Claire Slinger, assistant director for investment and development at Liverpool City Council, on how it unlocked Festival Gardens and why investment is pouring into the city
“Liverpool is a very well-kept secret… and it’s undergoing unprecedented growth in investment,” says Claire Slinger, assistant director for investment and development at Liverpool City Council.
“Cities such as London, Birmingham and Manchester are maxing out in development terms, but we still have some headroom in Liverpool,” says Slinger. “There are still opportunities for growth.”
I meet Slinger in the council offices to record a podcast for The Developer. In the room, there’s a model of Liverpool’s largest and most high-profile project – the International Festival Gardens, a former landfill site that “has been a problem for years”, according to Slinger. Now a major development zone, the overall site comprises 100 acres just three miles from the city centre on the south riverbank.
Plans to regenerate Festival Gardens fell flat during the previous recession, when the city bought the land back from a private developer that failed to advance the scheme. Slinger says remediation of the contaminated soil made development expensive. “We often tackle projects that the private sector can’t, because the cost is prohibitive.
“We had to drive forward on the remediation – if you don’t start to drive it forward, nothing is going to happen longer-term.”
Figuring out how to deal with the contamination has been a headache. While the city could have moved the soil elsewhere, that would have simply relocated the problem. “We’ve had to look at soil-cleansing methods not used in the UK, so we’re really driving this forward.”
“We often tackle projects that the private sector can’t, because the cost is prohibitive”
“By putting investment into it ourselves and conducting site investigations, we were able to put a plan in place and approach partners and say what we needed help with,” says Slinger. “We had a plan, and with that plan in place, it encouraged the investment we needed.”
That investment includes a £9.9m injection by Homes England from the government’s £450m Local Authority Accelerated Construction programme. Now working with developers Ion and Midia, the council has formed a joint venture to develop a detailed masterplan that includes 1,500 new homes and plenty of outdoor amenity space on land unsuitable for development.
This entrepreneurial approach is part of what Slinger calls “investing to earn” and part of a new commercial spirit at Liverpool City Council.
“We have 80,000 graduates per year. But do they stay? And why do they stay?”
“We have to be thinking these days about how we’re going to make money out of things because we’ve had huge government cuts,” Slinger says. This has seen the council consolidate its offices into the Cunard Building – one of the ‘Three Graces’, which also include the Royal Liver Building and the Port of Liverpool Building – and earn money from commercially letting some of it.
“We all think commercially and look at each project in two different ways: can we make any money out of it [to put back into services] and how will it deliver our inclusive growth strategy? We have that in mind with everything we do.”
Another focus for the city when undertaking development projects is convincing the graduates of its universities and colleges to stay.
“We have 80,000 graduates per year. But do they stay? And why do they stay?” asks Slinger.
“We need to harness the graduates who are coming to the city and we need to keep them here”
“We need to harness the graduates who are coming to the city and we need to keep them here. But we also need to give them good jobs in sectors they desire. We feel we could have a bigger digital, creative and tech sector.”
To this end, the council is looking to develop sites around the two train stations to encourage companies to set up hubs in Liverpool.
“We’re looking at how we harness development at pace and at breadth in that area,” adds Slinger. “We’re a very strong city in terms of tourism, but we need to grow our commercial and professional services.”
As for the city as a whole, Slinger says change is in the air: “People do talk about how it has improved rapidly over the past ten years. The Liverpool of a few years ago is not the Liverpool of today. It’s an exciting place to be.”
Find out more
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