Caddick Construction was drafted in briefly but its timescales weren’t to L&G or HMRC’s taste and Overbury, part of Morgan Sindall Group came on board in December 2019. 

The period between Styles & Wood’s departure and Overbury’s appointment was frustrating for the project team as work slowed to a halt. 

“It was sad as we had made such a good start,” Harrison said. 

Covid didn’t make things any easier, especially when an outbreak crept through the workers on site but with the work now done, the relief and pride on the faces of those involved are clear to see. 

Having this old building brought back to life is one benefit, but the wider ramifications for the city centre are arguably more important. 

“The economic impact of having 4,500 workers slap bang in the middle of the city centre will increase exponentially,” said Brian Taylor, chairman of interior designer Ward Robinson. 

The India Buildings was a labour of love and a daily battle. You could forgive the project team for wanting a bit of a break, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. 

“I really like the challenge of these projects. You get thrown a curveball that you’re not expecting. It is satisfying,” Harrison said. 

Luckily, another opportunity of a similar scale could await just around the corner. 

The Martin’s Bank building, recently acquired by Kinrise for £16m in August, is destined for a refurbishment and the new owners may not have to look far to find a team to bring it into the 21st Century. 

Click on any image to launch the gallery. All photos by Christian Smith for Place North West.

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A beautiful historic building that could grace any capital city.

By Liverpool Romance

Credit to all involved it looks absolutely amazing. Lets all get back to the office and hope that this is the catalyst for re-energizing this part of the city.

By BDAY

Absolutely stunning. Well done to all involved. I hope Martins Bank has a smoother journey in its path to renewal

By CMW

Looks fabulous.

LL

By Liver lad

If this building had been in Manchester it would have been knocked down. It would then be replaced with a faceless oblong of concrete. Look at Manchester now awful buildings. Well done Liverpool

By Paul Mason

At last after so many years this classic building is now back in use, hopefully Martins Bank building soon to make a comeback too.
Liverpool lost so many fabulous buildings because of WW2, possibly two thirds of the central core was flattened or destroyed, one of the greatest losses being the Custom House, you wonder what it would look like to day if things had been different.

By Anonymous

With India Buildings now complete and Kinrise’s proposals for Martins Bank building, will someone now have a word with the owners of the IL Palazzo building…shocking that this building continues to be left empty while the others are sympathetically refurbished – I thought the Ivy was moving into the ground floor and the upper floors being refurbished. LCC over to you!

By Old Hall Street

Beautiful- so pleased that it has been restored, but sad that no longer open to the public

By Mariafrancesca

What an amazing transformation! I worked in India buildings in the late 60s. My 1st job after leaving school was Alfred Holt on the 7th floor. Always loved the building and the shops in the arcade. So glad to see it renovated.

By Valerie Davies

A building worthy of extensive refurbishment….the interiors would not look out of place in Venice or Florence…an absolutely beautiful place….but much more could be done to publicise the arcaded element…

By Tercol

Worth the wait, very impressive.

By Tom Lyons

Fantastic Building ☺️

By JM

Paul Mason …absolute nonsense, buildings like this have been retained and converted too in Manchester, recently highlighted in PNW. Don’t let Rose tinted glasses make you short sighted.

By Anonymous

Interesting that they say that finding a central spot for a new build was too difficult, given all the space over at pall mall. Makes you wonder who was making what difficult for them, and why… and whether they’d find things easier if they were looking now.

Anyway, thankfully we got to retain this building as offices. Especially bearing in mind who wanted to get their hands on it!!

By Jeff

My mum use to be a cleaner in the India buildings when I was in primary school. I’m now 64 but still remember going there thinking it was like a palace. It is a beautifully architectural building and it’s a pity it’s no longer open to the public but looking at the internal pictures of the new work done the weather has been very sympathetic and I think enhances the building

By Alan Thompson

Paul Mason: “If this building had been in Manchester it would have been knocked down”. That’s a rather fatuous comment. This is a Grade II* building similar in many ways to those on King Street, Manchester, where there are 21 Grade II listed buildings.

By Anonymous

Lovely to see glorious Liverpool OFFICE’S !! I used to work in one like this, we need more of them if we want good jobs for our youngsters!!! Has the government bias stopped now?

By Mary Woolley

I refurbished the India buildings they don’t build places like this anymore,

By Joe Lewis