There is a multi-billion-pound development opportunity for Liverpool City Region in the coming years, but the area must do more to prove its ambition to build new homes and infrastructure, said a panel of experts at Place North West’s Merseyside Development Update.
More than 150 people attended the event at the Liverpool Hilton, which was sponsored by DTM Legal, Lovell Partnerships, Morgan Sindall, and Pegasus Group.
Speakers at the event included Mark Kitts; assistant director of regeneration at Liverpool City Council; Anthony Hatton, director of strategic projects at Peel Group and Atlantic Gateway board member; Steve Parry, managing director of Ion Developments; Erika Rushton, chair of the board at Baltic Creative CIC; David Sayer, director of land & development at GVA; and Sebastian Tibenham, executive director of Pegasus Group.
The event opened with Tibenham and Richard Cook from Pegasus’ Liverpool office giving an analysis of housing projections for the City Region.
While the region is hoping for growth in jobs and investment as devolution continues, it faces a series of challenges:
- Retaining young people and graduates in the City Region will be one of the key challenges to area, said Cook, with 115,000 people living in Merseyside having no formal qualifications
- However, the region had proved it could up its game, with productivity in the area rising faster than in Greater Manchester
- Tibenham said he hoped the City Region would show its ambitions in the proposed Strategic Housing & Employment Land Market Assessment housing consultation
- The draft document shows 1.1% growth in the City Region’s economy per year to 2026 but a drop to 0.3% between 2026 to 2037
- Pegasus is backing a stronger performance and expected the region’s economy will grow by 0.9% per year between 2012 and 2037 and create 160,000 jobs
- SHELMA was also shown to suggest a lower-than-expected number of houses being built in the coming years; Tibenham pushed the City Region to think bigger in its plans
- Liverpool City Council has delivered 1,400 new homes each year since 2003, and both Cook and Tibenham urged the city council to push on with building new homes
More to be done
A panel discussion followed the presentations, with Tibenham being joined by Kitts, Hatton, Parry, Sayer, and Rushton. The panel first focused on the housing figures outlined in presentations by Tibenham and Cook.
- Sayer said there were still major challenges around building in the centre of Liverpool, with getting value-for-money, rents, and contractors in place proving to be difficult
- He added he expected more registered providers to move into the city’s private rented market in the coming years, predicting “huge swathes of different aspects in terms of the nature of developers coming into the market in the next two to five years”
- Parry argued the SHELMA documents had not provided enough employment space in the region, and said there needed to be a review of land supply for employment use
- Parry also echoed Sayer’s comments on construction costs, adding: “At the moment most funders and developers would be reluctant to start a speculative office project due to construction costs and rents”
- There was “still a lot to be done” on infrastructure to help get these employment sites off the ground, argued Hatton, who said the Atlantic Gateway would help to link up science & technology businesses and developments across the North West
Rushton outlined the success of Baltic Creative, and the panel went on to discuss office supply in the City Region:
- “Local authorities might not have money, but they have land and buildings, so if they’re serious on tech clusters they should invest that, rather than money,” argued Rushton, who added the region needed to seriously think about “what kind of tech sector we are envisaging and how property follows on from that”
- She added that giving smaller businesses “something for nothing” could be one way to establish tech hubs across the region
- Kitts said Liverpool City Council was “doing an awful lot to work with the private sector” to get more employment schemes and offices underway, citing Paddington Village as “a great example” of the public and private sector working together
- He said the council would “reap the benefits” of developing high-quality office space and wanted to attract “high-quality, credible end-users” to any development in the region
- Tibenham argued that, for some sectors, building “business parks on the edge of motorways is an outdated system”, and said that most graduates want to work in the city centre. He also said his firm had seen in the City Region: “When we’ve looked to recruit at a higher level the pool of people is smaller compared to Manchester”
Kitts was asked about the failure of the city’s New Chinatown development, and insisted that “lessons had been learned” from the stalled project, which is subject to legal action.
- He said: “We have a strong due diligence process in place and we will make sure implement that in the best way moving forwards”
- Kitts added that the council would “need to find a way to unlock the site and bring it back into economic use”, but warned that “when the local authority doesn’t own the land it becomes very complicated”
- Parry added that the City Region was blighted by “a huge number of poor-quality and empty sites”, and said the region needed to be more ambitious in redeveloping large areas: “If a building’s not good enough, let’s knock it down and start again”
- He argued the region was “under-exploiting” its town centres, with a lack of high-quality occupiers and environmental improvements undermining the potential of regional centres such as Birkenhead and Knowsley
- Sayer added there was more opportunity to build on unallocated green belt land in the region, saying: “Building on green belt is a contentious issue but we have to face up to the fact there is not enough housing”
The panel concluded by arguing that the City Region needed to be doing more to promote itself as one of the country’s growing economies, and would need to work to attract investors away from areas including the West Midlands and Greater Manchester. Hatton said: “We’re not making the best of what we have, and we need to make sure that collectively we’re giving a strong message that we need investment in infrastructure.”
Kitts outlined to delegates some of the major development opportunities across the City Region, including:
- Liverpool’s new £50m Cruise Terminal, which would be the start of a wider development including a hotel and car park. He added the council was also looking at a new ferry terminal to improve connections between the city and the Isle of Man
- At Liverpool Waters, Kitts said some of the development’s biggest residential projects would all get underway next year, including the 35-storey The Lexington, the 31-storey Hive City Dock, and the 15-storey Plaza 1821
- In an area where 54% of properties were vacant, Kitts highlighted the council’s work at Anfield to regenerate the streets around Liverpool FC’s stadium
- He said 300 houses had been cleared to make way for new homes, a high street and a hotel. Hilton Garden Inn is likely to be announced as the hotel’s operator, and by 2020, 1,000 new homes will have been delivered in the area
- “There is so much happening now and so much that’s about to happen,” concluded Kitts
The slides from the presentation are available here