Flock to the docks: Can Liverpool’s waterfront lure a new generation of talent?
Plus: The final fall of the North’s most hated rail operator
Dear readers — a bit of a melancholy Monday today as we put our feather boas and zoot suits back into storage, but a weekend of pride for the city too. And what better way to wash away the post-Eurovision blues than a bumper briefing from yours truly? We’ve got:
Today’s big story, about the push to renovate Liverpool’s historic Victorian waterfront buildings in the hope of attracting a new generation of ambitious young people.
Your news briefing, including the Liverpool hacker who got into Barack Obama’s Twitter account and a dramatic coup at Wirral Council.
Post picks, as legendary photographer Tom Wood — aka “Photieman” — celebrates 50 years of snapping Liverpool’s streets.
At the weekend we wrote about Eurovision, of course. We met 2004 winner Ruslana, a man from Warrington wearing homemade glow-in-the-dark trainers and two blokes from Belarus who looked like they’d had a few too many Red Stripes. It was our ode to a joyous week in which Liverpool basked in the world’s gaze, so do catch up if you haven’t read it already.
Last week we published two great pieces. On Tuesday local historian Thomas McGrath took us back to mid-1800s Liverpool, when being Irish wouldn’t exactly enhance your job prospects. Interested in the bigotries of the Victorians? Click here. Then on Thursday we published the story of Steve Doran, a man for whom a decorating job in Liverpool’s Quiggins in the late 80s would ultimately lead to his death, due to asbestos. “Extremely emotional article. A dreadful and unnecessary loss,” was one comment. Here’s a short segment:
“What hurts [Marta] the most isn’t just that Steve died of an aggressive and painful cancer, although of course he did. It’s the sense that he died not from the arrival of an unforeseen illness, an unlucky turn in life’s strange lottery, but a cancer that was inflicted on him. A death by what she calls ‘a lack of care.’”
Editor’s note: We now have 1,060 members and 14,924 people on our regular mailing list. If you’re one of our members, thank you for supporting this project and making it possible. If you’re on the free list but haven’t yet signed up, it’s only £1.25 a week and gets you eight extra editions a month, including investigations, great cultural features and vivid profiles. You’ll also be buying into our mission to restore the quality in local journalism. Sound good? Sign up below.
If you want to tell us about a potential story or give us information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with confidence and sensitivity. In particular, we’re currently keen to speak to:
Anyone with knowledge of the arts world in Liverpool who can shed some light onto Liverpool’s chances of securing the English National Opera when they relocate north — please step forward. Are Liverpool in with a shot or is it a wrap for Manchester? Email email@example.com.
Anyone who has worked within (or has knowledge of) Sefton Council’s Children’s Services department for a piece we’ve had in the works for a few months. Any insights at all would be greatly appreciated. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s weather
Monday 🌥️ Sunny intervals and a moderate breeze with highs of 14°C
Tuesday ☁️ Light cloud and a moderate breeze with highs of 15°C
Wednesday 🌥️ Sunny intervals and a gentle breeze with highs of 16°C
Thursday 🌥️ Sunny intervals and a gentle breeze with highs of 18°C
Friday 🌥️ Sunny intervals and a gentle breeze with highs of 18°C
Weekend 🌦️ Sunny intervals and a gentle breeze with drizzle on Sunday. Highs of 19°C
This week’s weather forecast for Liverpool is sourced from BBC Weather..
The big story: The flock to the docks
Top line: Liverpool is flocking to the docks. A dearth of available city centre housing has played into the ongoing dockland regeneration, with many believing the waterfront’s large Victorian buildings hold the key to attracting a new generation of ambitious young people. A major article in this weekend’s Financial Times explored the benefits and consequences.
Context: While Liverpool’s entry-level house prices remain low enough compared to other big cities (30% lower than Manchester and 65% lower than London on average), the city centre itself is seeing a sharp rise. As we reported last month, the average property in Liverpool City Centre now sells for 60% more than it did just before the pandemic. Some of that is a catching-up effect following a slump, but it's still a notable increase. We wrote:
“This could be a positive sign that Liverpool city centre is starting to play in higher leagues, and that recent investments in areas like Liverpool Waters and the Baltic Triangle are beginning to attract serious interest. The alternative take is that the forces of global capitalism have spotted a value opportunity and will quickly get to work eradicating affordable accommodation in the centre.”
Head to the docks: “What Liverpool’s city centre doesn’t lack, however, is great historic buildings,” says the Financial Times piece, many of which are situated along the docks. Tobacco Warehouse is of course case in point; the world’s largest brick building, once at the centre of Liverpool’s booming port back when 40% of the world’s trade came through the city, it now contains hundreds of slick, modern apartments.
Sam Lawson Johnston, co-founder of Kinrise, an investment company focused on restoring historic buildings, believes (perhaps unsurprisingly given his role) that the restoration of buildings like Tobacco Warehouse holds the key, not just to providing more high-quality central accommodation, but also to unlocking Liverpool’s long-running shortage of office space:
“Liverpool is full of great people with nowhere great to work….Interesting, creative firms go to Manchester instead because they can’t find what they need here.”
Lawson Johnston is right that high-quality office space is a problem for Liverpool. Analysis of the nine largest regional office markets outside of London by Avision Young in 2021 showed that the volume of grade-A office space in the city region had fallen to a quarter of its 2014 level, which many people blame for Liverpool’s comparatively low rankings in foreign direct investment.
Liverpool also has a student population of 70,000, and since the expansion of the universities in the city centre countless student accommodation blocks and HMOs [houses of multiple occupancy] have sprung up. Moreover, the mass building of buy-to-let blocks since the 1980s has, according to the Financial Times, meant that big landlords account for three-quarters of sales. While this contributes to Liverpool’s young, vibrant feel, there has often been a sense that the city has less to offer successful graduates.
Peel L&P’s £5 billion project to transform the city's docklands — while not progressing as quickly as some would hope — was always going to mean massive waterfront gentrification. Alongside the loss of UNESCO world heritage status in 2021, it’s provoked an inevitable backlash. Most of the properties in developments like Tobacco Warehouse are unaffordable to most people in nearby north Liverpool communities. As one person who recently relocated from London to Liverpool tells the FT:
“I’ve met a fair few people who would prefer the docks weren’t going through as much gentrification as they are, mostly because of a sense of being priced out.”
Your Post briefing
TransPennine Redressed: One of the north’s most maligned rail operators has (finally) been stripped of its franchise after ongoing complaints of poor service and cancelled trains. TransPennine Express, which runs services to Liverpool as well as other major northern cities, has been the worst performing major rail operator this year, with a quarter of services cancelled in January and February. The government has transferred the franchise to Directly Operated Railways, a special holding company it set up in 2009 as its “operator of last resort”, but insists this is a temporary measure before a return to the private sector. Transport Secretary Mark Harper said state control was “not a silver bullet and will not instantaneously fix a number of challenges being faced”.
What do Kanye West, Barack Obama, and Elon Musk have in common? All three were targets of a 2020 Twitter hack by Joseph James O’Connor (AKA ‘PlugwalkJoe’) from Liverpool. O'Connor, who was extradited to the US from Spain after his arrest, “hijacked numerous Twitter accounts and sent out tweets asking followers to send Bitcoin to an account, promising to double their money,” reports the BBC. Over 130 accounts were affected. O’Connor has pleaded guilty to taking part in the hacking alongside three other men and faces a maximum sentence of over 70 years in prison.
In a dramatic coup, Wirral Council’s leader has been replaced by her deputy. Jeanette Williamson has been voted out as leader by Wirral’s Labour group, with Paul Stuart taking over. Some members of the Labour Party have expressed disapproval at the removal of the only female council leader within the city region.
And some more politics drama over in Liverpool, with Liverpool City Council Liberal leader Steve Radford tabling a motion at council concerning low turnouts in certain wards in the recent elections. The boundary review last year saw the lines of Liverpool’s wards redrawn, with some wards becoming quite small: in Waterfront North Labour’s Dave Hanratty won with a meagre 91 votes, for example. “We are seeing the return of the Rotten boroughs throwing back democracy to before the 1832 Reform Act,” Radford says, urging the council to express regret that the boundary review changes to local wards led to “gross disparities”.
Leroy Cooper — the legendary local photographer whose arrest in 1981 led to the Toxteth riots — has passed away aged 62. Cooper’s treatment at the hands of Merseyside Police catalysed nine of the most infamous days in Merseyside’s modern history, as rioting made national headlines. But Cooper’s work in the wake of the riots, as a writer, activist and photographer (taking 250,000 pictures in total), helped to shape a new narrative about the area. His work is currently on display at the Museum of Liverpool and will run in his memory until next year.
Home of the week
£275,000’s worth of exposed brick and waterside views grace this gorgeous Waterloo Road apartment. The property is situated across two floors and has two double bedrooms (one with an en suite), a spacious lounge/dinner, kitchen and modern bathroom. Snap it up.
📽️ Eurovision has left town, but if you still want cheesy music, massive screens and fancy dress, then you just need to know where to look. Walton Hall and Gardens’ outdoor cinema under the stars is playing Grease on Friday, in tribute to the late Dame Olivia Newton-John. It’s £13.50.
🥘 Handmade cheeses, sausages, sweet and savoury pies, chutneys and pickles, cocktails, craft beers, crepes, gourmet burgers, hot wings, churros, spiral potatoes, paella and curry. Hungry? Southport’s Food and Drink festival is returning for 2023. Don’t miss it.
🎶 One for the singers. Belt out Vivaldi’s Gloria amid the gothic grandeur of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral as part of a massed choir, supported by professional soloists and the Liverpool Concert Orchestra. The event is open to any singer who knows the work and/or can sight-read music proficiently. Register here.
📸 The work of legendary photographer Tom Wood — nicknamed “photieman” locally — is going on display at the Walker. Celebrating 50 years of documenting life in the bars, buses, barbershops and wherever else in Liverpool, the exhibition will run until January next year. We’ll be reviewing it in the next few weeks, and we’d urge you to head down too. Details here.
Our favourite reads
“The Labour campaign was a brilliantly executed masterclass in misdirection, diversion and manipulation worthy of the illusionist Derren Brown,” writes Jon Egan in his council election post-mortem for Liverpolitan. Those who have read our own piece on the subject — which you can find here — will know that Egan was part of a small group attempting to rally Liverpool’s opposition parties into an anti-Labour pact. They proved unsuccessful, and Labour won comfortably. Not all agree with Egan’s assertion that cross-party alliances are the way forward (ex-Lib Dem leader Richard Kemp called the article “the height of naivety”) but any piece about Liverpool City Council that manages to weave in Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus is worth a look.
An ode to Liverpool’s Eurovision in the New Statesman, for those not quite ready to let go. Kate Mossman chances upon a “group of young people in leathers sitting out on the smoking tables” in a local hotel lobby, who turn out to be the Moldovan entry. Top knotted signer Pasha Parfeni — one of the country’s most famous stars — talks about the deeply political nature of this year’s event, and the complications it brings back home: “People are nervous. Obviously we were part of the Soviet Union for years, and we have a lot of people who, in some way, silently, support Russian aggression: our band want to promote peace”.
Is Liverpool a 24 hour city? Hordes of tourists have experienced the joys of our city in the past two weeks, but would they feel the same way if they had to stay out until 6am bouncing between Hooters’, casinos, Beer Engine, Nabzys, Merkai etc. (with bowls of Scouse and trips to various Beatles attractions on the way)? Vice’s brilliantly named Snake Denton went on a journey into the dark heart of the city’s nightlife and, by the sounds of things, was well and truly chewed up and spat out. “Manchester? London? Kid’s stuff. Liverpool broke me,” he concludes.
Letters from readers
A dreadful and unnecessary loss. I worked in the tower block of Giro based in Bootle many years ago and can remember the asbestos being removed as many of my colleagues will in the 80’s. The workers just sealed the wings of each floor with plastic sheeting as they worked their way through the building. Makes me wonder how many of both employees and the men removing it were exposed. Now every week there are notices for colleagues who have passed away mainly in their 60’s, ‘In 1988, Steve Doran took a decorating job in Liverpool. More than 30 years later, it killed him’, Carolyn Thornton
Thank you so much for covering this terrible subject. My dad watched both of his brothers die of it and then we saw it happen to him. The MAVSG are heroes in a filthy struggle, ‘In 1988, Steve Doran took a decorating job in Liverpool. More than 30 years later, it killed him’, Gaynor Thomassen