HAUS during the Baltic Block Party (Photo by Paul Carroll)
Over the past few years, Liverpool City Council has made a concerted effort to completely fuck up its iconic skyline with expensive, ugly buildings. The latest moves in that direction are development plans for the Baltic Triangle district, an industrial area whose warehouses have been home to many of the city's artists for years, as well as playing host to the kind of club nights you actually want to go to, away from the city centre's chain clubs, lad-bombs and recreational street boxers.
The plans – which include converting a mid-Victorian warehouse into flats – seem to suggest the council holds the sincere belief that a city's worth is measured in how many big shiny constructions it has, rather than via the preservation of its identity, heritage and the overall happiness of its residents.
Either that, or they're just really, really bad at learning from their mistakes; in 2009, the newly built ferry terminal won Building Design's Carbuncle Cup – "for the worst new building of the year" – for blighting a world heritage sight. In 2011, The Museum of Liverpool made the shortlist of six. The following year, the Mann Island apartments also made the shortlist. The latter was described by the design magazine as “a scheme that completes the desecration of that city’s once great waterfront”.
The Mann Island apartments obscuring the Royal Liver Building (Photo via)
Not a lot has changed. Despite the fact the proposed constructions would obscure the city’s famous Anglican Cathedral, a visual impact assessment reached the conclusion that: “Whether the effect [of the buildings] would be adverse or beneficial will be dependent upon the judgement of the viewer.” Objectively, that's about as vague a statement as you could make – but that's hardly a surprise; when the last round of developments took place, English Heritage said the city council had "significantly downplayed the adverse impacts of the development on Liverpool's outstanding heritage".
Thanks to English Heritage the council have been forced to wait for the Department for Culture, Media and Society to decide if one of the buildings that will be affected will receive listing status. However, even if it does, it will do little to stop the gentrification of the area, a process that poses a real threat to the community that has developed in the Baltic Triangle.
Mark Lawler is the chairman of the Baltic Triangle Stakeholders Group. He said: “Historically, as investment comes into an area, the arts are pushed out. It’s happened in other parts of the city over the last 20 years. The challenge for us is to do as much as we can to limit that.” Part of Lawler’s work involves liaising with developers to encourage them to support local business in the area. He said: “The Triangle has a vision manifesto and a business plan that recognises the need to support music and art venues. “
However, many feel that this vision is not being realised. Tristan Brady-Jacobs is an artist who's been in the city for 30 years and works within the community to support local arts. “In Liverpool, the culture has always grown in the cracks”, he said. ”But what we’ve seen happen since Liverpool was the Capital of Culture in 2008 is a land grab that has resulted in these cracks being polyfillered in. There’s not many people left in the Triangle who could be called a pure artists. It’s mostly app developers and web designers. I mean no disrespect to these guys, but other artists have had to move back into their garages to work.”
It's not just local artists feeling the pressure from developers; clubs in the area will also find it increasingly difficult to operate once the new flats are built.
Joshua Burke is the owner and manager of a multipurpose space called HAUS, which is regularly used as a club. He said: “We've had a lot of people moving their nights from city centre venues to our space, but since the developers moved in there are similar sound constraints affecting us as there are in the city centre.”
Brady-Jacobs said: “The clubs around the area aren’t liked by the council because the people who run them are a little bit anarchic and don’t wear suits. They had a lot of trouble getting licenses, but they got them in the end. However, as soon as one person living in these new flats complains, then the process to shut all the clubs down will begin.”
HAUS during the Baltic Block Party (Photo by Paul Carroll)
The first Baltic Block Party was held in May. For a full day, several of the area's warehouses put on sets from people like Ben Klock, Pariah, Congo Natty and Newham Generals. Everywhere was rammed, people got along and nobody lost any limbs. It was both a reflection of the importance of the Baltic Triangle to Liverpool's club scene, and proof – if anybody really needed it – that you don't have to wear a tie clip to put on a successful, legitimate, legal event.
Burke, who helped organise the festival, said: “The Baltic Block Party worked so well and gave the whole area a real buzz, but with what’s going on it could be difficult to reproduce in the future.” Brady-Jacobs said: “It seems morally ridiculous that we have a city centre that’s like a zombie apocalypse every Friday and Saturday night, and yet the city is making things harder for places where venues have fun without causing any trouble.”
Greg Wilson has had residencies at the Hacienda and Manchester's now-demolished Wigan Pier nightclub, and is a veteran of Liverpool’s club scene. He described the Baltic Triangle as being “key to Merseyside’s self-expression”, adding: “The area puts me in mind of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, which underwent major regeneration thanks to the artistic community and became absolutely central to the resuscitation of New York nightlife.”
He continued: “The artists are essential to the city, and if the nightlife in the Baltic Triangle is in any way stifled due to complaints from the new residents it could be culturally damaging. Artists must be unhindered by the money-making plans of developers, who have little interest in cultural growth – especially when it gets in the way of the never-ending quest for short-term profit for the few, as opposed to long-term benefit for the many.”
Jolt at HAUS (Photo by Martin Noakes)
Brady-Jacobs elaborated, saying: “The problem is that these property complexes are entirely outside the control of anyone in the city. You’ll get a large development company from Malaysia, or the States, or wherever, who raise the money but then offset all that and get their money back, not by selling to local people, but by selling it to property groups.”
Depressingly, this process isn't anything new – it's happening across the country and has been for a number of years. In Lawler’s words: “Resisting developments that contribute nothing to the area isn’t just a challenge for our city, it’s a challenge for all areas when investment comes in.” However, the fact that these developments are taking place in Liverpool during it’s biennial, the country’s largest international arts festival, is particularly exasperating. Brady-Jacobs said: “The city needs to stop this tease where they pretend to be supporting the arts but simultaneously look down their noses at local artists.”
Rebecca Rush is part of the Young Fellows, a group of creatives under the age of 25 who have been brought together by the organisers of the Liverpool Biennial to encourage young people to get involved in the arts. She described the plans for the area as hypocritical, saying: “It goes against everything that the Biennial and the Baltic Triangle are all about, which is creativity and independent business and spaces. The Biennial even has a link to Camp & Furnace [a space in the Triangle] because it's used during the festival.”
When pressed for comment, Tom Brady – Liverpool Council’s communications officer – said: “We recognise that the Baltic Triangle area is important to the city’s economy as a location for creative and digital small businesses, and we would like to encourage its further growth for job creation in this sector.” Besides the fact this statement is in contradiction to what the city’s currently doing, it also completely misses the point.
The Baltic Triangle isn’t “important to the city’s economy”, it is important to the residents of Liverpool and to the personality of Merseyside. The Baltic Triangle represents the best aspects of Liverpool’s character: rough around the edges, resourceful and a lot of fun. The council aren't going to be swayed away from their bottom line approach to managing the city, but in time they may come to realise that the value of areas like the Baltic Triangle cannot be measured in currency. By then, of course, it will be too late.
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