Why are the council committing ‘cultural vandalism’ on a historic botanical collection?
Three gardeners with over 100 years experience have been redeployed — is this the end of the road?
Dear readers — greetings for the best place to live in the north west. The Sunday Times have spoken and — as we all know — what they say goes. Liverpool was announced the best place to live in the region by the newspaper at the weekend (specifically the Baltic Triangle and Waterloo areas). Commiserations to those of you living in the Wirral, Sefton, Knowsley, Halton, St Helens or indeed any of our much cherished expat subscribers. You’re all out of luck.
Today’s Big Story finds us returning to the sorry saga of the Croxteth Park botanical plants. Our January piece about how the historic collection was under threat prompted outrage and a number of local politicians came out saying they needed to be saved. Job done, we thought. Well it turns out we celebrated too soon… More on that below.
At the weekend we hit Concert Square (intrepid, fearless journalism: we know) to find out what lies at the heart of Liverpool’s boozy culture. “Brilliant, well researched and very informative and to be honest very worrying too,” said one happy commenter. “So good to read stories like this, that actually dive into the problem, meet the people and see the places,” said another.
Last week paying members received two fine editions. On Tuesday, new contributor Ella Benson Easton caught the crest of an unlikely new scene in Liverpool: youth jazz. Then on Thursday we went to meet Mathew Atha, an expert witness in court cases involving drugs and a man with a better knowledge of the fluctuations in the prices of crack than your average kingpin.
“I ask if Atha’s expertise in drugs has altered his perception of the public — does he see drug users everywhere? He pauses, then explains an irony of the legal system by way of answer. “In your typical jury,” he says, “you’ve got four to five people who have used cannabis once in their lives and one person who is a regular user. In one out of every couple of juries, you’ve got a regular user of cocaine.”
Editor’s note: Coming up in the next month or so we’ve got loads of pieces we’ve worked really hard on, including a deep-dive in north Liverpool’s air pollution issues from former Scottie Press editor Joel Hansen (the product of over two months work), a retrospective on the 10 year saga of Springfield Park and a really important piece about Sefton Council’s Children's Services. If you want to support us so we can continue to take on these larger-scale projects then consider taking out a membership at the more-than-reasonable price of £7 a month, or £65 a year.
This week’s weather
Monday 🌥️ Sunny intervals and a gentle breeze with highs of 10°C
Tuesday 🌧️ Light rain and a fresh breeze with highs of 11°C
Wednesday 🌦️ Light rain showers and a moderate breeze with highs of 15°C
Thursday 🌧️ Light rain and a moderate breeze with highs of 15°C
Friday 🌦️ Gusty winds and light rain showers with highs of 14°C
Weekend 🌧️ Light rain and a fresh to moderate breeze with highs of 13°C
This week’s weather forecast is sourced from BBC Weather and it’s for Liverpool.
The big story: Will Roscoe’s plants be left to die?
Top line: There are widespread fears about the future of Croxteth Country Park’s rare and historic collection of botanical plants, after it was confirmed that the gardeners looking after them will be redeployed from April. A last ditch attempt to save the collection has been undertaken, with online protestors calling it an act of “cultural vandalism”.
Recap: Back in January, we revealed that the collection of botanical plants housed in Croxteth Park were under threat. The collection has an incredible history — founded by William Roscoe in the early 1800s and becoming so popular that Liverpool became the toast of the horticultural universe. However, the gardeners who look after them had been told by their line managers at Liverpool Streetscene Services (LSSL) that the council were ceasing funding for the collection. They would be redeployed from their current roles.
The council told The Post at the time that “unfortunately the botanical collection has depleted over the decades, to the point that only a few rare plants remain” when we reached out for comment, but after publication our piece caused quite a stir. Very soon a number of local councillors and MPs were publicly asserting that the collection was not under threat after all.
“Nothing is closing — The Botanical collection is precious. This was not a budget option, just a 2 year funded post coming to an end. We will sort!” tweeted Knotty Ash councillor Harry Doyle.
“What an untapped, breathtaking asset for West Derby, our great city & indeed nation,” added West Derby MP Ian Byrne, who paid a visit to the collection and pushed it in parliament, tabling an Early Day Motion to stress its significance “locally, nationally and internationally”.
We’ve even seen a response from Yew Tree councillor Barbara Murray replying to a concerned emailer, in which we get a mention:
“I have made some enquiries with colleagues to ascertain if there is any substance to this article. The fact is no one is aware of any plans to close the collection, quite the opposite, we are all keen to find ways to invest in the walled garden and the collection…I am surprised no one has asked local councillors if these negative statements were true. I hope you are reassured.”
Unfortunately, no one is reassured. The gardeners who currently man the collection — three experienced horticulturalists with over 100 years experience between them — have now been told to report to LSSL’s Anfield depot from April 1st, and they’re pretty sure it isn’t an April Fool. Their new roles will involve things like street cleaning and, crucially, nothing to do with plants. They were told that the staff at Croxteth Hall would be temporarily taking care of the plants. Under pressure from a lot of angry tweets, the council then gave an explanation yesterday:
Again, it did little to reassure anyone:
“Surely this suggests that it is Liverpool City Council's intention to systematically destroy one of the city’s crown jewels,” wrote Mike Brown, who worked with the collection for 30 years.
“I’ve rarely been so angered by something here. Saying the changes were agreed is pointless. It’s an arguably priceless collection. You can’t remake a 200+ year old heritage,” wrote another person.
“Update: suck it up losers!” was one of the blunter replies.
Bottom line: The council’s jumbled response to this entire situation, changing the line from “the collection isn’t valuable” to “we will save the collection” to “we will save the collection by getting rid of the experts who know how to look after it” has been frankly bizarre. From next week, three gardeners with vast experience will be moved away from the plants, which includes many highly specialist species. The gardeners fear, as do many experts, they will simply be left to die out.
Your Post briefing
Liverpool’s Mayoral Neighbourhood Fund will undergo a review amid concerns public money is being wasted. Earlier this month we broke the story of a 2019 internal audit report into County Ward councillor Gerard Woodhouse and his alleged misuse of the fund (he denies all the claims), which is a £1 million pot of money for councillors to spend on provisions and services in their wards. A number of checks and balances were introduced in the wake of that report, but last April the audit committee expressed concern that safeguards were still lacking. The Post has spoken to two councillors who believe the most sensible solution is to get rid of the fund.
“In the last full school term — the autumn of 2019, shortly before the start of the pandemic — just 60,202 pupils were defined as ‘severely absent’: that is, spending more time out of classrooms than in them,” says this Spectator piece about “ghost children”, the children who never returned to school after the pandemic. “Now 140,000 children are classed as ‘severely absent’” across the UK. Digging into the data, it’s apparent that Liverpool and St Helens are among the worst areas in the country for “severe absences”, with 2.9% and 2.8% of children now falling into that category respectively. The Spectator called it “a disaster for our society”.
The Liverpool Echo’s Political Scrutiniser-in-chief (Political Editor Liam Thorp) will be teaming up with Liverpool and Manchester metro mayors Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham for a new book called Look North! A Rallying Cry for a More Equal Britain. In an unusual move for a political journalist whose job is to hold local politicians to account, Thorp will be working with the city region’s most powerful politician. “The book is being written with the support of Liam Thorp, political editor at the Liverpool Echo,” the press release says. Will Thorp henceforth recuse himself from coverage of Rotheram and the combined authority (which is a large part of his beat) and let a different Echo journalist hold the metro mayor’s feet to the fire? We’ll wait and see.
“Serious concerns” were raised by Ofsted last year about a children’s home in Knowsley run by Omega Care Group Limited, who are now seeking planning permission for a new site. Among Ofsted’s findings were that “an unknown male was able to remain in a child’s bedroom overnight, without the knowledge of staff” and that “limited support [is] being offered to a child who is at risk of criminal exploitation”. Know any more about Omega and its operations? Hit us up at email@example.com.
And finally, 52-year-old Southport artist Daniel Adler will see his work go on display alongside Dali and Picasso in Israel, and he’s got self-styled psychic Uri Geller to thank. Geller spotted Adler’s picture of a spirograph and decided it was “incredibly unbelievable” and will be placing it next to works by iconic artists in a museum. Adler, who is autistic, has recently quit his job at his dad's flooring business to concentrate on being a full-time artist. “This could launch the beginning of his national career. Wow, maybe international career,” said Geller.
Home of the week
Seeing as it is the official nicest place to live in the north west, this week’s Home of the Week takes us to Waterloo. For £400,000 this Grade-II listed, three bedroom flat brings with it marina views, original Victorian cornice and a wine cellar. And of course, the coup de grace: bragging rights that everyone else in the entire north west lives in a worse place than you.
🎶 “Beethoven’s Eroica symphony begins with a controlled explosion, and two centuries later, music is still reeling from the aftershock”. Feel the full force of that aftershock at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic on Thursday. Tickets here.
🎭 What happens to two twin brothers when their mother decides to have one of the adopted? Willy Russell’s classic musical Blood Brothers is live at the Rose Theatre in Ormskirk on Saturday. Fun fact: Russell originally wrote Blood Brothers as a school play first performed at Fazakerley Comprehensive School. Take a look.
❓ Melodic’s much-loved pub quiz is on Wednesday, a sure-fire way to ruin friendships or find yourself sleeping in a separate room from your partner. The so-called “King of Pub Quizzes,” Jobi, is question master. You don’t need to book.
🍲 Granby Street, Liverpool’s most vibrant market, returns next weekend. The first time we visited we met the gang from Habibti Liverpool who were raising money for the Al-Sabeen Hospital in Yemen. We wrote about it. Faiza from Habibti is now in Yemen and is detailing her journey on this Instagram. Details about the market itself can be found here.
Our favourite reads
An overview of what Jeremy Hunt’s recent budget will mean for levelling up, courtesy of New Statesman political-guru-stroke-Post-contributor Jonny Ball. Hunt’s “unspoken aim” is to “make politics boring again,” Ball writes, guiding the country away from the chaos of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. But what will this boring new order mean for us, up here in the Liverpool City Region? These are some of Ball’s main takeaways:
Twelve lox-tax new investment zones will be created in “areas that have underperformed economically” (eight of these coincide with combined authorities, including the LCR)
Local Enterprise Partnerships — like our one — will probably be abolished
No reprieve from the pressures on local government, as councils like Liverpool and Wirral which have seen huge budget gaps in past months will likely continue to struggle to balance the books
In keeping with the theme of today’s newsletter, here’s a great read from Ronnie Hughes on his A Sense of Place site telling the story of William Roscoe and his botanical plants. It gives a greater depth of historical information than our own piece, including the roles of doctors Bostock and Rutter, Roscoe’s co-founders. As the piece makes quite clear, the current threat to the plants is hardly the first time they’ve been endangered, having previously seen off Hitler, Thatcher, Hatton and the Liberal Democrat council of the noughties in various ways. Surely our current council isn’t looking to outdo them all?
And a BBC story from Wales. You might recall our own coverage of the far-right group Patriotic Alternative of late, especially in relation to the riots in Knowsley (where main man Pontifex James Costello was distributing racist leaflets). Well, PA have been causing disturbance in Llantwit Major too, with anti-migrant leaflets and rallies. In response, a local group including the head of the knitting club and the town's punk-turned-priest, Father Edwin Counsell, is taking on the agitators with a gentle approach. "Welsh cakes are a symbol of hospitality,” Counsell said. "So if you meet a far-right, neo-fascist bonehead who looks out of place here, the critical question you must ask that person is: ‘Would you like a Welsh cake?’”
If you want to tell us about a story or give us some 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.
Last week we put out a call out for information about the anti-abortion group protesting around Liverpool in past months. Thanks to an in-the-know tipster, these have been identified as CBR UK. Does anyone have further information about this group and their activities locally? Do get in touch.
We’re also looking into Eldon Grove, Vauxhall’s beautiful Grade II-listed building that has gone to ruin. All information appreciated, please send to email@example.com.
Letters from readers
We all know, or knew, someone like 'Jordan'. Growing up and going to uni in Liverpool, I can count at least five people who fit that archetype. The scary thing is that when your young, the label 'alcoholic' is one that you apply to older people. I'm in my late thirties now, and the lads I knew who were like that in their twenties now neatly fit the image I had back then of what an older alcoholic looks like, ‘150 years ago, The Times said Liverpool was the most drunken town in England. How are we doing now?’, Robert Stark
Mention of the Cavern was interesting — my dad was a regular in the 60s but never saw a Merseybeat band. He was there for the jazz, left for the Grapes when the Beatles et al came on, returned later when the jazz musicians returned, ‘Drum roll please! Liverpool's youth have got a new obsession...jazz!’, Ken JP