Liverpool’s community voices need to be heard

Between the LGA Conference and my excursion with the Mayor of London last week (see last post), I’ve sure got my mojo back. Which is something of a relief.  

I was up before the lark this morning to talk about the Constellation Partnership – “a galaxy of opportunities” – on BBC R5 Live Business, in the advent of the major announcements about HS2 that are following today.  No greater love hath any woman to get up at 4.30 in the morning to discuss the cause of local economic development in Cheshire and Staffordshire, Crewe and Stoke! Particularly when faced with the razor-sharp intellects of co-presenters Louise Cooper (in London) and Colletta Smith (spookily quizzing me from Salford) when your loyal correspondent was only half awake. But it was OK.  We have a strong story in the Constellation conurbation, and all the fundamentals for success in attracting global inward investment to the patch. And I will be discussing all this with the Constellation Board tomorrow….  

Well, I may have got my mojo back, but life is still extremely unsettled. To say the least. The only certainty seems to be uncertainty. And I was a bit disquieted to receive an email from a lifelong stalwart of the urban regeneration community, self-styled “gobby scouser” Emma Jensen, who I’ve not seen since around 2009, but who has been tirelessly working on the ground to better peoples’ lives in north Liverpool through their educational charity, Rotunda. The indefatigable Rotunda team support mental health and have a cluster of social purpose tenant organisations in their re-purposed listed buildings, based in a deprived inner city area dominated by social housing, arterial roads and industrial buildings. They work with around 2500 people each year, aged from one to 100. And, as is wholly characteristic, Emma’s patch of inner-city has suffered from a serious lack of investment for decades.

Jensen writes: “We have always been proactive in making change happen rather than sit around and hope.  Since 2008 we have secured over £2 million worth of investment which has involved the regeneration of a grade II listed building to create a Heritage and Enterprise Centre, creation of the Kirkdale Community Gardens (sponsored by Jo Malone London) and facilitated the communities commission of a major piece of public artwork as a Capital of Culture 2008 legacy, addressing a notable lack of arts investment in the north of the city. We have done this without asking the council for a penny. We have used our place making initiative and passion and set a new standard and give local people a place to be proud”.

She goes on to say: “Now.. we have a distant developer who has submitted a planning application for a monster of a block of flats to go smack bang in front of our listed terrace (just higher than the terrace) obscuring us – and our tenant organisations from the road and obscuring the art piece. It is going to Committee on the 18th July and we are campaigning to stop it. It is basically a fly-in, land-grab, and money-making exercise with no consideration for community loss or physical impact.”

And she continues: “The small but strategically important position of the site means we will lose the space that we and local people have used for 30 years for community events, exercise and play. The space is crucial as the only managed community greenspace and hub in an area with no discernible centre. We submitted a Village Green application just before the developer got his application in (we have solid proof of use) and we have a TPO in also. Local residents objected during a Local Plan consultation that we facilitated last November….we are gathering signatures for a petition now and they (the residents) feel as strongly as we do.” 

This is most disheartening. In a post-Grenfell world it should not need to be spelt out that the likes of Rotunda (and the valiant Emma Jensen) are heroes in urban regeneration, a constant force for good in the lives of the communities that they serve. I don’t know much about the applicant in this case (and I would be interested to hear from them if they would care to get in touch) but they can’t be too clever if they are not consulting – and properly listening – to what Emma Jensen and Rotunda, and the north Liverpool residents have to say. Rotunda have sweated blood to conserve a listed terrace and have major awards from the likes of the Civic Trust and the Georgian Society, as well as a plethora of local awards; it would be an absolute crying shame if their carefully conserved built space is not respected. And the due process, which should be in place to protect communities and heritage in cases such as these, is not serving anyone very well there either: it would see that there has been no Local Plan agreed for a very long time, resulting in a piecemeal and unbalanced area.   

The resultant mess is not a happy situation. Right-thinking people spend a lot of time these days talking about “good growth”. I personally talked about it at the LGA Conference a couple of weeks ago, and then again with the Mayor of London last week, and then again on national radio this morning. What the people of north Liverpool need now is good growth, not inappropriate high rise development, visited on them from Mars. It would seem that this community is being let down.  

I trust that the Planning Committee tomorrow evening will listen carefully to the residents, and to folk like Emma Jensen who work so ceaselessly on their behalf.


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