Zip wire changes trigger further quarrel

Disagreement over Zip World’s plans for an attraction in Liverpool’s historic core has stepped up again, after the operator announced intended alternations to the scheme.

Although planning permission with was granted with conditions in June, opponents to the project have remained vocal, with petitions gathering support in the thousands and an open letter from social enterprise Engage Liverpool winning the support of a clutch of high profile arts and cultural figures.

The attraction, to be operated by North Wales operator Zip World, is intended to connect St Johns Beacon and Central Library, passing over St. Johns Shopping Centre, Hood Street, Roe Street, St George’s Place, St John’s Lane and Gardens and William Brown Street. 

The original plan was to house the ‘adventure terminal’ for customers to check in within the Central Library building. This will now be located at St Johns Shopping Centre which will reduce the presence of Zip World at Central Library. Riders will continue to land on the new rooftop of the library but they will be escorted out the premises via the service lift and returned to the adventure terminal.

A further benefit of the alterations is that it will boost neighbouring retailers at St Johns, while giving Zip World a ‘shopfront’. The operator said that it is investing approximately £5m into the adventure attraction and is creating 30 jobs. Zip World is projecting that the attraction will boost visitor numbers to the city by around 300,000 when it opens next year. 

Commercial director Andrew Hudson said: “Zip World chose Liverpool above other cities because of its historic connection with North Wales, the home of the current three sites and 13 adventures. Zip World Liverpool will be a real first because we are creating the fastest urban zip line in the world which will put the city on the international tourism map yet again. 

“However, whilst the overall reaction, especially from retailers and businesses in the city has been incredibly positive, we’ve listened to a variety of opinions and that is why we have taken the decision to relocate the kit-up area to St Johns Shopping Centre which will significantly reduce any impact on the Central Library.”

Far from pacifying the scheme’s opponents though, this change seems to have sparked further efforts to force to council to rethink its decision to approve the scheme as presented. Cllr Richard Kemp, leader of Liverpool’s Liberal Democrat opposition, has written to Liverpool City Council chief executive Tony Reeves asking for full scrutiny of proposals before the city enters into a contract with Zip World.

In the letter, Cllr Kemp asks for an impartial evaluation of three factors: the net effect of the tourists it would bring in; the net effect on the council’s finances; and assurance that every potential location has been looked at “before we agree to one that would seriously damage the architectural heritage of the city”.

He said: “I hope that the company will bring a zipwire to Liverpool but not to this location, which I believe could have a bad effect on our tourist offer and the total of the council’s finances.

“I don’t know whether this is the case and no one else does either. That’s why the proposition has to be fully and impartially scrutinised by our officers before a full decision is made.”

The Zip World proposal does, however, have the support of much of Liverpool’s leisure, retail and hospitality sector, which, like other UK cities, has suffered a battering in 2020 amid the pandemic.

Frank McKenna, chief executive of the Downtown Liverpool in Business group, was a figurehead of July’s 130-strong letter of support to the council.

Speaking to Place North West this morning, he said: “Liverpool’s regeneration over the last 15 years has come on the back of the visitor economy, and right across the sector there will be severe challenges in the coming years.

“The mayor and council have been incredibly supportive of cultural events, conferencing, and initiatives like the International Business Festival, but councils are under financial pressure and might not have the resource to support things, even where there’s the inclination.

“There’s been some misunderstanding and misinformation about this, but it’s a premium attraction that will bring people in who spend in hotels, bars, restaurants and the rest. The argument that it will disturb the memorial garden is scaremongering from the people who complain about anything and everything that comes forward in Liverpool.”

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