As Liverpool City Council launch their Ten Streets public consultation, Getintothis’ Amaan Khan and Paul Higham bring details of how creative culture can be the springboard to a more prosperous future.
With an ambitious plan to transform the city’s relatively inactive and derelict northern docks into a leading creativity zone, Liverpool City Council last week presented their bold vision, christened Ten Streets, for the parallel streets running between Costco and the Titanic Hotel.
Following on from this, over in screen two at FACT, Joe Anderson presented an overview of the council’s budgetary plans, with particular emphasis on the council’s renewed commitment to cultural endeavours likening it to “the rocket fuel…our unique selling point and what brings people here“.
Ever since the initial announcements there has been a constant chatter about, among other things, what the plan encapsulates and where is the funding coming from. Thus, it was inevitable that when Mayor Joe Anderson and representatives from Liverpool City Council and companies, like AWP and Harcourt Development that have already aligned themselves with the project, came together to properly pitch forward the vision, the venue of Titanic Hotel saw a gathering the size of which surprised everyone in attendance.
Connecting the vision to its title, the plan was presented in the form of the “Ten Big Ideas” that form its basis – ideas like providing an “Engine for Growth”, making it a “Creative Catalyst” within a “Thriving Community” with an “Innovative Approach” while “Celebrating Heritage” – more of which can be read about on the Ten Streets website.
The idea is to capitalise on Liverpool’s growth as a “Creative Powerhouse” by turning the northern docks, the potential of which was presented at great length at the event, into a zone with creative venues that uses innovative technology and generates considerable jobs and economic growth for the city. A key objective of the proposal will be to preserve the heritage of the area, ensuring that no part of the city gets left behind. Naturally, to establish that with any efficiency would require better connectivity with the city, an aspect forming an integral part of the vision.
A few days prior, it was also announced that the project will include the UK’s first revolving theatre. This was an idea that, according to the Mayor, was a great representative of cutting edge cultural innovation on which the whole plan is founded.
At this particular event the audience mainly comprised suit-wearing business owners and so the whole project was presented – almost sold – in a fashion designed to attract investments and collaboration. Here lies the underlying answer to the common question about the funding. Though the claims of funds involved have been made with the surety of a promise and the council did say that considerable investments have been made already and more investment is anticipated, to us it seemed like that one of the purposes of this event was to attract investors from among the audience.
The above task was achieved by placing great emphasis on already established similar projects – mainly the Titanic Hotel itself and “the new Kazimier” or Invisible Wind Factory. The journey of the regeneration of the two venues and the profiting dividends that the ventures are paying back was well emphasised.
The event provided opportunity for those in attendance to communicate their concerns, such as whether the project will be seen through to the end or suffer the same fate as the International Garden Festival. Participants also questioned the extent of local involvement and whether their was a need to rethink the whole project.
Regarding local involvement, it was enthusiastically answered that employing local labour and local supply is what makes the council tick. As for rethinking the plan, the Mayor closed the debate by expressing that they are beyond that and people will always complain about why it’s ten streets and not eleven or nine. The idea now is to not to go back to the drawing board but to press ahead and execute the plan.
As cultural enthusiasts, the part of the discussion we were drawn to was the Baltic Triangle. The mention of its name first occurred in the Mayor’s speech when he said that the new creative zone would reflect what the Baltic was all about. The issue of the ongoing threats that 24 Kitchen Street and Constellations face today was raised as a question with concerns expressed about the need to offer safeguards to businesses that have already invested, and may come to invest, in areas like northern docklands or the Baltic Triangle.
Though no sides were strongly taken regarding the issue, in reply, it was pointed out that the Baltic is a private sector development and were it not, a lot of things that have happened there simply would not have happened. However it serves as a good test that informs this project and hopefully, as more creative businesses move to Liverpool as part of the Ten Streets project, the exchange between Baltic Triangle and the Northern Docks will bring additional benefit to businesses and venues in the Baltic Triangle as well.
The issue of venues being obliged to close their doors, giving way to unnecessary amounts of student accommodation wasn’t aggressively tackled, but it was said that “one thing [in constant consideration]is not to overpopulate residential areas”.
On the whole, to someone asking about how prominently culture and creative industry figure in this project, it was worrying that the commonly overheard question among the gathered attendees was in respect of the Invisible Wind Factory. Mutterings of “where is the new venue?” echoed with alarming regularity. Nonetheless creative industry and promoting innovation were definitely a constant part of the event’s narrative and were mentioned often in the formally presented vision.
It was also clear from the budget consultation at FACT that the council is keen to place culture at the very heart of its strategic objectives. Yet equally telling was the opening half of the presentation which emphasised the severe financial pressures under which the council has been forced to operate and the extent to which it has affected its decision-making.
As Joe Anderson pointed out, the only “certainty” from future local government settlements is that “people will lose money“. Anderson was keen to state that “Liverpool has been the hardest hit” of any local authority having seen a 68% cut in government funding, the effect of which having been magnified by the lower than average council tax revenue on account of more than 90% of domestic dwellings being in the A-C bands.
With the biggest chunk of the government’s budget going on adult social care and council tax collections alone being insufficient to cover this cost the frustrations felt by Anderson were clear. He was particularly scathing on how actions of central government have increased the burden on local government, particularly those in areas with high occurrences of social deprivation and who are suffering the greatest financial pressure.
12% of the city council’s budget is currently spent protecting the vulnerable and the homeless, a cost which has increased as local government finances are applied in support of people claiming council tax benefit as well as the creation of a citizen support scheme to protect those whose benefits have been withdrawn on account of sanctioning by the Department of Work and Pensions.
There was an element of proud defiance by Anderson. Despite having been made “very unhappy looking at the things we were forced to do” he acknowledged that although “the streets aren’t clean and there are pot-holes we are protecting services“. Proud also of his council’s school-building programme, “never in the history of this country has one city built so many schools as we have“, it was made clear that the council has to be able to self-finance and fund itself in innovative ways.
He demonstrated some of the methods that the council has used – taking advantage of recent relaxations in rules that permit capital assets to be used for revenue purposes – while also defending some of the most controversial schemes such as the acquisitions of Finch Farm and the Cunard Building as being sound financial investments that generate income as well as providing the possibility of substantial capital gains.
As with the Ten Streets programme, which has innovation at its core, the Mayor promises an innovative approach to responding to its public finance shortfall. A flagship policy is a commitment to the building of 10,000 new houses in what will be termed “Rent to Buy“, with the aim to turn the Thatcherite “Right to Buy” on its head. The council will borrow to invest in new housing stock, generating a positive return in the form of rental income, proceeds from sales and additional council tax receipts.
It became apparent that a central tenet of the Mayor’s policy is to grow the economy. And at the heart of the growing economy will be its “rocket fuel“: cultural activity. The Mayor was keen to rebut any argument that to spend to protect culture is a waste of money that could be spent to protect other services. Culture is rightly positioned at the heart of the council’s economic growth plan.
In promoting culture Anderson was keen to highlight what he views as his big achievements, placing particular emphasis on revenue brought to the city by large cultural events such as the Giants and the Mersey River Festival as well as the opening of the cruise line terminal. He also spoke of working closely with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to help sustain the city’s cultural offering as well as speaking to Phil Redmond to help develop a strategic plan to cover the next 20-30 years.
The event was well attended and the audience from across the city’s cultural sector seemed broadly respectful of the council’s support of culture and there appeared a spirit of cooperation. Anderson pointing out that the council can act as a conduit to bring private capital and sponsorship to cultural organisations in need of financial assistance. He noted that “people who are interested in culture are usually passionate about the city“, stressing the need to work closely with such people to preserve the culture.
Indeed preserving the culture of the city seems key to the Mayor’s future vision for the city. Attracting visitors eager to spend their money is key and without a cultural identity this task would be made all the more difficult. As Anderson made clear on more than one occasion, if there is nothing to do or see who is going to come?
Much was made of the emphasis on large events, often at the expense of smaller grass-roots cultural endeavour. The focus appearing to fall more on events capable attracting external visitors than those aimed at the city’s own residents. Greater emphasis being placed on those that catered to a broader cross-section than the niche or more underground.
While Anderson was at his most animated defending his council’s support of grass-roots and fringe theatre and music – citing the Philharmonic Hall‘s new Music Room and the redevelopment of the Everyman, Epstein and Royal Court – there was a clear sense that the council’s commitment was to mass-market culture.
Yet this can hardly be a held as a criticism. The council is hamstrung by its financial woes and central government funding cuts (“we’ve cut fat, cut flesh and now we’re into bone“) and needs to use culture as a vital revenue generator for the city in these increasingly straitened times. Nonetheless the right noises were made around the social benefits of culture and its role in promoting both better mental health and physical well-being, using a social impact report to lobby central government for greater financial support to be provided to the cultural sector.
From the Ten Streets proposal at the Titanic Hotel to the budget consultation over at FACT it seems clear that cultural and creative industry is integral to to the council’s plans both in terms of regenerating the city and, by becoming more financially self-sufficient, addressing centrally-imposed cuts to its budget.
There remains a huge amount of uncertainty. The success of the Ten Streets project is dependent on investment and collaborators from the private sector many of which are currently still being sought, while experience in The Baltic Triangle suggests the goals of corporate and cultural enterprises are not always shared.
Yet one thing does seem clear: the council, and Joe Anderson in particular, is clear and resolute in its vision and intentions. And from revolving theatres and Everton‘s new stadium, to large-scale showpiece events and a likely Commonwealth Games bid, culture promises to be at the very heart of it.
Ten Streets Ten Big IdeasTake a tour around Ten Streets and the Ten big ideas set to shape it.
Posted by Getintothis on Thursday, 2 February 2017
The public consultation continues at Liverpool’s FACT from 12pm to 7pm on February 8 and February 10.