Liverpool City Council’s masterplan for new ‘Creativity Zone’ in north Liverpool’s docklands

Liverpool Sound City at Bramley Moore Dock

Bramley Moore Dock

With Liverpool City Council set to create a new Creativity Zone in the North Docks, Getintothis’ Paul Higham brings exciting news of benefit to the city’s creative and artistic communities.

Where first it was the Baltic Triangle that fell under Liverpool City Council‘s radar, providing a hub for vibrant new creative enterprises to flourish, now its attention has shifted northwards towards the city’s northern docks area.

The City Council will look to create a Cultural Enterprise Industry Hub to neighbour existing developments at the Titanic Hotel and Rum Warehouse Conferencing Centre and plans will be submitted to the City Council‘s cabinet on October 14 to approve what has been termed as the Atlantic Corridor Development Framework.

It is envisaged that this will encompass a zone known as the Ten Streets which will run from an area immediately north of the city centre’s commercial district to the Stanley Dock complex. The focus of the development will be on the existing architectural infrastructure, with many of the area’s former warehouses ripe for conversion and the low rent base making the area an ideal location for start-up businesses in the artistic, creative and digital fields.

Liverpool’s Mayor Joe Anderson speaks positively about the developments suggesting that the area has been “a sleeping giant for far too long” and the opportunity exists “for the first time in generations…to resurrect its fortunes“.

Anderson‘s vision looks to draw inspiration from both the experience of regenerating the city’s Baltic Triangle area as well as looking further afield to the template laid down by London’s Shoreditch, with the aim to attract new investment, business and jobs. In seeking to incorporate the existing warehouses into any future development plans it recognises the importance of Liverpool’s cultural history and maritime heritage. As Anderson himself is keen to point out: ‘’In many ways the warehouses that fell silent with the changes in the docks fortunes are now its greatest asset as they are the perfect spaces for start-ups and emerging businesses in the digital and creative sector.

“There is much work to be done in establishing the ‘Ten Streets’ as a brand and location, but the vision is there, the support is there from the city council and, crucially, the private sector to deliver something very special.’’

Plans at this stage are sketchy but do demonstrate a commitment to providing a concerted impetus to the redevelopment of a hitherto neglected area of the city, as well as offering a lifeline to those who might have felt squeezed out of ongoing redevelopment and gentrification of Liverpool’s city centre.

Cream Steel Yard - Bramley Moore Dock

Cream Steel Yard – Bramley Moore Dock

Central to the current proposals include:

  • Providing stimulus and foundation for new development, new projects and new initiatives in this part of North Liverpool;
  • Providing clear, direct links across the Atlantic Corridor to connect Ten Streets and Liverpool Waters with the key east west pedestrian and cycleways;
  • Retaining and converting historic warehouse and dockland structures to provide increased activity along street frontages, particularly at the lower floor level and in the evenings;
  • Adopting contemporary approaches to building and streetscape designs to create a distinct sense of place; and
  • Building scale, form and massing to respond to the scale and drama of the warehouses, streets and framed views of the River Mersey and proposed Liverpool Waters cityscape

Clearly the City Council is keeping its cards understandably close to its chest but what is encouraging is that there is the political will to bring about change and that, in using the existing warehouse structures, the changes will respect the cultural and historic integrity of the area.

With a reported £260m already invested in the area since 2012, another £52m currently in development and a further £130m at various stages of the planning process, this is an area that the council identify as having huge potential for growth. Such growth naturally requires a significant buy-in from the private sector.

Already operating in the area are Liverpool Waters who are supportive of the council’s initiatives as well as “We very much welcome this piece of work which complements the Liverpool Waters project and includes some of the land that we own. While Liverpool Waters covers a large area of the northern docks, this scheme reaches out and engages further into north Liverpool and will ensure the momentum of recent and on-going regeneration is maintained.

We are also looking forward to working with other partners on the Heritage Action Zone steering committee to ensure the historical assets are repaired and preserved, new use is found for old and we can take this vision to the next level.

Likewise Harcourt Developments look set to be an important commercial partner to the venture and will be lead developer building on the success of the Titanic Hotel and the proposed redevelopment of the Tobacco Warehouse which will bring 538 apartments as well as a 254 bed Apart-Hotel and 150,000 square feet of mixed use commercial space. Rather than regeneration spreading out from the city centre, this is very much using the existing developments as its core and moving from the outside back towards the city centre. Most encouragingly in building on the existing template Harcourt speak of creating “a distinct sense of place with heritage and creative industries at its core. Stanley Dock will effectively act as a focal point for this re-development.

Aerial View of Atlantic Corridor

Aerial View of Atlantic Corridor

In many ways this news reflects a current trend. As the regeneration of the city centre continues apace many creative and artistic communities have already made the short hop north in search of a sustainable and practical location to pursue their visions. The most notable are the team behind the Kazimier whose relocation to the Invisible Wind Factory has opened many people’s eyes to the possibilities that exist amid the docklands of North Liverpool while Liverpool Sound City and Cream‘s new Steel Yard home at Bramley Moore Dock has already caused many who would not otherwise have visited to visit the area.

The future of Bramley Moore Dock is uncertain amid speculation that it could become the new home of Everton Football Club, particularly if the persistence of rumour bears any correlation to its truth. The presence of Everton Football Club in the area would undoubtedly act as a catalyst for any redevelopment of the North Dock area and would certainly have a positive bearing on the risk profile of any new venture.

Away from the big names there are a number of other artistic ventures that operate out of North Liverpool. DumBulls has been operating from Dublin Street since 2014 and later this month will host experimental country musician Johnny Dowd in an event promoted by Howl at The Moon. The Vulcan is a well established recording studio in the area acting as a creative hub and community for many bands, while North Shore Troubadour is establishing itself as a viable artistic and creative space.

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In addition the area is also home to Vessel Studios, Liverpool’s largest independent film and photographic facility that currently makes use of the very warehouse space so revered by the city council. Founded by Ben Morgan in 2012, Vessel Studios have been hired out to a diverse range of customers including the British Olympic Cycling Team, Pepsi and artists such as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Stealing Sheep and Dan Croll.

The current existence of artistic communities – the trailblazers if you like – amply demonstrates that this is already a fertile area for cultural and creative freedom and any initiative from the City Council to support this by investing in the facilities and infrastructure is to be largely welcomed. Indeed it is the presence of the real risk-takers, the pioneers and artistic visionaries who will help make this vision possible for they have lit the way and proved its viability; and where schemes are reliant on private sector investment, demonstrating long term viability will prove crucial.

Let’s hope that this is a success and translates into something that brings both real and substantial benefit to a largely unloved area; benefit that looks to the future while respecting its heritage. Also, and crucially, the Council must use this opportunity to demonstrate its commitments to the arts and to creative industries. Where creative output has stymied in the city centre let it prosper in the North Docks.