The £5bn opportunity at Liverpool Waters, investment in Knowsley, tackling the City Region’s transport troubles, and the city centre’s office market were all under the spotlight at this Place North West event in Liverpool.
Speakers included Colin Sinclair, chief executive of Knowledge Quarter; Quentin Keohane, associate director, Falconer Chester Hall; Claire Slinger, assistant director, Liverpool City Council; Susan Patterson, senior business development manager, Morgan Sindall; Simon Bland, managing director, Mason Owen; Tony Clark, head of major development, Knowsley Council; Antonia de Winter, co-head of investment, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority; Cllr Pat Hackett, leader of Wirral Council; Daniel Broch, co-founder of Bliss Hotels; Darran Lawless, development director at Liverpool Waters; and Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region.
More than 230 people attended the half-day conference on 14 November at the Crowne Plaza in Liverpool city centre. The event was sponsored by Curtins, Falconer Chester Hall, Liverpool Waters, Lovell, and Morgan Sindall, and was chaired by Place North West editor Jessica Middleton-Pugh.
The conference began with a presentation from Quentin Keohane of Falconer Chester Hall, who gave an insight into the architect’s work on India Buildings, a listed block in Liverpool city centre, set to be home to a 300,000 sq ft office for HMRC.
- The building, which was bought by L&G in the biggest commercial transaction in the city’s history in 2017, will be HMRC’s regional hub but required extensive and complicated works to transform it into offices. Around 4,000 employees will be based in the building when it completes
- FCH was tasked with creating a modern open plan office environment with enhanced security, while retaining the fabric of the grade two-star-listed building
- Works have seen the original 1920s windows retained and reglazed; Portland stone exteriors have been cleaned and upgraded; new risers have been installed to add mechanical ventilation; and the roof has been reinforced to hold additional plant
- Elsewhere, non-original features and rooflights have been removed, while original ornate toilets have been restored
- The project is set to complete next year
Darran Lawless of Liverpool Waters, part of Peel L&P, then provided a showcase of the £5bn project, set to transform a huge part of the city over the coming years.
- The 150-acre site includes offices, residential, a stadium for Everton FC, a park, and extensive public realm, making it one of the largest development sites of its type in the UK
- The audience were shown a flythrough video of how the project will look when complete, and Lawless said: “based on all the work we’ve been doing, we will be in a position to deliver this on the quality and scale shown in the CGIs”
- Central Docks forms a key part of the masterplan and is to include more than 3,000 homes and what Lawless said was “one of the biggest areas of public realm in the country outside the Olympic Park in London”
- The Northern Docks is a £1bn development opportunity over then next 10 years and includes Everton’s Stadium at Bramley Moore Dock; Lawless said this “could not be delivered without significant infrastructure investment” and that Peel L&P was working closely with the City Region Combined Authority and Liverpool City Council to achieve this
- Lawless concluded: “Liverpool Waters is happening – there is no doubt or question mark about that now”
A panel discussion then followed with Knowledge Quarter’s Colin Sinclair, Claire Slinger of Liverpool City Council, Simon Bland of Mason Owen, and Susan Patterson of Morgan Sindall.
- Sinclair said the pace of change at Knowledge Quarter had been “exponential” and questioned a perceived lack of supply and demand for office occupiers in Liverpool
- “The Spine is 200,000 sq ft and is a spec build office which is a 70% pre-let a year out; that gives confidence for other developers to bring forward schemes in other parts of the city,” he said. “Major occupiers now have a choice of buildings which is a gamechanger for us”
- Bland agreed, arguing: “It’s sometimes difficult to get people to recognise Liverpool has a thriving office market”. He cited several major deals including an Israeli pension fund buying Exchange Flags, and said L&G’s investment in the India Buildings was a “significant” change for the city
- Patterson highlighted some of Morgan Sindall’s major projects, including at Copperas Hill where the contractor is delivering a sports and social building for Liverpool John Moores University. At the Knowledge Quarter, she confirmed Morgan Sindall would be starting work on a Novotel hotel imminently
- Infrastructure was a recurring theme of the panel, with all four members calling for more investment; Patterson said a focus on digital infrastructure should be a priority, while Slinger argued the council’s public realm strategy would “connect the dots” between development, transport, and high-quality design
- Meanwhile, Sinclair said cars should be “pushed further and further out of the city centre” but that would only become possible with major investment in “last-mile infrastructure”
- Slinger highlighted the 1,500-home Festival Gardens as one of the city’s potential success stories, with remediation of the site due to begin next year
Metro Mayor’s view
Following a networking break, Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram sat down with Place editor Jessica Middleton-Pugh to talk about the ambitions for the City Region.
- Compared to markets like Manchester, the Liverpool City Region is an “untapped resource”, argued Rotheram, with “ambitious plans” to bring growth to towns including Southport, Birkenhead, Kirkby, and Runcorn
- He criticised the Government for its “obsession” with increasing connectivity between Manchester and Leeds, with statistics showing the case for better links between Liverpool and Manchester was in fact stronger
- On transport, he said the City Region should aim to have a “London-style transport system” but also needed “a London-style level of subsidy” from the Government to support its ambitions
- Asked about the future of the Mersey Tidal Barrage, one of the Metro Mayor’s key projects, Rotheram said a full business case could be expected next year: “We know we can make tidal power wash its face and can make it commercially viable”
- He also said the current Government is “taking the proposals seriously” and there are “people knocking on our door to get involved”
Investment in Knowsley
A presentation then followed from Knowsley Council’s Tony Clark, who outlined investment opportunities in the borough.
- At Knowsley Business Park, which covers 1,400 acres and includes 800 businesses, the development pipeline stands at 2.2m sq ft, with projects including PLP Knowsley, Titan West, and Image Business Park. Around 1.3m sq ft of industrial space has been delivered here in the last two years
- For housing, Knowsley has an “up to date” Local Plan with a target of 450 homes per year; the council achieved 840 net completions in the 2018/19 financial year
- The largest housing opportunity is Halsnead Garden Village, which will feature up to 1,600 homes, 56 acres of employment land, and 82 acres of green space
- Several major investments are coming forward in the borough’s town centres; in Kirkby, the council has decided to take control of delivering a major retail-led scheme and will also look at directly delivering a cinema and leisure-led project
- In Prescot, the council is helping to deliver the Shakespeare North theatre, and has also invested heavily in public realm and connectivity
City Region potential
Clark joined a panel including Wirral Council’s leader Cllr Pat Hackett, Daniel Broch of Southport-based Bliss Hotels, and Antonia de Winter of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority.
- Hackett said Wirral was on course to complete its long-running Local Plan next year and promised it would be “brownfield first” with “no Green Belt release”
- When asked about the council’s decision to pull funding for the proposed £200m Celtic Manor resort at Hoylake, Hackett said: “we pulled the funding because we thought the council is better off investing in social housing – there’s nothing stopping the developer from delivering the scheme itself”
- Asked about Knowsley’s decision to step in on the development of Kirkby town centre, Clark said: “It wasn’t our first choice to acquire directly, and it was a decision not taken lightly, but it was done on a very sound business plan”
- Other towns, he added, held significant potential, with new-build offices in Huyton being pitched as a potential home for Jaguar Land Rover
- Southport’s challenge, Broch said, was attracting a new demographic: the company’s plan for a major leisure and cultural destination is currently being drawn up, and the town has “great potential” for regeneration
- “It feels like the planets have aligned in Sefton for the first time ever,” he said. “We have got to attract different people with a different offering but there’s no reason it’s not doable in Southport”
- Asked to choose one transformational project for the City Region, de Winter highlighted the upcoming Eureka museum in Birkenhead, an £11m scheme which has been backed by money from the Combined Authority’s Strategic Investment Fund, as well as the National Lottery
The presentation slides can be accessed below
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