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ALL CHANGE ON THE WATERFRONT; Ahead of a crucial planning meeting, Chief Feature Writer Paddy Shennan looks at the changing face of Liverpool's waterfront.

Byline: Paddy Shennan

A REVOLUTION is taking place along Liverpool's world-famous waterfront, as planners and developers continue to shape the city's future.

Take a walk along our rapidly evolving waterfront today and although it's sometimes difficult to see the bricks for the mortar, you'll come face to face with the good, the bad and the ugly.

It's no longer just about Albert Dock and the Three Graces, because there are new buildings springing up everywhere - but how many of them will grace the waterfront and how many disgrace it?

I drove north from Brunswick Dock to the Princes Dock with urban design expert Tony Siebenthaler, who founded the independent urban strategy think tank Downtown Liverpool, was a former project director of Liverpool Architecture and Design Trust and is chairman of the Urban Design and Futures Committee of the Merseyside Civic Society.

We started our tour at Brunswick Quay, the proposed site for a 51-storey apartment complex which would rocket more than 500ft, making it the tallest tower block in the city.

But planning officers are recommending that the scheme be rejected at tomorrow night's meeting of the city council planning committee.

Meanwhile, plans for a second high rise tower - a 40-storey block of flats and offices development by the Beetham Organisation in Brook Street, opposite the Liverpool ECHO - are recommended for approval at the same meeting.

Tony Siebenthaler says: ``I think Beetham's West Tower would be a splendid addition to the city, but I think it's absurd that while this building is, quite rightly, considered appropriate by planning officers, the Brunswick Quay scheme isn't. ''

And if the Brunswick Quay plan IS refused by councillors?

``It would be a hideous decision. The design is stunning and the building would grace any city in the world. If you offered it to New York or Hong Kong they would bite your hands off.

``The building could only add to that area of the south docks, because it is surrounded by unmitigated ugliness. ''

Which brings us onto the cream coloured Customs and Excise building on Queens Dock, which prompts another ``hideous'' from Tony, who adds: ``Perhaps its ugliness is reflective of its function!

``Some of the buildings in the south could have been nice and elegant, but the council has been obsessed with not building anything higher than the Albert Dock. ''

Heading north, he says of the world famous Albert Dock complex: ``It's very impressive, if by no means pretty. ''

There are no kind words, however, for the distinctive, white Royal Quay apartment block at Kings Dock: ``I'm amazed they got planning permission!''

Of the doomed Cloud, which would have become the Fourth Grace, Tony says: ``It wasn't my favoured design but I thought it was a nice building - even if that wasn't the right site for it.

``The problem is that to create a truly exceptional building of international significance you would need to spend in the region of pounds 700m. ''

But, he says, whether such a building should be dubbed the Fourth Grace is another matter . . .

``I've always hated the term `Three Graces, ' because I think it's pretentious, deluded and fanciful. My hope is that we one day have buildings which are better than those three buildings.

``If you put the Chrysler building in there, for example, it would blow everything away. The Three Graces are, in many ways, great buildings, but they're not THAT fantastic. ''

Looking ahead to 2008 and beyond, Tony says: ``I want Liverpool to be what it once was an incredibly dynamic and commercially successful city. And I think it can be.

``We should be proud to have buildings which are bigger, better and more visually-striking than those in other cities. Do we really want mildmannered, mediocre buidlings? They may not offend, but they don't inspire, either.

``It shouldn't be a question of limiting tall buildings, but ensuring that they are beautifully-designed. ''

He adds: ``We have got seven spectacular highlights - the Three Graces, the two cathedrals, St George's Hall and Martins Bank in Water Street - but the rest of our buildings are average.

``Glasgow hasn't got our great buildings but it has got mile after mile after mile of Castle Streets. Its infrastructure and landscape is a million times better. ''

Looking along - and up - at the firstBeetham tower, Tony is more impressed by its height than its design. But he says: ``While it has been said that it has nothing to commend it but its impressive height, many other buildings on the waterfront have nothing to commend them at all!''

Although nowhere near as tall as the first Beetham tower block, the new multi-storey car park at Princes Dock - see accompanying article - has also provoked debate, but Tony says: ``I don't think we should get too precious about it; a car park is a car park and this one is obviously needed. ''

Turning again to the waterfront as a whole, Tony says there is a natural inclination among people to be fearful of change any change.

And this, he suggests, can lead to the powers-that-be compromising on the scale and design of new buildings.

He adds: ``People can only build what they are allowed to build and I think we all need to be more adventurous. ''

But how on earth did THIS get planning permission?

BEAUTY is apparently in the eye of the beholder . . . but can a car park ever be considered attractive?

As countless Merseysiders will have noticed - including those who have written to or `phoned the ECHO to complain - a new multi-storey car park is currently being built as part of the ongoing developments at Princes Dock.

Questions which have been asked include ``Has it actually got planning permission?'' and ``Did it have to be sited so close to our world-famous waterfront?''

A city council spokesman confirmed that the car park went through the usual planning procedures, including a public consultation process - albeit in two stages.

He explained: ``It had initial approval in December 2002, but the applicants then came back in January 2004 when they wanted to increase the size. There was only one objection received, and that was from English Heritage, on design issues. '' The council agreed to allow the Princes Dock Development Company to build an extra four half levels after office and residential plans for the dock attracted increased interest.

Three office blocks and the Crowne Plaza hotel have transformed the once derelict dock, while two residential towers - the City Lofts - are currrently under construction, and work is due to start in early March on a Malmaison hotel. The car park is due to be completed in mid-March and Ian Pollitt, chief executive of the Princes Dock Development Company, says: ``At the moment it is sitting on its own, but it will fit together well with the new hotel.

``We could have put up a bog-standard box, but we have spent pounds 7m on what I think is an attractive car park. What will go round it will blend in. We think it will be the best in Liverpool. ''

CAPTION(S):

REVOLUTION OR EVOLTION? Clockwise from top left - the proposed 51-storey complex at Brunswick Quay; Tony Siebenthaler on the waterfront; the Royal Quay apartments at Kings Dock; the under-construction City Lofts; the waterfront - with St. Nicholas Parish Church - in the 1900s and in the 1700s; the 40-storey Beetham Tower 2
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 17, 2005
Words:1218
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