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Liverpool's secret streets in the sky - the story of the walkways above our heads; Still many traces of system above our streets today.

Byline: Alistair Houghton

Can you imagine walking around Liverpool city centre on "walkways in the sky" above the busy streets so you never had to step on a pavement?

It sounds like a 1960s town planner's dream that could ever become reality, but it happened here -- and you can still see some of those walkways today.

In the 1960s, the council came up with a plan to create a linked system of walkways over the city.

So some of the city's biggest developments of the time, including the ECHO building and Royal Insurance headquarters, were built with walkways through and around them and bridges across roads.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, trying to force skyways into the fabric of a historic city never really worked.

The isolated walkways were unpopular and the scheme was soon abandoned. The bridges were pulled down and walkways closed off or forgotten.

But its legacy lives on. The walkways are why you have to go UP to down into the underground station at Moorfelds, and why there are so many odd balconies around the St Johns Centre.

And if you look up, there's more of the system left than you'd think, from street signs three floors up to city centre "streets" like Queen Anne Parade that most people have never even heard of, let alone visited.

And there's still one complete bridge over a street that you can cross if you want to get into the spirit of the 60s.

The idea was first mooted in the Liverpool City Centre Plan of 1965, known as the Shankland Plan.

It said: "There is a need for a network of footways penetrating to all parts of the central area that will end the present entanglement of pedestrians and vehicles.

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"Motor traffic needs to be separated from the main shopping streets so shoppers can walk about in quiet and safety.

"The pedestrian network needs to be attractive, convenient for bus stops, car parks and stations, and to offer protection from the weather.,

The Liverpool Corporation Act 1969 formally allowed the council to create its walkway network

In July 1972 the council published a set of Design Standards detailing what the walkways should look like. It says "By the use of a general design policy it is hooped to obtain unity of design throughout the pedestrian network".

It is an idea that has worked elsewhere, particularly in the USA. Minneapolis is famous for its "skyways", once immortalised in song by cult rockers The Replacements. There are 11 miles of skyway in the American city, linking 80 blocks, meaning pedestrians don't need to worry about the city's ice-cold winters and hot summers.

The first bridge was planned to cross James Street.

A leader in the ECHO in December 1967 said: "The James Street walkway will be at least a promise that a day is coming when vehicles and walkers are no longer in thrombotic contention in the main arteries in the heart of Liverpool."

After years of planning, that bridge appeared overnight in James Street in September 1970 and opened the following year.

It proved popular with the planners and optimism abounded.

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An ECHO article from 1970 began: "The man from the planning department pressed out a map headed Pedestrian Network 1970 and talked of the new Liverpool, of street cafes, of green trees where there are now traffic fumes, of the new city of pedestrian ways."

And it went on: "It was once a planner's dream, an idea explained in models and maps. But suddenly Liverpool is stepping into the promised age of the traffic-free shopping centre."

In February 1971 the Daily Post said: "The Corporation have over two miles of walkways either under construction or in the planning stage. By 1976 there should be a quite impressive network of these pedestrian roads."

There were clusters of walkways around the city-- including around Old Hall Street and St Johns Shopping Centre. And that 1971 Daily Post report said: "Eventually walkways will be used for open air exhibitions, displays and even open air cafes".

That early optimism vanished swiftly.

The walkways weren't well used, meaning they became home to criminals, meaning they got even less busy.

In 1979, the ECHO and the Daily Post reported that the bridge over The Strand was widely known as "mugger's alley". One official told the Post: "Three of our staff at the Cunard Building were mugged by half a dozen children who were expert at the job."

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And as support for the system fell and money ran low, the walkway clusters that did exist were never properly linked together and became even less busy.

Attempts in the 1970s to get the system finished came to nothing and the bridges became high-profile symbols of failure. The system was reviewed in 1976/77, when [pounds sterling]2m had already been spent on it, and was effectively shelved.

In the early 1990s the ECHO campaigned for the demolition of the Roe Street walkway, which spoiled the view of St George's Hall.

In August 1992 its demolition made the front page of the ECHO, under the headline "It's Gone". The ECHO called it a "black, graffiti-strewn monstrosity".

And Bill Iveson, Liverpool Stores Committee chairman, said: "All these things want taking down because they are an eyesore. The bridge was littered with filth and graffiti and people didn't use it anyway."

He got his wish as the remaining bridges disappeared and many walkways fell out of use. The walkways plan was formally abandoned in 1994 after years of inaction.

* Old Hall Street -- bridges and walkways

It's hard to believe now, but TWO bridges once crossed Old Hall Street as part of the pedestrian network.

A bridge once crossed from Moorfields Station to the building opposite, One Old Hall Street.

If you look above the entrance to the station, you can still see a boarded and bricked-up gap where the bridge once crossed -- and the staircase to the bridge is just about visible.

The other bridge led from the ECHO and Royal Insurance buildings to Ralli House across the road, where the modern St Paul's Square development now stands.

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In the 1970s, the ECHO and Royal Insurance moved to new headquarters next to each other in Old Hall Street -- and the buildings were designed around walkways.

So the bridge across Old Hall Street led to the main entrance into the ECHO building, which you could also reach up a ramp from Old Hall Street itsels.

That's why there's a plaque about the history of Old Hall Street on what's now an internal second floor balcony inside the atrium.

The new Royal Insurance headquarters, which became known as the Sandcastle, was surrounded by walkways.

They connected with the ECHO at the front, to a ramp in Union Street, and to Empire Bridge beyond. Royal Insurance's main entrance was in fact above street level.

The ramps and Old Hall Street walkways vanished when the new Atrium linking the ECHO and the Sandcastle, now known as The Capital, was built. And part of the walkway was glassed over, though signs for New Hall Place survive in Union Street.

But behind the Sandcastle and the ECHO, the walkways are closed to the public but are still there -- and they have their own street signs.

Queen Anne Parade runs around the back of the Sandcastle, while King Edward Parade is at the back of the ECHO, overlooking the paper's roof garden.

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In Rumford Street, next to the Mersey Tunnel ventilation tower, there's a stairway and a sign much higher up saying Empire Bridge.

That bridge once led across Fazakerley Street, above the entrance to the car park, and into a building called Richmond House.

That building was flattened in the early 2000s, but pictures show it had walkways running around it linking to the Atlantic Tower beyond.

The Atlantic Tower boasts one of the best-preserved parts of the walkway system.

The ship-shaped tower sits on a platform that one linked to Richmond House -- you can see where the link bridge once was, and the street signs for Atlantic Terrace.

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The hotel's restaurants were designed to face the walkways rather than the street. Despite being on a futuristic pedestrian platform under a hotel inspired by a ship, the Club Car is designed to look like a train carriage.

Moorfields has to be one of the most unusual underground stations in the UK -- because you have to upstairs to get in.

That's because the station was built to link up with first-floor walkways that never happened.

Despite its recent recladding, you can still see that the entrance hall to the station, which sits on stilts above the pavement, could have been part of a walkway.

James Street is a good example of how walkways were included in new developments on an existing street.

New office blocks were being built on both sides of the street, as was a car park in Moor Street.

So the council arranged for a walkway to built through those developments, including a bridge across James Street by the station and a bridge across Moor Street.

The bridge has gone but there are still plenty of remnants of these walkways.

You can still walk through Graeme House, next to the Crown Court complex, and see where the bridge entrance used to be.

If you look up at Victoria House, opposite James Street station, you can see a balcony at first floor level where the walkway was.

The front of the James Street station has been reclad so there's no sign of the bridge. But there's still a bridge over narrow Moor Street behind, and you can again see where the route to the bridge once was.

From the start, planners were keen that the walkway system should help people cross The Strand, which was then and now a busy road cutting the city centre off from the Pier Head.

It was even more important then to have a crossing as the Pier Head was home to a large bus station.

Perhaps because The Strand is so busy, a bridge across The Strand survived for decades.

The bridge went across from what's now Beetham Plaza to a staircase near the Mersey Tunnel ventilation shaft.

But it had a bad reputation, perhaps not helped by poor maintenance. From the start, it was known as a "mugger's alley".

It came down in 2007, just before Capital of Culture year.

But while that bridge has gone, another remnant of the system remains on the Strand.

Next to the Travelodge opposite Mann Island is a dingy concrete staircase that leads up to a walkway through Graeme House to Liverpool Crown Court.

That walkway's concrete finish and now-smashed lights show what the wider system once looked like.

One part of the city that's changed almost beyond recognition in recent years is around Queen Square.

But these ECHO photos show how the area was once crossed by walkways over what was known as the Roe Street Gyratory.

But those walkways, which became covered in graffiti and spoiled the view of St George's Hall, were never popular and came down in the early 1990s.

St Johns Centre was a key part of the walkway system. You could walk through the centre -- but you could also walk around it above street level.

That's why there are "double decker" shops outside the centre overlooking Elliot Street on one side and Roe Street on the other.

The most obvious relic if he old walkways is the huge staircase that rises from near the Queen Square bus station to an entrance to the shopping centre next to the Royal Court.

Now, it seems like an unnecessary entrance. But it makes sense when you remember that it once linked to a long-vanished bridge across Roe Street.

This surviving walkway bridge is still a useful pedestrian link today -- and it includes one of the most striking structures anywhere in he network.

The walkway is slung below the Byrom Street flyover, taking pedestrians across to the museums in William Brown Street.

An ECHO article from April 27, 1970, said the opening of the walkway that day marked: "A further stage in the city's programme to separate pedestrians from traffic".

And in Cuerden Street, behind the world museum, there's a striking circular concrete ramp bringing pedestrians down to ground level.

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Credit: Andrew Teebay

The Churchill Way flyovers.

Credit: Andrew Teebay

The Churchill Way flyovers.

Credit: Andrew Teebay

City pathways in the sky-Churchill Way flyovers.
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Publication:Crosby Herald (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 24, 2017
Words:2150
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