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 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.
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.
- 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.