Liverpool’s Cavern Quarter – culture over cocktails is a must in thirst for redevelopment

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The Cavern Quarter

As Liverpool’s historic Cavern Quarter opens for redevelopment feedback from the public, Getintothis’ Chris Flack looks at the plan and thinks about Groundhog Day toasters.

There is; in what is perhaps a near-perfect scene; a moment of clarity in Groundhog Day where Bill Murray, playing Phil, decides he can’t take the repetition any longer and drops a toaster into his bath.

Finer minds than I have crunched the numbers and would reasonably argue that Phil was stuck in the same place, on the same day, for 30 to 40 years, according to the film’s director Harold Ramis.

In that time Phil manages to learn the piano, to sculpt ice, and he learns how to speak French; the dreaded Sonny & Chers’ I Got You, Babe haunts his mornings, but he finds happiness and gets the girl, eventually.

Still, one day, over and over and over…

As a ‘content provider’ for Getintothis I’m one of a handful of contributors that do not hail from these shores, and yet I’ve become the go-to contributor when it comes to discussions of Council, SRFs and redevelopment.

There have been pieces on The Baltic Triangle, The Kings Dock, the redevelopment of ‘Upper Central‘, the business district redevelopment, Granby Four Streets, the Space Invaders of L8, The Canning Graving Dock, how safe the city is, and, well, the impact of Brexit on musicians

it’s all got a bit Groundhog Day.

But here we are, back again, back at the Cavern Quarter and Williamson Square, back to where I was told by a building firm not very long ago that they had been engaged to repave the area in question over the years.

Twice.

But perhaps this one is different, for this publication at any rate.

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There is little doubt that the area around the Cavern Quarter and Williamson Square is in need of help. There are few if any of the Getintothis team who would ever be found drinking in any of the establishments in those blocks.

It’s a mix of bottled Beatles or over-brewed paddywhackery and a fair smattering of terrible disco.

And that is perhaps where our thoughts come into play, what should the place be?

That the area around the Cavern Quarter and Williamson Square is significant to this city may well have more to do with more than just The Beatles; it may have something to do with Bill Drummond, with the meeting of ley lines, of a natural energy, and the fact that this neighbourhood was the birthplace of a city.

Or it may have something to do with how it helped build the city that we share, that it appeared in Carl Jung‘s dreams and that it brought punk and rebellion to a generation bristling with anger.

It is hard to deny the energy that part of the city has, though in more recent times it may not be the energy we imagine many others felt before us, certainly not at four in the morning, staggering out of the Grapes.

There is a need for redevelopment, there is also a huge amount of critical infrastructure, significant chunks of history, a history that goes beyond music and the arts, it holds the history of this mercantile city in its lanes.

In the year 1644, the Cavern Quarter and Mathew Street were fields, the city grew by 1720; by 1725 The Pool had been filled in. Williamson Square came to be in 1745, built as a residential square; St Johns Market appeared in 1822, Victoria Street was built in 1867; the area now sits within the World Heritage Site lines.

Alan Sytner opened a Jazz Club in 1957, he called it the Cavern Club and the rest is history. The fact that the Cavern Club failed to survive redevelopment stands, perhaps, as one of the more foolish decisions a council has taken.

It’s the 1970’s that really plays into the history of the area, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Joy Division, all played in Erics, the city staked its place again as a place of culture, a place of cultural revolution and evolution.

But in the last couple of decades, the sheen has worn off.

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It is the one place in the city that most tourists come to see, and yet it is the one place in the city that seems to have been left behind, Mathew Street may well be a mecca, but the draw is cocktails, not culture.

The Quarter itself is filled with dark, dank and possibly dangerous alleys, Williamson Square has never really had a purpose and the fountain has seen better days, probably.

That there is a lot going on in terms of redevelopment in and around the city centre is hard to miss. Lime Street has had some work done, though some of it is more successful than others.  Victoria Street and Tithebarn Street are about to get tidied up, though the introduction of a bus hub at Old Haymarket leaves a lot to be desired.

Still, it’s not all bad, the George Henry Lee building on Church Street is due to be redeveloped, Cavern Walks is about to become a hotel, the removal of the flyovers will change the face of the city in ways we haven’t quite figured out yet, but its safe to say it will be an improvement if we can figure out what to do with all the traffic.

The Met Quarter too is having a renaissance of sorts with a new cinema and a revitalised energy to spruce the place up and draw some new tenants in. But there are many empty spaces across the entire area.

In days gone by, we used to live above the shop. As highlighted by the SRF document, the Cavern Quarter and Williamson Square are characterised by broken upper windows and empty spaces, and this, perhaps, is where there is the greatest opportunity to change the entire neighbourhood lies.

Walk through any European City and you won’t see empty upper floors; you see hotels, cafes, art spaces, tourist attractions, odd little galleries and the occasional museum. People living above the shop add to a city, they bring life to a city 24/7 and create a sense of security.

Boarded up windows don’t.

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Not that we’re suggesting that all those empty spaces become hotels, though, in this city that often seems to be the answer to redevelopment, there is much more to a city centre than its occupancy rates.

Creating spaces for people to live in city centres, in an age where we are asked to use less power, to avoid cars, maybe living above the shop is an idea we need to revisit.

But living above the shop, or a paddywhackery brewpub for that matter, brings its own challenges, it seems that the desire to reinvigorate the city centre might be helped by the Agent Of Change being taken into consideration.

In its defence, the SRF goes into incredible detail on both the physical and the metaphorical, how the streets look alongside how they make us feel, there is clearly a disconnect somewhere here, the scruffy versus the strategic.

That this city is a UNESCO City of Music should be applauded, that it needs a little help should be acknowledged, and the SRF seems to offer a little hope on that front, as a start it is to be welcomed.

Changing the meaning of streets, changing the look and feel, the physical and the imagined, highlighting the historical and the hysterical, the punks and the playwrights, the ley lines and the lunatics. It all counts.

There is much to do, and we would urge you to have a look at the plans, to throw your hat in the ring and drop your thoughts in a survey or an email.  As a city, we should work to save the area before bits of it start falling off.

You can read the SRF here (pdf) and have your say here.

Consultation starts: Monday October 21 and ends: Friday November 22.

Public events will be held on:

Thursday 24 October 10-3pm One-Stop Shop, St Johns Market

Friday 8 November 10-3pm One-Stop Shop, St Johns Market

Tuesday 19 November 2-5pm at RIBA North, Mann Island

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