Walter Menzies, a pioneering figure in sustainable development in the region, has died aged 69.
Best known for his work in spearheading the Mersey Basin Campaign as chief executive, he was a passionate leader respected for his ability to draw different parts of the business community together.
In the years before many issues around sustainability were understood or taken seriously by developers and businesses, when the atmosphere could be enterprise-focused to the exclusion of all else, he played a major part in forcing sustainability onto the agenda through fiercely argued reason.
In 1983, Menzies was the founding executive director of the second Groundwork Trust to be established in the UK, in Macclesfield, becoming regional director for the North West and serving a 14-year spell.
Between 1997 and 2001 he was chief executive of Sustainability Northwest, before spending nine years with third sector organisation the Mersey Basin Campaign, which grew out of Michael Heseltine’s visits to Liverpool in the early 1980s, when he described the basin as “an affront to civilised society”. The campaign was dedicated to sustainable economic development through the improvement of waters, the regeneration of watersides and community involvement in those processes, and was considered complete in 2010.
During this time, between 2000 and 2005, Menzies was one of the first commissioners in the New Labour Government’s Sustainable Development Commission.
In more recent years he had served as a trustee of the Land Trust, was a visiting professor at the University of Liverpool’s School of Environmental Sciences and chaired the Manchester & Pennine Waterways Partnership.
Steve Turner, formerly head of smart cities at Manchester City Council and now digital cities lead at Arup, described Menzies as a “giant”. He said: “For those of us who cut our teeth on the wider sustainability agenda within the North West, Walter was our leader – a father figure.
“He helped shape and support a number of us in our early career, bringing a level of maturity to the debate, always grounded in robust intellectual rigour. As a result he became, uniquely at the time, widely respected amongst senior figures in the business and public sectors alike. This was reflected in his various roles and positions.
“He has built a powerful and lasting legacy, not just in the way he helped shape sustainability within projects and programmes across the North West, but in influencing the hearts and minds of the next generation.”
Stephen Gleave, consultant at WYG, said: “Walter was my mentor as an Urban Design student. He was one of the first to welcome me back to the North West in the early 90s. I was proud to join him as a Visiting Prof at Liverpool University. He was a challenging urbanist and ahead of times with sustainability.”
Menzies was also an occasional contributor of articles to Place North West. Place publisher Paul Unger described him as “one of the great characters of North West regeneration”.
“I have fond memories from freelance writing days of contributing to his Mersey Basin Campaign papers and books,” Unger said. “Energetic, cheeky, quick, clever, cutting at times but never ever dull.”
Clare Lydon, managing director of marketing consultancy Eleven, remembered one of her favourite quotes from Menzies: “Networking is only one letter away from not working!”
Michael Taylor, external affairs director at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “I loved Walter He was so warm, witty and generous. Any day was brightened by a call in Walter’s Caledonian drawl.”