North Liverpool could be something special, writes Shelagh McNerney. It’s time for the city to start looking to the future instead of attempting to restore the past.
A much-respected Manchester colleague once said to me that my problem was that I was having a love affair with Liverpool and I really needed to move on. Maybe true, but you know how things go full circle.
In 1983, when my home city was on its knees, I left with a slightly joyous howl of “get me out of here” to study town planning in London.
Those last 37 years encapsulate a Liverpool metamorphosis story that is well rehearsed in books and political commentaries. Maybe none quite so comprehensively and warmly written as Professor Michael Parkinson’s ‘Liverpool: Beyond the Brink’.
A few weeks ago, I had the enormous pleasure of spending time talking with Professor Parkinson and reflecting on the city, his book, continuing work and North Liverpool in particular. It is the relative absence of North Liverpool from that recent Liverpool story that occupied our conversation.
North Liverpool was my dad’s place therefore it’s my place. I’ve inherited it.
Like many tens of thousands of residents existing in 20th century Everton, Anfield and Kirkdale, history ensured my dad escaped to a posh council house and a useful job in an aerospace factory. All of social and economic history is here.
The de-population, de-industrialisation and degradation of North Liverpool took place over half a century and more. As we move into another 21st century decade, its time to fundamentally address its future again. This is not about trying to restore the past. The past was desperate destitution, disease and poverty.
I am also not suggesting there is nothing good going on at all now. There are many community projects and amazing investments are underway but they are not enough on their own. Liverpool Waters, two football clubs and the Port are pieces of an incomplete jigsaw. We also have no picture on the box and to extend the metaphor who actually has the pieces?
I can hear professional colleagues taking a deep breath now, saying: ‘It can’t be done’, ‘too big’, ‘the market isn’t interested’, ‘too many landowners’, ‘too much history’, ‘maybe stretch some arty uses into falling down buildings?’ I can hear others suggesting that we don’t need another vision nor big plan and only small moves are possible.
I don’t buy this. As long as the gap in expectations remains so wide for North Liverpool, then the city as a whole cannot completely move on. Indeed, social and economic deprivation statistics reveal a growing gap within the city. Professor Parkinson calls this “a stain on the city’s conscience”
In 2010, I worked on the North Liverpool and South Sefton Strategic Regeneration Framework – what a mouthful. Just as the recession kicked in, the coalition government went hard on austerity and Liverpool went bold with a directly elected mayor. The often-quoted Simon Rattle comes to mind: “Liverpool – the constantly offside city”. So in the great tradition of being offside, in these tumultuous times, don’t delay.
Back in 2010, it was suggested:“North Liverpool should and could be a series of special residential neighbourhoods and business districts; 21st century sustainable residential suburbs, contained between the city core and Crosby, offering a mix of housing, new and old, large and small with neighborhood services and facilities within walking distance”.
Ideas for re-population, re-industrialisation and new housing at scale – and some height – needsdto bring people and all the key institutions round the table for a reconstituted collaboration.
After all, Liverpool knows how to do this and, what is good for North Liverpool is good for the city. Growth is not a dirty word – it can be built.