An objection over the accessibility of the historic Holts Arcade is threatening the progress through the planning system of HMRC’s proposed office at Liverpool’s grade two star-listed India Buildings.
The building was revealed in November as the preferred location for a consolidation of local HMRC offices, a requirement in excess of 250,000 sq ft. HMRC is rationalising its estate, moving to 13 national hubs and closing around 140 in the next 10 years.
Firms including architect Falconer Chester Hall and historic building advisor DGM Conservation have been working with the government body on plans to remodel the building to accommodate up to 3,500 employees in a more modern environment.
Key to this are security measures that would mean Holt’s Arcade, the distinctive Art Deco ground floor retail space, being closed off to the public. It is not a public right of way by law, and access to and through it has always been at the owner’s discretion. Ground floor access to the offices is positioned in the middle of the arcade.
By way of compromise, as DGM’s conservation statement records, measures will be put in place to allow groups such as architectural tours and school groups to visit the arcades on a regular basis.
The Twentieth Century Society, one of the statutory stakeholders consulted along with Historic England, has objected to this change and other alterations it described as “harmful”.
Tess Pinto, conservation adviser for the C20 Society, said: “The India Buildings is undoubtedly one of the finest inter-war buildings in the country, and the shopping arcade is the centrepiece. Although it is not technically a right of way, the arcade has always been open for the public to enjoy and was designed for that purpose. It is a great shame that a government body will be curtailing public access to this stunning space, as well as destroying a lot of the surviving fabric on the upper floors.
“If HMRC is unwilling to compromise on its preference for open plan offices or to consider other alternatives in achieving its required level of security, we query why it has chosen to consolidate in a listed building which is renowned for its public arcade and the outstanding survival of original fittings throughout.”
Place North West understands that existing retailers in the arcade will be offered alternative space around the building’s exterior, while the internal units will be occupied by amenities for HMRC staff.
The HMRC deal is clearly of huge value to the city, both in job terms and in improving one of its neglected jewels. The department is taking virtually the whole building, except the former banking hall, and its consultants look to have set out a meticulous programme of works to develop the building sensitively.
Intended changes include the replacement of windows, renovations to the roof, cleaning and lighting the exterior, and restoring the second floor as a showcase of the original spaces designed by Liverpool architect Herbert Rowse on the building’s 1932 opening.
The C20 Society, which applied successfully for a listing upgrade in 2013 following a previous owner’s unauthorised works, has also registered its issues with the treatment of windows and plans to replace corridors on the upper floors with open-plan areas.
The building was acquired, 80% empty, by Shelborn Asset Management for £17m in February 2016. Last month, news emerged that L&G is in line to buy the building for £120m on completion of the HMRC letting.