Developer Capital & Centric is reviving plans to redevelop Liverpool’s former Littlewoods building, and hopes to launch a construction tender and start on site this year following a cash injection from the city region.
Capital & Centric aims to appoint a consultant initially to draw up fixed costs for the 275,000 sq ft scheme, before entering the detailed design phase with architecture studio Shedkm and launching a tender to appoint a main contractor in the autumn.
All being well, remedial works will start on site later this year, director Tim Heatley told Place North West.
The £54m project was named as a priority scheme in Liverpool’s Building Back Better economic recovery plan last week. An initial tranche of £11m from the Government’s Getting Building Fund, distributed by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, has been made available and will form part of a promised bigger, £17m package.
Under the plans, the Littlewoods Building on Edge Lane would be transformed into a hub for the film and television industry. UK-based Twickenham Studios has already agreed to take 85,000 sq ft of the scheme, and Capital & Centric is in talks with an unnamed education provider that would take the scheme to around 60-70% pre-let.
There would be other design-led workspaces for other tenants, and a central food and drink hall, which would sit between the building’s two wings. The existing structures have planning consent, but new-build elements still require consent so a planning application would need to be submitted in the coming months.
The property was ravaged by a fire in September 2018 and has continued to lay derelict, with plans shelved pending the resolution of insurance claims and other funding needs. Liverpool City Council owns the freehold of the building and Capital & Centric owns the long leasehold.
As well as enabling the developer to progress the construction and design plans for the site, the £11m will be used by Liverpool City Council to install temporary pop-up TV and film studios on neighbouring plots.
These studios, expected to be operational before the end of the year, will capitalise on current demand for studio space and enable the city region to start reaping the economic benefits of purpose-built studio space before the main scheme is completed.
Liverpool is the most filmed city outside London, with 1,750 film days recorded in 2019, involving 324 productions including Sky Atlantic’s Tin Star and Netflix UK’s The Irregulars, according to the combined authority.
Meanwhile, Liverpool Film Office, one of the oldest studios in the UK, is currently administering a £2m production fund to attract more filming in the city region and this week welcomed back the start of a number of productions.
The funding for Littlewoods came two days after the Government announced a £500m insurance fund to kickstart the UK’s TV and film industry, which has been stalled by Covid-19.
“It’s one of the bizarre side-effects of the pandemic that there has been renewed impetus for [stalled] schemes of potentially huge economic importance to Liverpool and elsewhere, and greater financial support for them,” Heatley told Place North West.
“[Littlewoods] is a beast of a project – it’s big and complicated – but will stimulate an untapped sector of the city region economy, one that employs highly skilled and well paid workers and is accompanied by a whole circus of support industries in TV and film production that mean its economic potential is huge.”
Built in 1938, the building was home to the Littlewoods Pools, the precursor to the National Lottery, and employed hundreds of people in Liverpool. It also played a key role in World War II, manufacturing a variety of items for the war effort, including five million parachutes.
Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said: “Given the economic impact that coronavirus has had on our region, establishing ourselves as an international hub for film and TV with world-class facilities will be a really important string to our bow.”
Capital & Centric co-founder Adam Higgins added: “We know people have been frustrated that things haven’t moved more quickly but we’ve all been working really hard behind the scenes and with this funding in place we’re going to do everything we can to get on site before the end of the year.”