There is an elephant in the room with regards to central Liverpool’s ongoing regeneration.
The severe lack of commercial Grade A office space developed in the city centre over the last few decades has now lead to what some are labelling a ‘crisis’ for Liverpool preventing major employers from establishing a new base in the city centre to provide much needed medium to well paid jobs and also preventing other businesses and organisations, public and private already in the city from upscaling their operations.
This is compounded by what appears to be a rush of developers wanting to convert existing office stock in the city centre to residential or hotel space, arguably a direct result of achievable rents on these buildings today falling too low to justify marketing them for their original purpose as office spaces.
It has been argued that many of central Liverpool's existing office stock is longer desirable for companies needing a modern commercial space, particularly the impressive but albeit dated landmarks along Dale St. Some would argue these buildings could be upgraded and that’s no doubt possible but today we are seeing the spread of office-residential conversions creep towards newer buildings which should still be bases for major employers rather than simply a place to sleep, Silkhouse Court being the largest example of late.
All investment in the city’s central business district is welcome and to see older office stock converted to residential is not necessarily a negative thing if this matched by a healthy pipeline of new commercial Grade A, large scale office development of the kind we see frequently in London and closer to home in cities such as Leeds and Manchester.
I have identified several areas across the city centre (see image below) which would be ideal for an expanded and holistic plan to completely reverse Liverpool's office stock shortage. Sites ‘A’ and ‘B’ are currently empty plots left behind by the development of Moorfields underground station and the demolition of the scale former Liverpool Exchange Mainline terminal in the 1970’s. Both of these areas have remained undeveloped for decades despite many plans put forward for their potential use as major office schemes.
The remaining spaces, C-E in the visual are sites currently occupied by low scale residential, disused university buildings, car parks and also one key site, C being the current but partially disused Liverpool Echo building. All of these sites, and others could form part of a major focus on positioning Liverpool’s central business district as a major national and European centre of commerce and job creation which could feed directly into the adjacent Liverpool Waters project - a largely residential and leisure development - as well as justify a wider and much needed capital investment in the areas transport infrastructure including an expanded and re-worked Moorfields underground station which sits at the heart of this whole district.
It has been recently reported that the property consultancy GVA’s ‘Big Nine’ quarterly office market survey clearly shows Liverpool to be below the average office space rental of £28.11 per sq ft leaving Liverpool considerably behind nearby Manchester’s £33.50 per sq ft.
There are new lettings in the immediate pipeline such as HMRC’s move to India Buildings as well as rumours of a new office development to create several hundred new permanent jobs in a new building at Kings Dock. This is all welcomed but by no means enough in the medium to long term for a city of Liverpool's size.
It is imperative that there is a strong commercial sector in central Liverpool providing much needed well paid jobs in the city and acting as a driver for further much needed investment. Imagine Liverpool city centre providing a UK base for major banks, general financial services, tech and creative organisations? major television or media? Imagine again the city centre providing the spaces for our creative and bioscience industries to upscale their businesses when needed instead of potentially moving out?
It appears to have become a rule of thumb that such companies and organisations and the careers and investment they can bring to a city such as Liverpool is something sadly and frustratingly reserved for London, Birmingham or Manchester. We have to start positioning Liverpool as a city that is the natural choice for such opportunities and allow the 1.5 million people in the Liverpool City Region to live and work within it’s boundaries as oppose to crowding on to trains and busy motorways each day to travel to other large centres when as a major city Liverpool can and should be providing these opportunities itself.