Thursday, 26 May 2011

Liverpool Capital of Vandalism

Remember 2008 and all that, well what has changed, we still have 10 properties on English Heritage at Risk and we are soon to be placed on Unesco's World Heritage At Risk register despite givig assurances to Unesco. I did this walkabout article with Peter Elson of the Daily Post which I sent to Tristram who then wrote an article for the Times..........We ask what has changed since 2008?
From The Times March 8, 2008

Liverpool, Capital of Vandalism

The supposed city of culture has in fact been pulling down its great Victorian buildingsTristram Hunt
Amid the elegant Georgian terraces that run off Hanover Street, rising up the hill from Canning Dock, you can still get a sense of Liverpool's mercantile past: a lost age of transatlantic trade, civic pride and merchant princes. And just as Liverpool celebrates this proud heritage as European Capital of Culture, the council is cynically signing off on agreeing to the demolition of three of these Grade II listed houses - numbers 68, 70 and 72 Seel Street - for a shoddy new development. Learning nothing from its postwar history, Merseyside is in danger of turning into the Capital of Dereliction as town hall leaders sanction another assault on its architectural fabric.

By far the most elegiac and anger-inducing publication of recent months has been Gavin Stamp's Britain's Lost Cities. Stamp painfully outlines the postwar loss of Britain's urban civilisation and, in doing so, nails the lie that the German Luftwaffe was primarily responsible. Instead, it was the love of the motor car, rise of the town planner, arrival of Le Corbusier's Continental Modernism and an ugly animus for history that did for our regional centres.

“Behind all this,” Stamp writes of England's northern cities, “there was a sense of shame about the industrial past, a visceral and blinkered rejection of the dark but substantial legacy of the Victorians that could amount to little more than civic self-hatred and which resulted in relentless destruction.” Sadly, that shame still lingers.

From Plymouth to Coventry, Glasgow to Worcester, grandiose city plans were published that bulldozed the old and, in its place, laid out arterial roads, car parks, mass-production housing and shopping centres. “Cities must be extricated from their misery, come what may,” came Le Corbusier's battle cry. “Whole quarters of them must be destroyed and new cities built.” And so in Birmingham, the Central Library, Pugin's Bishop's House and the Market Hall fell victim to the Inner Ring Road. In Hull, almost all the dock warehouses, Georgian chapels and Victorian churches were destroyed in the name of postwar regeneration. But few cities suffered as much as Liverpool.

Between August 9, 1940, and May 9, 1941, Merseyside endured 68 air raids gutting much of the historic neighbourhood surrounding the docks. By far the worst architectural victim was John Foster's Greek revival Custom House, a testament to Liverpool's 19th-century ambition to play the Athens of the North: a city of commerce and culture reflected in an uniformly classical urban aesthetic. But rather than rebuilding this shattered civic icon, the postwar planners opted for demolition. It was a decision that set the tone for the ensuing decades of planning terror as dock warehouses, stuccoed Regency houses and elegant piazzas fell victim to the ring-roads and clearances.

Fifty years on, now that Liverpool basks in its status as Capital of Culture, one might have thought the demolitions would ease up. Yet rather than commemorating its extraordinary civic inheritance, the planners are repeating the mistakes of their postwar predecessors. For as Liverpool's prosperity accelerates, the council is still prone to dismiss its marvellous historic fabric as an impediment to growth.

Under the past ten years of control by the Liberal Democrats, some 36 listed buildings have been lost to the bulldozers. Whereas Merseyside once enjoyed a Georgian building stock comparable to Bath, what little remains is now under threat. In addition to the terraces of Seel Street, there are numerous properties in Duke Street, Dale Street and Great George Square - as well as such listed landmark churches as St Luke's, Berry Street and St Andrew's - equally at risk. And that is excluding the Toxteth terraces and Welsh Street houses that remain under planning blight.
The difference this time is that the threat comes as much from property developers, whose lawyers and bully-boy chicanery runs rings round council officers, as grandiose redevelopment schemes. But the results are the same as buildings slip into disrepair, night-time demolitions “happen” and inexplicable planning permissions are granted.
Unfairly, Liverpool has often been accused of wallowing in the past. If only it did. Today what every successful city requires, in the competition for new businesses and graduate residents, is a sense of place and authenticity that can only come from the historic fabric, architecture and attitude of its streets and spaces. The postwar redevelopment of Merseyside did everything it could to destroy that civic identity. If the choice facing the Capital of Culture this year is between the 1820s and 1950s, then it must save the Georgian terraces and ease up on any more Modernist monstrosities.
Tristram Hunt is author of Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City

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