By the Save Waterloo Dock Team
19 March, 2021
Huge flats plan sunk after residents’ 27 month battle.
THE Save Waterloo Dock campaign is celebrating a major success in our two-year battle to save the historic Liverpool dock - after plans to build more than 530 apartments on the site were withdrawn by the developer.
But the battle is far from won, as an alternative plan for 330 flats at the dock - PA 21F/0377 - has now been submitted by the same developer.
A spokesperson for the Save Waterloo Dock campaign said: “Our community’s fight goes on, but the withdrawal of the original scheme is a huge step in the right direction.
“We have been living under the threat of the original scheme for 27 months, but we are determined to fight to protect our community for as long as it takes.”
The original threat arrived through the post with the Christmas cards in December 2018, when residents were informed of Planning Application 18F/3247 - which outlined plans to infill a large part of the dock and build 646 apartments in six high-rise blocks on Plot C02 of the proposed Liverpool Waters scheme.
Local residents - some of whom have lived in the dockside community for more than 30 years - held a public meeting at the Eldonian Village Hall early in 2019 and the Save Waterloo Dock Campaign was born. And it quickly became clear that the wider Kirkdale and Vauxhall community was equally outraged at the idea of filling in the dock from which the majority of Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine, and hundreds of thousands more fleeing religious pogroms in Eastern Europe, began their journeys to a new life in America.
During a single morning of campaigning at Greaty Market, more than 1,000 Scousers signed a petition demanding that the planning application should be refused. Almost 3,000 more have since signed our online petition. That local support has been vital to the campaign, as we have found support from our elected representatives in very short supply.
Local councillors Joe Hanson and Spain-based Malcolm Kennedy made it clear from the outset that they would not get involved, as both are members of the council Planning Committee. While former local MP Dame Louise Ellman insisted: “I consider planning to be a local issue best dealt with at council level” and she also refused to get involved.
But her successor as Riverside Labour MP, Kim Johnson, joined the battle within days of her election on 12 December, 2019, finding time in “the busiest week of my life” to object to the proposals and give her full backing to her very grateful constituents. Kim’s views were also shared by all significant heritage groups, given that the dock is in the World Heritage Site Buffer Zone, and UNESCO warned that the WHS accolade will be taken away from Liverpool if the plans were approved.
Developers and site owners have claimed throughout this battle that they have permission to infill West Waterloo Dock, due to the “precedent” provided by “historic infill” at the northern end of the water space. This is, in fact, a small section of soil, rubble and weeds where swans and sea birds nest.
Planning rules state that the ONLY grounds allowing further infill to take place is “where permission has previously been granted for partial infilling.” So the SWD campaign put in a Freedom of Information request to Liverpool City Council to find out who created the infill, when it happened and whether all planning rules were complied with.
Although the council’s first response was to insist that all necessary rules had been complied with - even naming two organisations who they claimed had carried out the work - a follow-up investigation by the Information Commissioner concluded, on May 27, 2020: “On the balance of probabilities, the Council did not hold any information within the scope of the (residents’) request.”
When the planning application was first submitted, in December 2018, the target date for a decision was April 2019. But 27 months later, it had still not been put to the Planning Committee. In stark contrast, the much more complex planning application by Everton Football Club for a new stadium at nearby Bramley Moore Dock took just 14 months from initial application to the unanimous approval of the planning committee.
And the more than 1,000 strong community now living beside West Waterloo Dock has had to cope with 27 months of uncertainty and worry, with a significant impact on the health of some residents. During lockdown, when everyone has had to work from home, we have also faced weeks of noise from the relatively small amount of pile-driving required in building the new Isle of Man ferry terminal.
An SWD spokesperson said: “We have never been opposed to development of the Central and Northern Docks. We backed the original plans for a Cruise Liner Terminal here. We fully support the Isle of Man terminal - as a link to our maritime past - and some of us spoke in favour at the Planning Committee that approved it. We are not Nimbys.
“We also realise that infill in any dock requires pile driving - which is bound to be noisy. But the application to build blocks of flats in the dock is on a much bigger scale and would require very many months of pile driving. It will make our lives all but unbearable.”
Ironically, the only time Liverpool Council has ever considered infill at West Waterloo Dock, 15 years ago, the planning committee members fully appreciated the devastating impact any major development would have on local residents.
PA 06F/2292 sought to backfill much of the dock, using “arisings” from works to extend the Leeds-Liverpool Canal towards the Three Graces and Salthouse Dock. The Planning Committee REFUSED the application on just two grounds.
The first reason said such infill “would serve to irreversibly undermine the historic significance of this part of the Liverpool dock system and the World Heritage Site Buffer Zone.”
The second reason said: “The proposed infilling operation would result in significant levels of noise, dust and disturbance that would be detrimental to the living conditions and amenity of nearby residents, contrary to policy.”
SWD adds: “How wise those councillors were. That was the official policy of Liverpool City Council in 2006. We believe that nothing significant has changed since then, so that remains the city’s stated policy. And that is why we are carrying on the fight.”
*If you have not already done so - please send in YOUR objection to PA 21F/0377
ONE of the biggest worries of local residents is whether the latest proposal - for 330 apartments - is financially realistic. And those concerns are based entirely on figures submitted by the developer and its own consultants to the city council.
The original scheme for 646 apartments, submitted in December 2018, led to a wave of objections from every major heritage group in the UK and Europe, local residents, and the thousands of people who signed petitions urging rejection of the plans. So a revised scheme - for 538 apartments in four 10-storey blocks - was submitted the following year.
As is always the case, the application was accompanied by dozens of planning documents, including a “Development Viability Report for Romal Capital Limited”. It was compiled by Land and Real Estate Agency the David Sayer Consultancy, and dated 26 November 2019. This report looked in detail at every option - including both a hotel and offices, as well as various numbers of residential apartments - for developing the site,
It concluded that “Both the commercial office and hotel appraisals show clear negative returns and no market demand in this location.” Its analysis of the financial implications of building offices on the site concluded “the appraisal shows a deficit of £4.8m, equivalent to a negative return on cost of 8.9%.” Building a hotel was also considered unviable.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, the report concluded: “It is clear that residential development on Plot C02 is currently the only viable use to ensure that the infrastructure works and high quality landscaping required are capable of being funded.” The consultants then looked at the financial implications of various residential options in considerable detail.
Section 6 of the report - Viability Summary and Conclusions - said: “the original scheme (for 646 flats) provides sufficient return to ensure that key works can be undertaken.” It added of the “current scheme” that it “also provides an acceptable level of return based on a suitable development platform to cater for a scheme of circa 538 apartments.”
But the authors also analysed figures for schemes that had fewer flats, and concluded that “All of the other options provide either an insufficient, very nominal or negative return and thus (are) not able to support the infrastructure, abnormal costs and landscaping required.”
One of those “other options” is causing local residents particular concern. In Appendix 1 the authors analysed the impact of a scheme for 327 apartments and concluded (Para 5.5.10) “The Development Appraisal illustrates a net profit on cost of 0%”.
A spokesperson for the Save Waterloo Dock campaign said: “This very detailed report concluded that building 327 flats in West Waterloo Dock would not make a penny profit.
“It was compiled according to the economic situation as it was towards the end of 2019. Since then, Liverpool - and the rest of the world - has suffered the deepest economic depression for 100 years.
“So how can it possibly be the case that building just three additional apartments - 330 rather than the 327 analysed in the report - is now financially viable? We are totally baffled.”