Liverpool’s Paradise Street – now Liverpool One – opened its doors to the public this month.

On a damp evening last week, 40,000 Scousers welcomed home one of Liverpool’s most famous sons, Sir Paul McCartney, as he played a concert as part of the city’s European Capital of Culture celebrations. For a few hours, the concert brought back the 1960s glory days of the Beatles and the Merseybeat sound, when Liverpool was as famous for its cultural exports as it was as a centre for shipping.

Just up the road from last week’s concert venue, another celebration marked what the city’s leaders hope will be a key stepping stone in Liverpool’s return to its former success. The opening of the first phase of developer Grosvenor’s giant retail-led regeneration scheme Liverpool One, formerly known as Paradise Street, is seen as vital to the physical and economic renaissance of the city.

The development comprises more than 100,000sq metres of retail space, anchored by new John Lewis and Debenhams department stores. Overall, the scheme consists of around 160,000sq metres spread over a 17ha city centre site. Almost 90 per cent of the 80 shops in the first phase of the development are already let, and a further 80 are due to open in September with the completion of the second phase of the scheme. When it’s all finished, the project will contain 600 homes, 3,000 parking spaces, two hotels, and leisure facilities including a 14-screen cinema and numerous restaurants.

The project has had its problems. Last year it emerged that Grosvenor was predicting a loss of around £140 million on the scheme, and the development attracted criticism following Liverpool City Council’s decision to grant Grosvenor 250-year leases on 35 public thoroughfares in the city centre. Campaigners have said the transfer of rights of way to a private company could result in public access to the area being restricted, although Grosvenor denies the claim.

On the other hand, the project is a key element of Liverpool’s regeneration and has been seen as an examplar of good design in city centre retail, with numerous architects commissioned to create diverse buildings around a traditional open-air street pattern. To assess the design quality and likely economic impact of phase one, Regeneration & Renewal asked Stephen Gleave, managing director of consultancy Taylor Young and a special adviser to design watchdog the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, to examine the development and give his considered opinion.

Q: What’s the significance of Liverpool One for the city?

A: This development is phenomenally important for the future of Liverpool. The city used to be one of the top four or five shopping centres nationally, but it dropped down that league to around 15th. Put the shopping offer back into Liverpool and it begins to compete properly with Manchester. If you walk around the Trafford Centre (near Manchester) there are more Scouse accents than any other because the retail facilities in Liverpool have not been up to scratch. But now the facilities are right here on Liverpudlians’ doorsteps.

Q: What will Liverpool One do for the outer pockets of deprivation in the city?

A: The most important thing for a city the size and scale of Liverpool is for it to have a strong heart and centre. Unless it does, you can almost forget everything else. If you get the heart right, other areas follow. It will take time to reach those outer pockets, but there will be some immediate impact, such as all the new jobs that have been created. Liverpool One will also help recapture all the money that local people have been spending elsewhere. There will also be gains with people from west Lancashire, Wales and Cheshire spending more money in Liverpool. All that money has been drawn into Manchester and Cheshire Oaks (a 140-shop retail outlet in Chester) for ten to 15 years now. But it’s not all about retail. The city has to have strong leisure facilities and provide high-quality residential development too if it wants to be successful. That is coming together through Liverpool One.

Q: How well do you think the development integrates with the rest of the city?

A: The Victorian buildings at the south end of South John Street have been isolated from the city centre for ten years, but now the street is a major avenue which takes you right into Liverpool’s creative quarter: the compact and densely developed Rope Walks area (see map). Before, you would have had to be quite adventurous to make the journey because you’d have had to go through derelict areas. The creative quarter has tattooists, fine art shops, record stores, bookshops – it shows the diversity of the city’s retail offer and the fact that it is now linked to the main commercial retail quarter is important. Now everything in the city centre is connected and accessible. The cultural and retail offer, the commercial office space, the heritage sites, the university, the hospital … everything is within ten minutes of Liverpool One. It’s exciting to be walking through a city where you get glimpses of the Albert Dock, as opposed to some piece of introduced sculpture in a modern shopping centre. You’re mixing old and new all the time in the experience.

Q: What do you think of the design quality of the main shopping centre?

A: The shopping development (in South John Street) is one of the bits that is most mall-like and least like a street, partly because of the connections that have to be made between the shops at different levels. As a piece of physical design, it leaves me rather cool. The steel floor is a bit bouncy, which you wouldn’t get in a London development such as Canary Wharf. In London, the finish would be of greater quality. Also, fashions come and go in a very short period of time. One may last a year if you’re lucky, three years if it’s particularly good, five years if it’s classic. When it comes to building design you have to be careful to make sure that you don’t jump onto the fashion bandwagon of the moment. The sandstone of the shopping centre is really strong, and the glass is timeless, but I worry about whether some of the more contemporary finishes, such as the steel floor, will stand the test of time.

Q: Could more have been made of the park within the development?

A: Chavasse Park is a fantastic asset, but the entrance to the park is a little on the mean side. If the entrance had been larger – even by just a few metres on either side – it would have opened the park up and it could have flowed into the rest of the development that little bit more naturally. It could have been much stronger. However, very few major city centres have a park near the shopping area, so it’s still a definite plus.

Q: Is the Liverpool One development faithful to the original masterplan?

A: I think that Liverpool One is very true to the original masterplan and that the consultancy, BDP, did a great job in understanding the city, especially the way in which the different areas in the centre could be connected in an effective way. The way in which Liverpool One connects with the rest of the city is the most important thing for me. When I was walking around the development, it wasn’t the sight of something iconic that made me think this project was really special. It’s a great John Lewis store, but it’s still just a John Lewis store. The inspiration that’s going to bring you into Liverpool One is the fact that the masterplan has turned around a derelict area and reconnected it with the rest of Liverpool. It’s the totality of Liverpool’s redevelopment of the central area that’s so important.


– Colin Hilton, chief executive, Liverpool City Council

Liverpool One has created 5,000 retail and service jobs. This is a big boost for a single development to provide, and a large number of under-represented groups have been targeted for these jobs. The scheme will also make Liverpool’s retail offer more competitive. It has everything from budget stores to designer goods. It has put the city back on a par with any other UK city. The architecture is stunning – especially the view from the centre. It’s futuristic and complements the (historic) surroundings, such as the Albert Dock. The project is also better placed to ride out the credit crunch than those in other cities because Liverpool’s economy is resilient: the city has fewer vacant flats than its peers and more stable property prices.

– Joanne Jennings, chief executive, Liverpool One

Liverpool One is the largest city centre regeneration project in Europe. The fact that it has gone over budget shows that Grosvenor were committed to follow through on the high quality standards set for the development. Often on big projects, a possible overspend is avoided by reducing quality. A lot of developers would have said: “Okay, let’s cut our cloth to the changing market conditions”, but Grosvenor has delivered a high-spec development.

– Jim Gill, chief executive, Liverpool Vision

What Liverpool is doing – a little later than other cities – is going through a long-term cycle of decline and then renaissance. Over the past ten years or so, a fairly dramatic physical and economic renaissance has taken place, and Liverpool One is a major part of that.