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Reviews - Manchester lifestyle reviews

Mersey Ports Master Plan

Mersey Ports Master Plan consultation

Reviewed by Denis Joe June 2011


A couple of year’s back I attended a screening of Ken Loach’s documentary The Flickering Flame, about the 1995 Liverpool Dock Strike, organised by “Campaign for a New Workers’ Party”. For me, it summed up the pig-headedness of a left-wing that refused to let go of the past; who talked of building an industrial base and a return to traditional socialist principles. It was as if a group of people had been put into a cryogenic sleep, around the mid-1990s, and were woken up from an afternoon nap. Yet there was something about it that was very unique to Liverpool.


Thanks to Liverpool’s docks being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the city being declared European Capital of Culture, Liverpool’s tourism sector provides work for around one in five people – or 20 per cent of the entire workforce. This gave the go-ahead for the city to indulge in an orgy of nostalgia. Whilst the City Council declared the city a no-go area for alcohol – driving out the homeless people from St Johns Garden: a popular site for congregating and getting blathered – they embarked on an enormous campaign to attract tourism. Obviously The Beatles, particularly Lennon, featured highly, but also the myth of Liverpool’s link to the slave trade was exploited with the opening of the International Slavery Museum in 2007 followed by a growth in entrepreneurs / shysters (depending on your point of view) only too willing to take tourists around the docks on a slave trade ‘experience’.


Each year Liverpool seems to find a topic in which to celebrate its past - this year it’s the City of Radicals. Far more radical (and exciting) is the development of the Mersey Docks and the Liverpool-Manchester canal. Already we have seen the building of Mann Island, designed by Broadway Malyan; an imposing building that appears to maintain the memory of shipbuilding in the city, whilst it’s ‘prow’ points towards Liverpool One and the future of the city. Behind Mann Island is the smaller, but equally impressive Museum of Liverpool, to be opened on 19 July (a review of the opening to follow).


Since moving to the city six years ago I have seen the transformation of Liverpool Docks from an area of historical interest to an area that is confidently looking towards the future, leaving those anchored to the city’s history behind. Even the onset of the recession has not dented that vision - earlier this year an “embassy” (joint venture between Liverpool council and private firms in the city) opened in London. Its ambassador Joe Anderson, leader of the Labour-run council said at the time:

"Some people have called it a gimmick, but there is a very serious intention here. We want to show the UK and foreign investors that Liverpool has big ambitions and big opportunities . . . Liverpool is open for business and has a 'can-do' attitude." [The Guardian - which couldn’t resist the opportunity to have a dig at ‘Scousers caught misbehaving in the capital’ - 21 January 2011].


Ariel LiverpoolThe project that will have the greatest impact, not just on Merseyside but throughout the North West, is that being put forward by the infrastructure, transport and real estate investment company The Peel Holdings, through Peel Ports. It is envisaged, for instance, that the 44 miles of the combined Port of Liverpool and The Manchester Ship Canal will incorporate over ten rail-linked terminals, and with ten motorways within ten miles of operational ports [Mersey Ports Master Plan Consultation document] providing a faster and easier alternative to road haulage and going a long way to addressing environmental issues in these most sensitive of times.


Other environmental considerations include the introduction of ‘cold ironing’ as an alternative to using the ship’s power, usually based on heavy fuel oil and, relatively high in sulphur emissions, whilst in ports.


To some extent I found the overemphasis on environmental issues to be a little worrying. The fact that the section, in the consultation document, ‘Environmental Considerations’ takes up 16 pages – and that does not include the coverage of environmental issues that is in other sections – whilst the ‘Socio Economic & Other Considerations’ covers a mere 10 pages (6 pages of which are given over to economic issues) a strange manner of priorities. Very little is said concerning future jobs, though the project does plan for greater direct employment and suggests an increase in indirect employment over the next two decades. How much this reflects expectations of the man-in-the-street is debatable, what it does seem to suggest (and what other passages in the document tell us) is the need to satisfy the demands of local bureaucrats and the need to comply with the mountain of legislation that has been imposed upon the planning process over the past twenty years or so. At one time a project like this would have required those involved to emphasise the impact on the economy; something that was tangible and had some meaning for people. Today however, even in a period of rising unemployment and economic insecurity, those issues take a backseat to the imaginings of naysayers and pessimists.


The main thorn in the side for Peel Holdings has been English Heritage. In their document Liverpool Waters-English Heritage Report, whilst pointing out the benefits for the north of the city (an area of, relatively, high poverty) they complain:

“However, it is also located within an historic environment of international importance that reinforces the distinctiveness of Liverpool, allowing the City to be instantly recognisable, legible and rooted in its highly influential history.”  [Liverpool Waters-English Heritage Report Executive Summary. P.2]


The main objection was the proposed towers that would have appeared on the frontage of the Mersey. As a result Peel Holdings were forced to scale back on their proposals. However Heritage demanded more, as they feared for the future of the Docks as a UNESCO Heritage Site, forcing Lindsey Ashworth, director of investment for Peel Holdings, to announce “I am not making any more major changes, I have done what I think is reasonable.” [Liverpool Daily Post. September 13, 2010].


It would seem that English Heritage would prefer to see Liverpool continue to wallow in its past, in order to please themselves and the tourists who visit the city, rather than engage in a vision that offers the prospect of a city to make something great for itself and to ensure that it has a future.


Since the Albert Dock was developed, shops dealing in tat, that even Poundsavers would be ashamed to put a price on, have opened and closed and the only point of interest is (ironically) the Tate Modern gallery. Other Cities, such as New York and the Salford area of Manchester have managed to turn 18/19th century warehouses into trendy apartments or shops. No-one seemed to have much idea of what to do with the Albert Dock in Liverpool. And therein lies the problem of history: there really is no point in giving CPR to a corpse.


Peel PortsAnd so it is exciting to see the city turn its head towards the future. However, the main problem with Peel Port’s consultation process is that very little effort appears to have been put into the presentation of the plans to the public. The room where the event was held had a couple of dividers with some highlighted passages of the report. Free tea and coffee was provided as were copies of the Executive Summary but there was little in the way of presentation.


I was surprised that there was no speaker and only a few delegates on hand to answer any questions. It gave the impression that the group was not interested in talking to the public, even though their plans will have an enormous impact on our lives in the region. Maybe this is a sign of the times; when major decisions that affect society are taken without any discussion with us: the people who have to live with the outcomes. The visit to this event (perhaps ‘non-event’ would be a better description) was very disappointing. Peel Holding’s vision for the redevelopment of the region is one that bursts through the doom and gloom of our contemporary times, and within it lies the potential to drag the city of Liverpool out of the past and show to the world a vibrant and forward looking metropolis - so why aren't they shouting about it?

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