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Arrested development

AGENDA

Unhappy developers in Liverpool have seen a series of schemes turned down but the council is pointing to millions of pounds of redevelopment investment that will see residential, retail and office space built. David Rogers reports

RIGHT now Chris Ives is an exasperated man.He is the development director of a firm that has just had its bold plan to build Liverpool's tallest building turned down by the local council.

Maro Developments' idea was to build a 160 m tall building called Brunswick Quay in a rundown area of the city. It seemed a sound one. Designed by Ian Simpson, an award-winning architect, the spectacular building would have featured nearly 500 apartments, parking spaces, a hotel and some retail space.

Maro was confident it would get the all-clear when it made its submission but three weeks ago Liverpool City Council decided otherwise. But the firm is not going away and is preparing to challenge the decision. It is not even going back to the drawing board, since it has no plans to change its design.

Mr Ives said: 'We will be going with what we've got.We are obviously very disappointed with the decision.We believe the council is wrong.

'We spent 12 months researching the application and we had a very strong planning case.We find it difficult to believe that if Liverpool wants to take a step forward in regeneration it has turned this scheme down.We are a developer wanting to spend £100 million in the city and we should be welcomed rather than snubbed.'

Developers planning to challenge councils over decisions they do not like have to be careful with their choice of words. But Maro will have to bite its tongue for a good few months - the decision on its appeal is not likely to be made until the end of next summer at the earliest.

And the developer behind a second tower - Beetham's proposed West Tower, also shot down this month by the council's same planning committee - will be facing a similar 18-month wait if it contests the decision.

What makes this decision particularly galling for Beetham is that the planning manager actually gave the scheme the green light, only for the committee to utter the dreaded words, 'minded to refuse'The reasons given were the objections of nearby tenants and parking problems.

To head off accusations of muddled thinking, the council has just begun a consultation process on what developers should bear in mind when drawing up plans for tall buildings in the city.

This started earlier this month and will take into account the views of a wide range of people: developers, architects and - golly - even builders. It will report back later this spring and is set to be published in the summer.

A council spokesman admitted this week: 'We need to have a policy for developers of what's acceptable and what's not.'

What it will say is that it prefers tall buildings to be built in clusters as opposed to being dotted about here and there. And it wants them to be built, if possible, in three areas of the city: the business quarter, the southern end of the city centre around Parliament Street and a third site close to the railway station in the Lime Street district.

The council is anxious to be seen to be on the front foot on this issue. In the past few months an array of projects, all of them high-profile, have fallen by the wayside.As well as the towers, plans, however remote, to build a new football stadium to be shared by the city's two football teams have been abandoned due in the main to the objection of the clubs' fans.

Yet the alternatives for Liverpool and Everton do not look much better right now. Construction of the new Anfield for Liverpool FC has not started and no definite timetable is in place for work to begin.Moreover, council leaders are now estimating the cost to be £125 million - over £50 million more than the original £70 million earmarked.Carillion is supposed to be building this but has been rather quiet on the whole thing. Perhaps it has simply forgotten. Across the city plans for a new stadium at the Kings Waterfornt scheme for Everton fell into the sea some time ago.

To this unfortunate roll call can be added the city's plan to build a tram system, progress on which is tortuously slow. Council chief executive David Henshaw has written to Merseytravel, the transport authority behind the £500 million project, asking them for written reassurances that recent problems involving one of the bidders will not delay the first phase's opening in 2008.

But the biggest casualty of the lot is the Fourth Grace.This disappeared last summer in a puff of smoke beset by funding and planning problems.An appropriate fate for a building reminiscent of a cloud perhaps, but there are fresh hopes that this will have a silver lining as it could be wafting over to the Wirral with a site on the waterfront at Birkenhead said to have been looked at.

Others, however, see more hot air.

It is a disappointing run of events but one the council is shrugging off by pointing to the £3 billion regeneration already pledged for the city.This includes the £400 million Kings Waterfront mixed-use scheme, given the allclear by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott earlier this month, the £75 million Metropolitan Quarter retail complex and the £750 million Paradise Street project - another mixed-use development.

But it has not helped that planners in the city, the same ones that have blocked the two towers, have thrown their weight behind a waterfront brickcrushing plant. A grand idea, it must be said.The plant at Trafalgar Dock will recycle construction waste from Paradise Street where Laing O'Rourke is working.Still, the possibility that the plant will remain on the waterfront when Liverpool begins its reign as European Capital of Culture in 2008 has merely added, for some, to the sense of injustice.

But the council is keen to point to the work that is taking place rather than those jobs that are either stalled or have bitten the dust completely.The spokesman said: 'There are projects which are going ahead. 2008 has had a big impact on the city and it is the rocket fuel for the regeneration of the city centre. It is very easy to highlight the schemes that do go wrong.But there is an enormous amount going on and inevitably there are schemes that won't see the light of day.'

Critics argue that the council has become obsessed by the success of Kings Waterfront, pointing out it is a stakeholder in the work which will include a multi purpose arena, conference centre, a hotel and residential and office space.

Maro's Chris Ives said building this has become the council's very own Holy Grail: 'Kings Waterfront is hugely important to the council.

'It's a good scheme but, because it's being built on council-owned land, the council can't afford for it to fail. I think they are being over-cautious.

Other schemes are in competition and maybe they are frightened ours would be a better solution.'

But despite the setbacks the overall mood in Liverpool, rejected developers apart, is bullish.As much as anything the upcoming transformation is a chance to bloody the nose of Liverpool's north-west rival 40 miles down the East Lancs Road. Commenting on the Kings Waterfront deal, one local told a BBC website what he thought about the plans.He implored: 'Please, please, please build the thing.We need it and soon. I for one do not want to go to Manchester any more.'