Kevin Horton

My Place | Southport

On paper, Southport should be doing better: taking a leaf out of Lytham’s book and giving the town a focus on health and wellbeing could be one way to do it, writes Kevin Horton of K2 Architects.

My childhood, spent drifting between a smoggy Birmingham and sunny Southport gave me a very early sense of what attracted the Victorians to build Southport.

As much as we would like to think of health and wellbeing as a progressive and modern concept, it’s not a new idea. The Victorians built Southport for the sole purpose of enabling the dirty, unhealthy industrialised society of northern England, escape from itself and regenerate in a better place. Swimming in the sea and taking in the air were the Victorians version of a spa-weekend.

The attraction of a healthier, happier lifestyle encouraged wealthy industrialists to build grand hotels and mansions by the sea. In response, the town-council supported the building of sea bathing lakes, marine hospitals, fairgrounds, piers, music halls, theatres, picture houses and one of the grandest shopping street in England. In popular Victorian culture Lord Street was said to have inspired Napoleon III’s construction of his Parisian Boulevards. It’s hard to understand why it’s not a UNESCO heritage asset. Granted today the town has fallen on hard times, but if you look beyond the empty shop units, the town is brimming with possibility.

Today, like many seaside towns, for better or worse the positive Victorian legacy of Southport has not been fully understood by its modern custodians. I wouldn’t be surprised if the readers’ comments are littered with catch-all statements about the demise of Southport blamed on the rise of cheap airline travel, partisan local politics, poor infrastructure and ‘Retail park-on-Sea’ like regeneration projects. There is a certain degree of truth in all of these observations. But then you look at Lytham, just a stone’s throw across the Ribble estuary, faced with many of the same issues as Southport but is flourishing, so why?

I think the reason Lytham does so well, is that it knows what it is and has never deviated from its core business of leisure, health and wellbeing. Its council focuses on a built environment and active programme of events that support these aims. There hardly seems to be a weekend that passes where there isn’t something going on.

On paper, Southport should be doing better, and it can do better. It frustrates me the number of times some agency or another has tried to freshen up the ‘Classic Victorian Seaside Resort’ brand without asking themselves why. This concept is far too abstract to make sense of and makes me think of pensioners sipping tea, not a progressive city region suburb.

My view is that we should be focusing on why the town was built in the first place, play to its unique strengths and map our ideas around them. Today we have nearly a dozen golf courses, a competition-grade sailing lake, the flattest triathlon in the UK – great for PB’s I understand – stunning ornamental parks, and a beach that I run on every day and feel like that bloke who pops up in the aspirational Strava push-advert on my feed. I guess I just I used a modern application to support a tried and tested formula, and that’s exactly what Southport should do.

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On paper Southport should be doing a lot better – and dont we just know it. If Southport wants to do better then it must close the door on Sefton, Merseyside and the Liverpool city region. They have never cared about Southport, nor do the seem to care about anywhere outside of Liverpool city centre.

By Sandgrounder

Wise words, got to play to your strengths. These arguments about leaving this or that governmental structure smack of the same magical thinking behind Brexit.

By Rich X

Southport started to die after local government reorganisation back in the 1960’s. As an independent town it flourished but once it became part of Sefton the rot set in with a descent into mediocrity. Lytham is doing well but a few miles down the road St Anne’s is now a mini Blackpool with tatty entertainment’s and empty shops and stores.

By Traveller

Southport should be to Liverpool what Altrincham is to Manchester.

By Elephant

Southport’s ‘health’ largely depends on the vibrancy of Liverpool; if more businesses and jobs are created in Liverpool then Southport will pick up. However, they could also try to attract Liverpool visitors to come and see Southport, which would require partnership and collaboration with Liverpool. Also, rather than just catering toward the tourist a new office building or two (or refurbishment to an office) would help create the day-to-day footfall etc..

By Chris

I think that after 30 years of various governments trialling the idea of concentrating investment into our core cities as a catalyst for success that trickles down into the surrounding conurbations has proved a total disaster. In many circles, the consequence of this policy is thought to be a primary reason why the Brexit vote registered so highly in our NW towns.

By Kev Horton

Why is it viewed by that Southport’s downturn is solely due to being part of Sefton, it clearly in line with many many other seaside towns that have fallen the same fate. It needs support yes, but it’s not like it is unique in it plight and has just been cast aside by is governance like some would say.

By OrmskirkMan

We know that some of the economic trends that have impacted a whole range of places across the North West started in the 1970’s, and we also know local government had its big changes in the 1970’s, but the two things aren’t necessarily connected.

By Rich X

Nice to see Kev’s predictions on the comments were accurate!

Wuld be a backwards step to turn away from Liverpool City Region

By Mystic Meg

Southport is a very large resort (and a collection of suburbs) and has suffered from resort-holiday decline, as well as the cyclical problems of large towns that need renewal. Lytham is a small resort close to the very large resort of Blackpool which swallows up the decline while Lytham flourishes. Southport cannot realistically be compared with Lytham.
Southport needs to develop as a dynamic part of the city region of which it is a vital and lively part. Its size and its unique properties – Lord Street, the Marine Lakes, its theatres restaurants and café-bars – must become its strengths. But it also needs to function as a dynamic suburban town, with offices, more young people, apartments, and even high-tech industry.
Southport, like the rest if Sefton, would benefit from much more marketing with Liverpool. Liverpool has just had its biggest year for tourism and is jam packed with international visitors. Southport at the northern end of Merseyrail is in a very attractive spot to tap into this much more! Waterloo, Crosby and Formby would similarly benefit much more if Sefton embraced wholeheartedly the Liverpool brand.

By Red Squirrel

Sad that I read this the day the lampposts get taking down from Lord Street.

By Tara

Theg should start by clea ing tbe town it is filthy dog mess a d Lord steet smells of urine

By Anonymous

The root of Southport’s decline in recent years lies in the renaissance and growth of Liverpool since 2008. And is a mirrored of the decline in a lot of the centres around Manchester which sucks in all the activity in that area. I imagine things are not helped given the high levels of economic disadvantage in much of the Sefton borough limiting what the municipality can do to pump prime Southport. Comparing the town to Lytham does not really work, Lytham is a nice seaside village that does not have a major international city next door. Put Lytham 20 miles from Manchester and it would probably look quite a different place.

By Phil

Elephant is right, its should be, but it wont. And Chris is also accurate; without LCR, Southport is OVER! Geographically there might be issues with a long streached out Council district but Southport is far too small to be a UDC, and West Lancs wants association with LCR. It may be better for Southport to link with West Lans, and West Lancs come fully into the LCR. That would also benefit towns like Skelmersdale and Ormskirk. If Southport were ever to leave the LCR, then its reliance upon the pensioners from the LCR would end, as the Merseyrail subsidy would end. Southport Flower Show doesnt exist because of Sefton MBC. Examine where the visitors come from for most of Southport’s business. Look at the figures and facts! Southport, for some reason doesnt like Liverpool, but it IS econnomically reliant upon it. Get over it!!

By Billy

Most people in Southport love Liverpool. Half the population originates in Liverpool. All the suburbs to the south of Southport are predominantly Liverpudlian. We go to Liverpool more these days but we still go to Southport and we’ll go more as it modernises and looks to the future. It is Liverpool’s premier resort at the end of Merseyrail’s Northern line. It is much nicer than sone similarly located resorts in continental Europe: Povoa de Varzim for example outside the wonderful city of Porto. It has certain elements in common with lovely Cascais and Estoril outside Lisbon but it could be much much better than them. Southport has a lot going for it!

By Red Squirrel

All reasonable points raised in this piece, although I think one of the key problems that Southport (as far as the town centre is concerned) faces is just how large the retail footprint is, compared to towns of a similar size. Lord Street would be sufficient/excessive for most town centres, but then you add in Chapel Street, Eastbank St, Hoghton St, Manchester Rd etc and you have difficulties ensuring that all of these private premises are occupied and have some degree of cohesion.

I know that Southport residents, particularly on local forums, tend to have a somewhat negative view of their own place influenced by a healthy dose of rose tinted nostalgia but on a sunny day it is still heaving. It has the roots to build on to be something good – and the private investment to the north of Lord Street is testament to that – but it requires private enterprise to come forward.

However, if you consider the whole of the area then Birkdale is thriving, Churchtown is becoming a key draw and Ainsdale village centre is on the up and up.

However, only national intervention can address the key issue facing Southport: its lack of connection to Manchester (which is pretty much England’s second city) due to poor rail links limits its role as a commuter town, and the same issues prevent the occupation of business parks and vacant offices.

By John Mac

We would love to talk to you Kevin. We will make contact and hopefully meet?

By Southport BID

John Mac,..second city……I think you will find Birmingham, Glasgow…and even Edinburgh would all have ‘rights’ to that well before Manchester. There is also a direct rail link between Southport and Manchester, and that brings little to Southport, If Southport is to succeed, it needs to market itself differently; not the hasbeen Victorian seaside. Those days wont return until they take our cars and planes away. Southport has some great assets, but it needs help. GOLF actually isnt one. Although said to be the Golf Coast of the England; not only are some of the courses too difficult for the average golfer; you need thousands visiting, not a few dozen. The Open and another ‘major’ every six or seven years will never save it. Southport needs a greater pull…..or three.

By Anonymous

@Anonymous – In your reply to John Mac, He mentions England’s second city. I think you will find that Glasgow and even Edinburgh are not in England.

By Geography

Anonymous, While I’d be happy for the north to seek independence with Scotland I’m not sure Glasgow or Edinburgh would like to be considered England’s second city!

As for the existing train link, it is seen as a sub-standard service by residents, the MP and most businesses given the time it takes and the frequency of delays/cancellations. If Southport wants to be a dormitory town for Liverpool then that is still relatively easy to achieve but better links to Manchester are needed and as providing better roadlinks is nigh on impossible/improbable then rail improvements should be sought.

By John Mac

Better trains to Manchester will not necessarily make that much difference to Southport. Faster trains to Liverpool could change things faster and more substantially. Liverpool’s economy fits perfectly with Southport’s and the boom in tourism and hotels that Liverpool has experienced in recent years could be replicated in Southport too, especially with faster links. The new Merseyrail trains will be faster but we also need an overtaking link for semi-express trains. Southport’s West Lancashire hinterland could also be tapped by reopening the Burscough curves as part of Merseyrail; an aim of West Lancs Council. Sefton should push for this too.
There is an assumption by some that Manchester will always be stronger economically. This may not play out in the future. Liverpool was the stronger city for more than 200 years and it could be again. It is perfectly feasible that as Liverpool gets stronger, which it does each year, that the North West’s natural balance will be restored. Several national institutions have chosen Liverpool for their northern base in recent years and I would expect more to follow. Southport will do well to embrace Liverpool more fully to add to its success and become a partner in that success.

By Red Squirrel

Sorry, but there is a train link already….so how would making that ‘better; make Southport better?? Its a direct link, but more people come from the Liverpool region than the Manchester or Preston regions…by train. RS is perhaps riight by openning the Busrcough Curves; that would help Southport (marginally). The answer isnt HS24 Manchester – Southport; Southport need to find a strong anchor attraction and then hope Sefton MBC will support it….good luck with that one! Last time I looked Birmingham was in England!

By Anonymous

Kev your Southport needs you man !

By Mikes mate

Really interesting insight and one which I think should be seriously researched and ideas implemented. Every place needs a USP and this could be Southport’s.

By June Kellaway

Most of Kevin hortons article is true except Latham was never a lower class resort as Southport and Blackpool grew into .Southport had two Spa locations The palace hotel and Smedleys Hydro
The palace was demolished in 1967 having long passed its high point of having film stars stay there
Smedley’s is now where all your passport applications are dealt with
Southport developed into a lower class resort where family’s in wake’s weeks spent holidays
As did Blackpool ,unlike Lytham ,Southport did not have the protection of Blackpool which prevented it becoming downgraded to a fairground based resort Lytham stayed gentile and ceased to be a resort as such but became the default residential base for the wealthy of Blackpool
So the comparison is not a good one Southport had no nearby default place for the wealthy they lived in the Birkdale superb of the town and the sand and rock brigade ruled the town
This began to fail for two reasons one Kevin down plays Cheap air travel by Jim Laker played a major and swift decline in visitor numbers except at weekends This began to kill the B&B houses as it did in Blackpool more importantly the changes in ship usage to Liverpool as Seaforth container dock took over cargo shipping This meant that dredging to keep wide channels open was no longer needed to enter Liverpool as shipping declined and now as today only one main channel remains open to enter Liverpool The result of this is that the sand and sea grass took over the beaches as the water receded from the shore by almost a mile except in the winter So no longer a sea n sand resort
Southport success in future doesn’t lie in an adoption of a wellness industry but in a council that stops the downgrading of shopping uses on Lord Street and encourages small high end shopping under Victorian canopy’s for better heeled clientele such as Lytham enjoys whilst retaining mass shopping in chapel st and out of town shopping complexes such as at Kew
Your articke Kevin was a great stab but you need to live in a place to get the full picture

By ALf menzies

Latham not a tourist resort ? Fair enough
Birkdale superb ? That’s stretching it a bit.
Jim Laker contributed to Southport’s demise ?. I’m not having that – One of the finest bowlers ever to play for England

By umop apisdn w,I

I agree with much of what you say Alf, but I do think the focus needs to be on Southport’s heritage, arts, culture and café society rather than just shopping. There is far too much retail space for Southport’s future health. This needs to be reduced by an proactive restructuring programme. Bring more people to live in the centre and try to attract younger people. That would be a good start.

By Red Squirrel

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