White knight or white elephant: Why is a £144 million development half-empty?
Tough times at Paddington Village, plus the rest of your Monday briefing
Dear readers — Carlos Alcaraz who? The 20-year-old Spaniard might’ve stolen the show in yesterday’s Wimbledon final, but here at the Post it’s all about Neal Skupski, the Liverpool-born champion of the men’s doubles final on Saturday (not to forget his Dutch partner Wesley Koolhof). Starring alongside Skupski in today’s briefing; the art collective making waves in the horticultural world, a beautiful quaint cottage in St Helens and — of course — an expensive development gone awry. Let’s dive in.
Last year, in a piece about Liverpool’s investment woes, we wrote that “in terms of quality office space [in Liverpool], Paddington Village is like a gleaming futuristic citadel amidst a sprawling mediaeval swamp.” Have we made ourselves look silly? No doubt Paddington Village is a fine development, but a recent report has found that despite £144 million being pumped in, the place is still half-empty. We’ll be asking how the scheme can get back on track in today’s big story.
In our weekend read reflecting on Liverpool’s loss of UNESCO World Heritage status two years on, Jack spoke to several key players in the city’s regeneration scene and a consensus emerged: the pain and hysteria that were predicted back then never really came to pass (a case of; “sad to see UNES-go, love to watch you leave”). As ever, it spurred a fantastic debate in the comments.
“Liverpool has always gone its own way and I feel we shouldn’t be disheartened by the views of European bureaucrats.”
“Great article, as ever and why I subscribe.”
“Young ambitious north Liverpudlians must sometimes feel neglected and UNESCO status would mean nothing to them.”
Last week paying members received two sterling stories. On Tuesday, the editor’s edition returned, as Jack explored everything from Charles Dickens’ one night stint as a policeman in north Liverpool to the latest twist in the Nelson Mandela bridge debacle. Then on Thursday Abi took a look at the ongoing university marking boycott, and how it’s affecting students caught up in the middle. As one of them told her: “I was so paranoid because I’m from Ireland, and I was thinking oh my god, I’ve spent all this money on flights and moving and I won’t even graduate”.
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This week’s weather
Monday 🌦️ Light rain showers and moderate breeze with highs of 18°C
Tuesday 🌧️ Light rain and a gentle breeze with highs of 17°C
Wednesday 🌦️ Light rain showers and moderate breeze with highs of 18°C
Thursday 🌦️ Light rain showers and moderate breeze with highs of 17°C
Friday 🌧️ Light rain and a moderate breeze with highs of 17°C
Weekend 🌧️ Light rain and a gentle breeze with highs of 19°C
This week’s weather forecast is sourced from BBC Weather and it’s for Liverpool.
The big story: £144 million spent and six empty floors
Top line: A week ago, a sobering report came out detailing issues at Liverpool’s £100 million+ Paddington Village development, including major difficulties finding tenants for its flagship building, The Spine.
Context: The Spine is one of three completed developments at Paddington Village, alongside a hotel and a car park. The total cost to Liverpool City Council has been £144 million. However, only eight out of The Spine’s fourteen floors are occupied, leaving six empty. If the income generated by tenants doesn’t increase, the council will lose almost £4m in the year up to March 2024. The report says:
“[The] downside scenario would cause the whole development to stall and require higher levels of revenue contribution from Liverpool Council to support not just the office space but other council owned buildings due to lower demand.”
One reason the news has generated a lot of attention is that Paddington Village is meant to be a knight in shining armour riding to the rescue of Liverpool’s economy; when we explored Liverpool’s inward investment struggles last year, multiple private sector sources told us it was the most exciting development in the city. Numerous firms — including the Pandemic Institute, the Royal College of Physicians and Cashplus (potentially Liverpool’s biggest-ever deal in financial technology) — had been attracted to the site.
A recent report by the BBC detailed some of the conflicting reactions to the news among local councillors:
Labour’s Nick Small — the cabinet member for growth and the economy — stressed how, even though patterns of working have changed post-pandemic, he believes the project still represents good value in establishing Paddington Village as a key site for the city’s growth: "I am confident when we are sitting here in 10 years' time, this will be seen as a shining success story."
Meanwhile, Green leader Tom Crone said that though he wasn’t anti-development, he views the development as symptomatic of the “vanity projects” that are commonplace in Liverpool. "The track record here in Liverpool has been disastrous. £144m of public money invested in this building which is currently half empty,” he said.
Paddington Village’s location is perhaps an issue. The idea was to create a new zone of economic prosperity where there was previously no business, and to connect it back to the city centre. But that connection has yet to occur. At one stage, Google and Microsoft were engaged in talks about green transport — electric buses and tram systems — to link the ‘Upper Central’ zone (around the Adelphi and Lime Street) to the Village. The council told us last year that “lots of talks” were still ongoing, but nothing was imminent.
All this said, some people within Liverpool’s private sector believe it would have been better to invest in the downtown business district, where demand for office space is greater. There may now be concerns about the forthcoming £56 million Hemisphere building at the Village, which is set for completion in 2025.
Bottom line: This debate harks back to another one, ongoing, around Liverpool’s poor inward investment. Can you just build high-quality Grade A office space (which The Spine clearly is) and expect high-value firms will follow, or do we need to build a better economic foundation first? Is Paddington Village a warning against future large-scale office developments, or is it the right idea but not quite perfectly executed yet? All is not lost, as the local authorities are now considering plans for flexible leasing options and new ways for the car park and hotel to maximise income. Either way, this is a crucial site for Liverpool’s economy and finding a solution will now be imperative.
Your Post briefing
More frustrations over in Knotty Ash, after Alder Hey Children’s Hospital announced — again — they would not be able to hand back Springfield Park on time this year. For the sake of brevity we’ll save you the full spiel on the Park (it’s very complicated, we tried to unpick it in a long-read earlier in the year), but a decade ago a deal was struck between the council and the hospital for a land exchange: £240 million was granted for a new state-of-the-art hospital building on the council’s parkland, and in exchange the hospital would deliver a new park of equal size. But all this time later, residents are still waiting for that park. Since then, endless arguments have played out on Twitter, costs have ballooned and councillors have been accused of hijacking a community group. Last year, reports the Echo, Alder Hey’s deputy chief executive John Grinnell publicly apologised for the delays and told a meeting: “If this hasn’t been delivered by this time next year, we will have failed you.” This time, the delay is down to complications around the demolition of a building found to have asbestos underneath it, but to the area’s residents it's the same tired story.
20-year-old Carlos Alcaraz stole the Wimbledon headlines yesterday — becoming the first man not named Federer, Murray, Djokovic or Nadal to win the men’s singles since 2002 — but did you know there was another winner a little closer to home? Neal Skupski, born in Liverpool (an attendee of King David High School in Wavertree) won the men’s doubles alongside Dutch partner Wesley Koolhof, beating the top seeds in the process. A massive Liverpool fan, before the game Skupski said he was more nervous about an upcoming game of Padel (a hybrid of tennis and squash, usually played in doubles inside enclosed courts) with Jurgen Klopp than he was about the final.
Five people have been charged with violent disorder following anti-asylum seeker rioting at the Suites Hotel in Knowsley in February. Three of those charged are teenagers, 13, 16 and 17 years old, while the other two are 38 and 60. All five have been bailed. We covered the events in extensive detail at the time, speaking to those who took part in the events, which included setting a police van on fire. One man, 19-year-old Jared Skeete, has already been sentenced to three years in jail for launching fireworks at police. At the time, a Sudanese man at the hotel told us his life in Merseyside had changed “180 degrees”, following the riot: “Before that I was walking around without fear, but now and after what happened, I am afraid to go out alone. I am afraid for my life,” he said.
What’s going on with the Hoylake Beacon? Several years ago Hoylake residents were promised the redevelopment of their historic Town Hall into a cinema, restaurant and commercial complex, funded to the tune of £3.6 million via the government’s Coastal Communities Fund. But no such development has been forthcoming, despite being due for completion in 2020. Last year local Tory councillor Tony Cox said, worryingly, that it was “impossible” to figure out what the money “had been spent on.” The salt in the wound? Associated plans to build a block of flats have moved ahead swimmingly. According to one source who spoke to The Post “the whole of Hoylake is in uproar”. Know more? Reach out at email@example.com.
Home of the week
Over in St Helens’ Rainford Village, this ridiculously quaint-looking cottage has a farmhouse-style kitchen, a multi-fuel stove in the dining room, a terrace custom-built for long summer evenings and a bathroom so immaculate you’d be tempted to assume they’ve just scrubbed down a crime scene. It’ll cost you £240,000.
🌻 Over in Cheshire, Tatton Park’s RHS Flower Show opens its gates on Wednesday, including a terrace garden called “Elements” courtesy of Christine Leung (a previous gold medal winner at Tatton) and the Taproot Guild, a recently-launched horticultural and art collective from Liverpool. Check them out here and — if you love flowers — why not pay them a visit?
🖼️ “Roller-skating Victorians, gruesome murders, forgotten zoological gardens, a bustling kosher butcher’s shop and a vibrant community” are all part of the Museum of Liverpool’s Galkoff's and the secret life of Pembroke Place exhibition. It explores a slice of Liverpool’s Jewish heritage and the family-run butcher’s at its centre. More details can be found here.
🏳️🌈 It’s Pride month in Liverpool. Although it’s a couple of weeks yet until the big march (kicking off outside St George’s Hall on the 29th), there are still plenty of other fringe events and pop-up shows in the lead up. Take a look at their website and see what catches your eye
🎶 Disco night at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, as a team of West End stars head north for a celebration of the Bee Gees back catalogue. Tickets are selling fast, and it would be a Tragedy to miss out…
Our favourite reads
In the New Statesman, Jonny Ball meets Paul Nowak, president of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), and a man who — in his own words — “[fits] every stereotype of a Daily Mail trade unionist”. Nowak hails from Bebington, and owes his political education to the Militant Tendency who played a dominant role in Liverpool’s politics in the 80s. “I didn’t attend very often,” Nowak says of his time at Liverpool Polytechnic, “but my wife maintains that I got through university by recycling the same essay on ‘the Militant Tendency on Merseyside’ for every assignment.”
“To future archeologists, mega cruise ships might be some of the strangest artefacts of our civilization — these goliaths of mass-engineered delight, armed with dangling water slides and phalanxes of umbrellas,” begins this fascinating Time long-read on the international cruise industry. “It probably won’t come as a shock that the whole thing isn’t exactly sustainable.” The piece goes on to detail the enormous environmental impact of cruising, as ships get larger and larger, and asks whether the industry can ever become sustainable. Long-time Post readers might remember David Lloyd’s polemic on Liverpool’s cruise industry from last year. He too encountered serious environmental issues, as well as a “Californian Chardonnay that tasted of liquidised wardrobe”.
The Echo head to meet Liverpool’s declining Orange Order, more than 200 years after they first paraded through the city. Formed in the late 1700s in support of the Union, Protestantism and the monarchy, the parades have been met with the criticism that their sectarianism promotes division in a city where religious divides are no longer so polarising. Numbers are declining, but those involved — like Provincial Grand Master Steve Kingston — believe the backlash merely comes from people who “don't understand what we're all about.” Needless to say, he has some choice words about football fans who boo the national anthem.
Letters from readers
The WHS was utter nonsense. It included the Albert Dock (yay!) , but not the King's Dock site. Fortunately what was put up there isn't too bad, unlike the utterly abysmal museum building and the atrocious black glass blocks and the utterly unmemorable ticket office building that have destroyed the Pier Head. We had a near miss there. But astonishingly it did NOT include the cathedrals and much else that is 'heritage, ‘Liverpool needs UNESCO like a fish needs a bicycle’, Dave
The idea that led to the formation of UNESCO was from a UK minister whose namesake was the same as the main character in Gone with the Wind, a Mr. R. Butler. The message the people of Liverpool should be giving to those from UNESCO after they took us from their list must be, “Frankly my dear, we don't give a damn”, ‘Liverpool needs UNESCO like a fish needs a bicycle’, Rennie Ku