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Why are we leaving a chunk of Dale Street to rot?

...and why will nobody talk about it? asks Laura Bown

Written by . Published on September 21st 2011.

Why are we leaving a chunk of Dale Street to rot?

LEGACY is always a word we worry about in Liverpool: the struggle to define one, to decide on one.  

Our talk of legacy is often portrayed as being altruistic - foregoing our lot to protect that of those to come - but all too frequently it is anything but.

In fact, legacy has become a tool to absolve ourselves of any responsibility in the present.

If those who have left us with a £5 all-day car park, instead of a building commemorating a woman who fought for female higher education
and the protection of prostitutes, have trouble sleeping, then I have little sympathy

Legacy isn’t a modern day fixation. You need proof? Look up. Buildings and design to emphasise how rich, powerful and well-endowed our forefathers were rise from each corner of Liverpool.

The city’s struggle to protect its heritage with one hand while striving to paint itself as a canvas for ambitious developers and architects occasionally sits comfortably, sometimes it sits more like a bad pint. So how to balance the two?

'Eyesore', says Mark Tait of Tait Wholefoods'Eyesore', says Mark Tait
of Tait Wholefoods
If those who have left us with a £5 all-day car park, instead of a building commemorating a woman who fought for female higher education and the protection of prostitutes, have trouble sleeping then, quite frankly, I have little sympathy.

Base2stay should be applauded for its sensitive redevelopment and restoration of old warehouses on Seel Street, but its work is marred by an inability in the city to find a solution for crumbling buildings that flank the road’s junction with Slater Street.

Frustration and angry accusations are hurled from all sides. Fear of doing wrong or making a firm decision that may make one unpopular often leads to impasse. Nowhere is there a better example of this than on Dale Street.

Once a sign of Liverpool’s mercantile triumphalism and commercial acumen, much of it stands vacant and, indeed, one block is literally one strong gust of wind away from slipping into the street.

Local businesses want rotting empty buildings pulled down, English Heritage wants them protected, the council is selling off the land and there isn’t a developer in sight. Confused?

There have been allegations that what has contributed to the malaise at one particular block of Dale Street is a longstanding row between English Heritage and Liverpool City Council, even the threat of legal action.

When we asked, neither side would comment on those allegations and merely provided standard updates as to the situation with 86 to 95 Dale Street and No2 Cheapside.

The block runs from the delightfully Harry Potter-esque Hockenhall Alley along to Liverpool Magistrates Court, right opposite the Municipal Buildings. It was supposed to be the site of a major new development, housing a new Magistrates Court. Until heritage got in the way, that is.

As with anything in Liverpool, there’s history. In 2004, Downing Developments was appointed as “special purchaser” for the site (they didn’t want to talk about it either). A new focal point for the city’s commercial district beckoned.

The Crumbling Shops Before The Wraps Went OnMustn't crumble: The shops
before the wraps went on
Then in 2008, in a review of historic buildings and following a campaign by English Heritage, the row of shops on the corner of the street was given Grade II listed status by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. They represented “an unusual survival of the shop house, a building type that is nationally rare, especially outside London and shows the development of new forms of retail premises in late Georgian England.”

The site’s place on the to-do list for developers suddenly looked as shaky as the building’s roof.

Chartered Surveyor Peter Brack, from Hardie Brack, has knowledge of the work planned for the site and says the listed status put the council and developers between a “rock and a hard place”. The buildings would now have to feature in any redevelopment, something that added logistical and design problems. Rather than working with a blank canvas, the site became something rather different.

Then, in 2010, during strong winds, there was a partial collapse of the buildings. Liverpool City Council reiterated its desire to protect the buildings and worked with English Heritage to assess the damage. Partial demolition was the only solution. Materials were taken into storage, in case of future redevelopment, but the buildings still stand, covered roof to street in hoardings.

'It doesn’t serve a purpose; it’s not a
key part of heritage. What’s the point?'

This year the site was announced as part of a major sell-off of 20 council properties to raise cash. Council Leader Joe Anderson said “to do nothing was not an option”. And yet still the buildings quietly rot, protected as an example of a commercial opportunity not available to the street’s current residents.

Mark Tait, a partner in Taits Healthfood on one side of the block, says it has become an eyesore.

“It doesn’t serve a purpose; it’s not a key part of heritage. What’s the point? he says. Dale Street is becoming a worse and worse spot for retail and a crumbling eyesore isn’t helping, “We have no say, it feels like it’s all about revenue, parking has gone up. We’ve got no influence”.

It’s the same for Peter (who wouldn’t give his surname) who runs Crumbs, a sandwich shop on the other side of the derelict buildings. He believes the time has come to just pull it down. “It should have been done years ago it’s costing more to keep it up than it would to let it go.”

Peter has been waiting for his own building to be refurbished. The council began work on the roof 15 months ago then just stopped. No word on when it might start again.

Base2Stay: Sensitive restorationBase2Stay: Sensitive restorationEnglish Heritage says the listed buildings in Dale Street are of “particular interest as a rare survival within the World Heritage Site of a modest scale of business and residential development that was later overtaken by the commercial development of the city which led to the grand buildings that are such a feature of the city today.”

It believes the area would benefit from regeneration but that it should be possible to re-develop the site without losing the surviving buildings and indeed bringing them back into use as part of a comprehensive scheme of redevelopment. If it can be demonstrated that this is not possible, then it is open to the city council to apply for listed building consent for demolition, subject to a convincing justification that no other options are feasible.

As Peter Brack says, it’s a very different time for developers than it was two years ago and how long does it take to make that justification? Just wait for no-one to make an offer? Margins are tight. Including a Grade II listed building in any development plan will add cost and time. And so we wait. And the buildings crumble and plans get stalled and eventually there will be nothing left of the Grade II listed buildings and so another snapshot of history will be gone. Doing nothing is perhaps exactly the decision that has been made.

Some buildings need to be pulled down, others need to be refurbished, but leaving empty rotting buildings shouts from those crumbling rooftops that we are unable to decide exactly what we want our legacy to be. 


*Follow Laura Brown on Twitter @finny23 

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13 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

London RoadSeptember 22nd 2011.

Can you also ask the council why they are leaving the whole of Lime Street to rot, including two beautiful cinemas, while they allow planning permission for a new multiplex in the new Central Village area just around the corner?

AnonymousSeptember 22nd 2011.

Don't Urban Splash own the ABC? They should be compelled to restore it, or taken outside and shot.

Troy Tempest HeySeptember 23rd 2011.

Surely these shops only fell empty because the Lib-Dem war on the city centre and the Council staff. Even in quite recent memory Dale Street was one of the most prosperous and vibrant streets in the city: private companies nestled cheek-by-jowl with local government departments, scores of flourishing business were run on Dale Street.

This street corner shop in question was Waldman's fabrics and it was always busy. A couple of doors along was PRS Electronic and Renaissance the vegetarian café where I once ended up sharing a table with Alexei Sayle

Dale Street now is a wasteland of rotting fronts of empty shops almost along all of its length even in the parts that were once full of upmarket shops, banks and business services.
Prestige businesses don't want expensive premises next door to flats full of rowdy students on a dirty crumbling street. I expect a lot of the independent businesses were driven out by the high rents common in the city centre, and the contraction of the Council has left buildings empty; they are now eyesores and deterrents to anyone wanting to find premises in the city centre. Selling off the Municipal Annexe and allowing the vandalism in Sir Thomas Street was a particularly acute period of the decline of Dale Street.

AnonymousSeptember 23rd 2011.

Well said Troy

Moose MolloySeptember 23rd 2011.

Didn’t urban Splash want to torn the ABC Forum building into a “U.S.-style supper club”? Gosh how tasteful!

Would customers have been required to leave their guns in the cloakroom, I wonder?

Quakers AlleySeptember 23rd 2011.

Dale Street now looks like Lodge Lane after the 1981 riots. It is unbelieveable that this marvellous and histirical thoroughfare could have fallen so far.

The contraction of the public sector hasn't helped but it is the wild belief among stupid politicians that selling prime sites off cheap to private developers so they will invariably bring prosperity that is at fault.

On Merseyside we know all-too-well that developers sit back and wait for years for prices to rise as the properties they own crumble and fall into the street.

LiverpolitanSeptember 23rd 2011.

"Central Village"?

Well there you have a prime example of the sort of thinking that is turning our proud metropolitan centre into a run-down conglomeration of downmarket dumps.

Citizen and Proud (not Villager and Cowed)September 23rd 2011.

Forget the Museum of Liverpool Life; Liverpool's city centre is being turned into a 'Beamish'-style open-air 'Museum of Urban Blight'.

You'd have thought the lessons had been learnt in the grim 1970s but not by the dopes that run this city.

They're even narrowing the roads into clogged, crawling, congested lanes for our Dickensian, dystopian future! How long before they close down one (or even both) of the tunnels? (Or give them away to Peel Holdings?)

AnonymousSeptember 23rd 2011.

Or Grosvenor

Ed JukayshuncountsSeptember 23rd 2011.

What idiot thought it was a good idea to move the Education Department into the upper floors of Lewis's so the Council could sell the historic offices in Sir Thomas Street off to a lot of greedy vandals?

And where is the Education Department now? (Or has it been abolished because Liverpool is no longer important enough or responsible enough to have one?)

Ed JukayshuncountsSeptember 27th 2011.

Until recently his building was perfectly sound and waterproof despite Georgian building methods.

It would not have been possible to stack rolls of fabric five or six deep against the outside walls if there had been any damp. The smell would have put customers off.

JazmondoOctober 12th 2011.

"...and the protection of prostitutes..."
Yes indeed, let's protect ALL town centre-dwelling criminals whilst we're at it.

Gaz ChambersOctober 14th 2011.

Even all the rich ones?

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