According to Lord Michael Heseltine, former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister and early proponent of devolution, Liverpool has become “a world brand”, and that many of its successes would have been “unfathomable” a few years ago.
Speaking to Place North West, Heseltine said: “There are many manifestations of success, some unpredictable,” he said. “A few years ago no one would have thought that Bill Gates would have donated millions of pounds to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, that would have been unfathomable.”
“I remember Liverpool in the 1980s, and it would have beggared belief that the city would one day be regalvanised to such an extent.
“Liverpool is going to get the elected mayor, the boroughs are working together, success is bubbling up in Liverpool. Local people in Liverpool have got the bit between the teeth.”
Heseltine has been involved in Liverpool since the late 1970s, and said he felt “personally responsible” for the 1981 riots. In the aftermath, Heseltine said he explored the city and found “a place with no local confidence, no one in charge, and no one willing to take over.”
A regeneration priority for Heseltine following the riots was to clean up the River Mersey, which he described as “essentially 600-acres of toxic land… but we aimed to clean it up from source to sea”. He secured a £40m backing from the European Union for the project. Alongside, Heseltine set up the Merseyside Development Corporation to regenerate and redevelop Liverpool’s south docks, which included securing a listing for Albert Dock which had been earmarked for demolition.
“The EU had a campaign across the whole community back then to raise the quality of various seasides, so their objectives were marching alongside our own.”
With less than three weeks to go until the referendum on whether the UK should remain in the bloc, Heseltine described the EU’s contribution to regeneration as “significant”.
“The European Union has helped finance a significant range of schemes, social enhancements and environment improvements.
“There is a concerted EU strategy to raise environment and social standards, and to meet that goal working together is going to be much more effective than working apart. To use a conservation example, it would be pointless to campaign to save a particular type of bird, only to know it could be destroyed as soon as it flew across the channel.
“It remains a powerful case to join and share our sovereignty for the benefit of us all.”
Heseltine spoke in Manchester in November 2014 on the evening of the historic devolution deal between the council and central Government, and described devolution as “unstoppable”.
When asked about what advice he would give to the cities that have been granted devolved powers, he replied: “Keep going. The whole point of devolution is to get local people in charge, harness local strength, and serve the wider area. It’s a process, and there’s still a long way to go, and what cities need to do now is show that it’s going well.
“A dialogue over devolution is happening all over the country, and Manchester was the pacesetter. Now the process will build on itself, and when the discretion, choice and diversity that is enabled by giving powers outside of Whitehall is proven, then will come the next wave.”
Heseltine entered the Conservative cabinet in 1979 as Secretary of State for the Environment, where he spearheaded the Right to Buy campaign. He was Deputy Prime Minister and first Secretary of State between 1995 and 1997, and drafted the ‘No Stone Unturned in the Pursuit of Growth’ report in 2013 which promoted the devolution of powers to the regions.
He is due to headline the International Waterfront Forum, which is taking place as part of the International Festival for Business in Liverpool later this month.