Liverpool Vision’s Jim Gill Reflects On Hope Street Quarter
The public realm refurbishment of Hope Street, the thoroughfare which defines Liverpool’s cultural quarter, was finally completed in May 2007. This has offered an opportunity to reflect on, and learn some lessons from, the decade of activity culminating in Hope Street’s new look. Jim Gill, Chief Executive of Liverpool Vision, agreed to share his perceptions of that decade and what it has achieved for Hope Street and the City of Liverpool.
What follows is a summary of a conversation between Jim Gill, Chief Executive of Liverpool Vision, and Hilary Burrage, Hon. Chair of HOPES: The Hope Street Association, the body which since the early 1990s has consistently lobbied for the recognition and refurbishment of Liverpool’s Hope Street. In this discussion Hilary posed questions to which Jim responded.
Hope Street’s value to Liverpool and beyond
Hilary: Jim, thank you for agreeing to discuss Hope Street with me, as the street’s refurbishment is finally completed and the last few public seating areas are installed and lit. You’ve been involved in this process almost from the beginning, initially through English Partnerships, and then as Chief Executive of Liverpool Vision, the UK’s first Urban Regeneration Company. How would you describe the value of Hope Street, as a core part of Liverpool’s city centre?
Jim: Hope Street has huge intrinsic value. The problem is recognising it and exploiting it in an appropriate way; and in that we still have a way to go. But there’s no doubt that the perceived value of the street has increased significantly, both because of the public realm refurbishment and as a result of the individual development schemes, for instance by both Cathedrals, the Hope Street Hotel, the restaurant scene and of course the refurbishment of the Philharmonic Hall.
Securing the refurbishment of Hope Street
Hilary: Can you tell me what finally clinched the decision to refurbish Hope Street?
Jim: Essentially, it was HOPES pestering us, your solid determination to see something happen. Initially the refurbishment of Hope Street was just a long-term ‘red zone’ aim for Liverpool Vision; but we converted that to an immediate action ‘green zone’ because of your persistence.
It was the meeting which you (Hilary) and Adrian (Adrian Simmons, HOPES’ Hon. Secretary) had with myself (Jim) which clinched it. You told me how dis-spirited you were about lack of progress, and I agreed that we would develop proposals with you. And of course HOPES had also secured the full support of Steve Broomhead, Chief Executive of the North West Development Agency, so at that point things started to move.
A different way forward
Hilary: Was it a different way to do things?
Jim: Yes, it was a very different way! There have been two or three tranches of significant public realm works in Liverpool, such as Williamson Square and East Moorfields. Those projects involved ‘set piece’ consultation with the public through exhibitions. But the Hope Street process involved real community engagement from the beginning.
Engagement is always more difficult to achieve in an area with many individual, non-collective voices, but HOPES constituted a ready-made ‘panel’ which enabled deeper involvement of local stakeholders as well as the normal consultation.
The knowledge economy
Hilary: How significant is the knowledge economy (scientific, academic and cultural) around Hope Street Quarter? Has the refurbishment of the street had an impact on this economy?
Jim: We haven’t yet properly grasped how (if) we can capture all the benefits of the area. Clearly there is a link between the fortunes of Hope Street Quarter and the wider area which includes the Universities and much else; but this is not yet consolidated.
In fact, Liverpool Vision is currently engaged with both the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University in producing a prospectus / audit of the local knowledge economy and the contribution which it makes to the City and the Regional economy. The figures are very impressive. We believe that the quality of the Hope Street area has major role to play in supporting the growth of the Knowledge Quarter, and vice versa.
But we don’t yet fully comprehend the value of the knowledge economy. Knowledge can and will drive the City economy towards self-sustainability. Our ‘Transitional’ Programme for the City Centre suggests a refocusing of activity ‘up the hill’ to Hope Street, embracing the crescent of opportunity surrounding the city centre, linking the waterfront, Hope Street and the Knowledge Quarter, extending as far as LJMU’s Byrom Street Campus.
We all need to understand the potential of these links better. This perspective underlines our shifting focus ‘up the hill’; the quality of space around Hope Street can indirectly benefit the knowledge economy, including Hope Street’s high artistic skills. Hope Street, as you have said many times, is a sort-of South Bank and needs to be valued as such.
Hilary: What lessons can we learn from the ‘story of Hope Street’? What helped or hindered the process and what of the future?
Jim: The first lesson is to understand what can be achieved by working in a real partnership where local stakeholders are fully engaged, as they were in this case through the mechanism of HOPES.
Second, for the future, recognition of the importance of the Knowledge Economy – and consequent actions – will be critical. As I have already mentioned, Liverpool Vision has recognised the importance of the wider Hope Street-Knowledge Quarter area and as we merge into the proposed new economic regeneration vehicle for the City we want to make sure the priority is taken forward, so that the potential of the wider ‘University Edge’ is maximised. This is a key strategic priority at Regional, not just City level.
Third, my mantra is, ‘Don’t kid yourself the job’s done.’ There has been massive change in the City Centre and the pace of change continues at a high level. But much more needs to be done to secure the long term economic health of the City and lasting opportunity for the people of Liverpool. We have to ensure the opportunity that is Hope Street isn’t lost. The wider Hope Street area will be a major contributor to the economic health of the City and the provision of additional jobs.
The associated challenge is to ensure that people needing the jobs here can get to them, and to spread the opportunities around. That, I’d suggest, is what real regeneration is about.
And lastly, I’d say the biggest challenge for HOPES is that you need somehow to keep and widen your circle of friends; not easy when you’re an unsupported voluntary body, but it’s necessary. HOPES has a central role in moving things along, but it will need to be flexible in how it does things and how it relates to developments.
The professional perspective
Hilary: Thank you. As you know, most of HOPES’ members are professional people in their own right, who have given their time and skills ‘for free’ to bring about the changes now seen in Hope Street. This has produced an interesting dynamic, perhaps because regeneration professionals on the ‘official’ side more often work with community groups with fewer professional qualifications than themselves. My other question here is therefore what ‘lessons’ can be learned from this unusual situation about how to get the best from such a dynamic. Are there particular issues for instance in respect of ownership of the ideas and developments?
Jim: Working with the HOPES members on the public realm project was occasionally challenging, probably because the level of engagement was close and because each of the stakeholders had clear views as to what would or wouldn’t ‘work’, and because they were able to argue their corner very strongly. We had a shared goal which, I think, was achieved.
I think the wider lessons for all stakeholders is to learn how to work with other groups, for example, non-professional stakeholders, and to recognise that everyone’s goals and aspirations have validity. Ultimately more will be achieved if the Hope Street area speaks with a single voice which embraces all interests.
Worst and best so far
Hilary: What have we done worst and best, so far?
Jim: The worst is probably the time it has taken, or is taking, to secure a full recognition across the range of ‘public’ organisations – including the City Council – of the importance of the area for the future economic health of the City.
The best is that you mustn’t underestimate what HOPES has achieved as, a voice for the area and in delivering activity. As I said, it was the discussion I had with you and Adrian which effectively clinched the resources to deliver the public realm project. You have secured formal recognition of the area; and the stakeholder group which we’ve developed from your original group of activists has worked quite well. We’ve come a long way.
Posted on September 2, 2007, in HOPES: The Hope Street Association, Knowledge Ecology And Economy, Liverpool And Merseyside, People And Places, Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience, Travel and tagged Travel. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.