Should heritage sites be repurposed to meet Liverpool’s housing needs?
A city long renowned for its plethora of stunning architecture, Liverpool boasts the greatest concentration of Grade II-listed buildings of anywhere outside of London. With the demand for new homes as pressing as ever and past high-profile residential conversions of character buildings proving successful, can more heritage assets be repurposed to meet our housing needs?
Words by Lawrence Saunders
The idea of reimaging a piece of Liverpool’s revered architectural stock into a prime residential development isn’t exactly new.
In fact, the concept was central to the regeneration of one of its most famous assets – Albert Dock.
The Colonnades, a collection of 115 luxury apartments and penthouses spread across the upper floors of the dock buildings, was launched alongside the landmark’s official reopening in 1988 and is still an exclusive residence almost 30 years on.
A mix of one, two and three-bedroom units – no two flats are the same, partly owing to strict limitations placed on the developer by the building’s Grade I-listed status.
“It’s a special place to live – you’ve got heritage all around you,” says Dave Roscoe, a resident since 2002 and a director of The Colonnades Residential Ltd, the company which looks after the apartments on behalf of its owner-occupiers.
“Albert Dock was at the centre of the regeneration of the city. Most of us are very honoured to live here.”
Despite its age – the last phase of apartments was completed in 2001 – demand for property at the scheme is still strong.
“Sales are quite brisk with a couple going through at the moment,” reveals Dave.
“Prices are holding up quite well, despite talk of a downturn. I think this place has a special status within the city.”
Head north 10 minutes out of the city centre and you’ll come across one ongoing regeneration project which can arguably match the size, scale and vision of Albert Dock’s rebirth.
Harcourt Developments’ ambitious £130 million redevelopment of Stanley Dock is now well into its second phase following the conversion of the Grade II-listed North Warehouse into the Titanic Hotel and Rum Warehouse in 2014.
The first part of the transformation of the mammoth 14-storey Tobacco Warehouse into luxury apartments is due for completion during the middle of next year, bringing to an end years of neglect for the world’s largest brick warehouse.
“As with many building conversions, the progress is not always visible from the outside but it is likely more dramatic in this case than in most others,” explains Pat Power, director of Irish firm Harcourt.
“Due to its enormous floor plates of one hectare per floor, courtyards have now been formed in the centre of the building in order to allow for dual aspect apartments with lots of natural light.
“In addition to this, sections of floors within the new apartment areas are being knocked out to provide for double height space in all of the kitchen and living room spaces.
“The units themselves will be titanic in size with an average floor area of twice that of the average equivalent two-bedroom apartment.
“Brick walls and concrete ceiling beams will remain on display and the apartments will be bursting with character.”
Pat speaks glowingly of Liverpool’s architecture and agrees that more can be done with some of its other vacant heritage buildings.
“Liverpool is blessed with many beautiful buildings suitable for conversion,” he adds.
“While they can be challenging projects, they can result in something truly special.
“The Titanic Hotel is an example of what can be achieved when a derelict building has been restored and brought back into use.”
Significantly smaller in scale but nonetheless another example of how Liverpool’s heritage buildings can be repurposed is the £8m regeneration of the Grade II-listed Produce Exchange on Victoria Street.
Developer Foster Marlon is currently undertaking the project which will see 54 luxury apartments created across the building’s top five floors.
Meanwhile on nearby Tithebarn Street another Grade II-listed building is in the process of being converted, this time into eight exclusive apartments.
Work on the Hadwen’s Buildings, formerly a printing and bookbinding factory and warehouse, is expected to be completed in August.
According to a Liverpool property expert, conversions like these are becoming more and more common and are a sign of current market tastes.
“A lot of these [heritage] buildings are getting turned into what we term ‘proper residential schemes’,” says Alan Bevan, managing director of City Residential.
“The Albany, Chancery House, Hadwen’s Buildings, Orleans House – they are all proper schemes and that’s what the market wants.
“Take a building like The Albany – flats in there are flying out the door and that’s because people want to live in nice buildings in nice locations. Nothing changes, that’s always going to be the case.
“If you’re a downsizer or someone moving into the city you don’t want a 400 sq ft one-bedroom flat, you want something with a bit of space and character.
“The greatest growth in the market at the moment is in quality conversions in good locations.”
“Liverpool is blessed with many beautiful buildings suitable for conversion. While they can be challenging projects, they can result in something truly special.”
It’s not just private residential conversions which have proved successful in the city, however.
One of Liverpool’s most prominent heritage regeneration projects of recent years saw the former Scandinavian Hotel (also known as the former Langdon’s factory) on the corner of Duke Street and Nelson Street transformed into luxury student accommodation.
Opened as ‘The Arch’ in time for the September 2014 student intake, the striking 19th Century building and its adjoining warehouse were in a dreadful condition when developer Downing became involved.
“The building had been in a dilapidated state for a while,” explains Martin Fenlon, Downing’s project manager on the scheme.
“There’d been a lot of water ingress, vandalism and break-ins, so it was in quite a state.”
Despite the headaches an extensive list of structural issues and design restrictions due to the building’s location in the Duke Street Conservation Area brought, Martin believes it’s still not always a clear-cut decision when choosing between a heritage renovation and a new build.
“If you’re going to do a new build you’ve first got to find a site for that which is in the right location and then you’ve got to make sure you can let the rooms.
“With The Arch we are 100% full and always have been – it’s proven very popular. The location itself on Duke Street is an up and coming area.
“Vacant sites are quite hard to come by and if you have buildings of a historic nature then it’s preferable to retain and reuse the original structure and bring something back into use.
“We’d always consider working on a similar building.”