Grosvenor’s retail projects director Rod Holmes talks about the Liverpool One regeneration project: ‘Contractors should share more risk’
We happen to be the first off the blocks with this large-scale city centre stuff, so other people have taken an interest.
There are other centres opening this year which have followed some of the principles: keeping the streets more open and being more respectful about the given street pattern.
And using different architects – we had 26 firms of architects working on Liverpool One. We wanted to work with different architects to create natural variety.
We’ve opened the market up. By the end of the 1990s big retail development was in the hands of a small group of specialist architects and mainstream architects gave it a wide berth. There was sort of an elitist feel that architects didn’t get their hands dirty with large-scale retail. We turned that on its head.
We’ve created a market for mainstream, very distinguished architects to get involved. Not very easy, I must say – some architects weren’t too keen on having shoppers, retailers and shopfront designers messing with their concepts.
Coordinating concurrently different design teams has been difficult logistically. We’ve had some great design teams, contractors and subcontractors on this project and some fine craftsmen.
People are saying the quality of design and workmanship on Liverpool One is very high and I am rather proud of that.
However, we were commissioning a lot of work in a bull market, where there was a lot of work around in an industry which had been decimated in the early 1990s and wasn’t equipped in terms of skilled labour. Thank goodness we had immigrant labour to fill the gap.
In this country we barely have capable contractors to build on a large scale and yet we are not very open as an industry to foreigners. There are difficulties of foreign contractors coming into this country to work, with its restrictions.
Risk-averse contractors So we were buying a lot of construction when the supply side was under pressure. Understandably the industry took advantage of that. It was very riskaverse, forcing the price up.
As developers, we are taking a lot of pain and the principal reason is the circumstances in which we were procuring construction.
The industry will have to respond differently. It will be more competitive. But have we solved the supply side and are we really training labour up? I suspect not. We are more and more beholden to overseas contractors.
I’m not sure the result would be different but we would approach it differently. We would try to get the large contractors to share some of the construction risks. We like to think we know something about property, but we had to take huge construction and procurement risks – not really what we intended.