Liverpool's World Class Waterfront

#no labels, or #no clue? There was only one way to let the scales fall from our eyes. We took a two mile trek along our ex-World Heritage waterfront...

Forget the stadium. Forget Liverpool Waters. Forget Infinity Towers, New World Square, the Fourth Grace and the thousand other failed schemes that may or may not have irked UNESCO. In the eye of last week’s storm it was hard to separate fact from fiction, confirmation bias from objective reality. 

Add the belligerent #nolabels response from a Council happier to throw its toys out of the pram than take a long hard look at itself, and a million sunset images of the Liver Building on Instagram, with ‘you don’t call this world class, UNESCO?’ captions (erm, the Three Graces aren’t the issue here. Everything else is), and it’s probably a good time to see things as they really are: not through a social media prism.

If UNESCO won’t take a walk around our waterfront, it was the very least I could do. 

I knew about the sleekly brilliant Arena and born-again Albert Dock. The glorious extension to the Leeds-Liverpool canal and ho-hum apology of the Museum of Liverpool. But I was less sure about the rest of it. Our waterfront is more than this half-mile long honey-pot (although you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise, if you swallowed the council’s rhetoric).

So how bad could it be? 

On a sunny Sunday afternoon I took a two-mile walk from Waterloo Quay to Brunswick Dock to take a closer look at what Peel, successive Councils and other developers let loose on one of the world’s most famous waterfronts have actually, really, definitely built here.

Waterloo Dock has been threatened with in-filling for years, with developers keen to build skyscraper apartments obliterating the view for the existing residents here.  They haven’t, yet: an uneasy stalemate remains. But what’s the betting, post-UNESCO, the beleaguered community will be in the developers’ sights again? Opposite the dock, litter cascaded out of the bins of Alexandra Tower, home to Cargo Restaurant. Who cares? Peel doesn’t seem to. But it’s a win for the dive-bombing seagulls: the only sign of life here.

What struck me in this forlorn stretch was of how little Peel’s Princes Dock buildings seemed to care, at all, about where they were. So many square boxes, with their faux-brick cladding, flung around like Tetris blocks looking for a connection. Landlocked cities would kill for a waterfront. So why do I feel like I’m in a business park somewhere off the M6?

UNESCO’s crime was to say we had something special (they wisely kept this stretch out of the World Heritage zone). Our crime was not to believe them, and wave through a set of clone buildings that could be in Wigan, Preston, Crawley or Paisley. And we’ve only just begun.

It beggars belief that Number 8 Prince’s Parade (below) was waved through planning and Peel. A Mr Potato Head of a building, this isn’t architecture, it’s a concatenation of bad ideas cynically lumped together. Because who’s looking anyway?

If you want to drill down to where the rot set in, I’d say you should go and gawp at Number 8 Prince’s Parade. I’d say future city walking guides should start here. Because this is our ground zero. All you need to know. This is where we stopped believing in our inherent value as a really world class city.

Under Peel and the council’s stewardship, we get a glimpse of what might be, now the checks and balances of UNESCO have gone. Is Prince’s Parade’s dystopian length a portent of things to come? Or will Mayor Joanne Anderson finally call time on this crap?

On a balmy summer’s afternoon Princes’s Parade’s plazas and pavements as empty as the dead-eyed offices. This doesn’t look like waterfront regeneration to me. It looks a lot like what happens when a council favours development at any cost. Not so much ‘no labels’, but ‘no belief’, ‘no vision’ and ‘no clue’.

There was one laughable attempt to connect a meh-too office block with the water by way of clumsy concrete stilts. But it just goes to show that we’re a long way from Venice, and if you need confirmation the view over the dock to a spirit-sapping multi-storey is all you need. A ten-storey car park, on the water’s edge? World class. Truly.

There’s a pleasing symmetry at play once you reach the other side of the Pier Head. Faux brick-wrapped hotels and characterless canyons of shit-splattered grey cladding marshall confused visitors around a labyrinth of wind-funnelled walkways out into Wapping Dock.

And when they get there? The wharfs and slipways of Wapping are a riot of weeds, stairways-to-nowhere and rubble. Mid-summer. Couldn’t anyone get busy with a trowel? If we don’t care, who will? This was a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Remember?

Bookending my trip nicely, I reach the litter-strewn environs of the Grosvenor Casino. A jaunty full height window allowing its high-rollers an uninterrupted view over Queen’s Dock. But for the rest of us not on the blackjack tables? Our luck isn’t in.

It’s difficult to comprehend how much crap has been built along our waterfront over the past twenty years. It’s so bland, timid and apologetic that, actually, we don’t see it at all. We see the Three Graces and the Albert Dock, the shimmering Mersey and the indefatigable Dazzle Ferry, but we’re blind to the thousand cuts our waterfront has suffered.

Perhaps it’s time we all took a closer look.