Blackboards to bedrooms: Former Liverpool school sites transformed into housing schemes
Words by Lawrence Saunders
Sourcing significant plots of prime land for housing developments in Liverpool can be difficult, especially in the city’s more sought-after areas. An increasing trend in recent years has seen several former school sites transformed into substantial housing schemes, often located in some of Liverpool’s most desirable postcodes. Your Move takes a look at some of these sites chosen for residential developments, investigating whether the right type of housing stock is being created to meet demand and the knock-on effect this has had for education providers.
The appeal of vacant school sites to developers and housebuilders is obvious. Often large and located in the heart of well-established communities without infringing on public green spaces, plots like these can be hard to find.
When it comes to building on former school sites, one criticism which has previously been leveled at housebuilders is that the housing stock created is too expensive and geared towards the very top end of the market.
In 2014, the Liverpool Housing Partnership was announced by Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson with the remit of “improving and extending” the city’s range of housing options by delivering 600 new homes across the city including 360 for affordable rent and 240 executive properties.
The programme aims to supply the homes by March 2020, with further schemes being brought forward as the partnership seeks to provide a total of 1,500 new houses and 1,000 refurbished properties.
The partnership between the local authority, Redrow, Liverpool Mutual Homes (LMH) and building contractor Willmott Dixon was officially ratified last year before a list of 17 council-owned surplus plots was published which featured several former school sites.
Stand out schemes in the pipeline include the development of Holly Lodge school in West Derby which has been earmarked by Redrow for 51 high end properties, with the former Watergate School in Woolton lined up to become the housebuilder’s exclusive ‘Knights Park’ estate.
Closer inspection of the mechanics of the housing partnership show that land receipts generated from the sale of the council-owned plots are to be ring fenced for future housing investment and to help subsidise social housing developments where the value of the land doesn’t cover the cost of the project.
This approach means the council is therefore not required to fund the programme from its own resources but can instead reinvest the money received to support the delivery of the programme.
In fact, in the case of Holly Lodge and the former Redbridge and Bank View schools (pictured), a proportion of the capital receipts received by the council have been used to fund work on the new school sites.
Redrow has also recently been granted planning permission for 22 homes on the former Ernest Cookson school site in West Derby which will include five affordable properties to be delivered by a housing association.
“School sites are great to develop because you don’t often find sites like that in residential areas,” explains Faye Whiteoak, development director for Redrow in Liverpool.
“It’s unusual to find sites which are that size under one lease or freehold and they are usually in established neighborhoods with quite a large population which is always important when you’re selling houses.
“At the moment there are six sites which we have either purchased or are now in the planning process on which were former school sites. They were sites which were included in the partnership programme because of the demise of the government’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) scheme which went down during the recession.”
Faye dismisses any suggestion that Redrow is given first pick of the more ‘glamorous’ plots, maintaining that some sites naturally fall into the LMH category with others more suited to Redrow.
“You tend to find that housing associations, especially in Liverpool, are quite territorial – meaning they like to operate in certain areas,” she adds.
“For example other associations might want to stay out of areas like Speke because that’s where South Liverpool Homes operates. There are sites which would be interesting but they know that other housing associations operate in that area.”
According to Labour councillor Sharon Connor, who represents the Allerton and Hunts Cross ward, more can be done to provide a mix of both affordable and executive housing in the south of the city.
“We understand there are lots of people struggling to get onto the housing ladder – that’s why we are investing in and supporting affordable housing projects,” she says.
“But the city also lacks executive housing. There are too many people who have well paid jobs in the city but who don’t live here because we don’t have enough executive homes. Our job is to meet all levels of housing market demand in Liverpool.”
It’s not just the Liverpool Housing Partnership which is involved with residential developments on former school sites here in the city region. Housebuilder Countryside is currently on-site at the former Gateacre School on Grange Lane where work is progressing on a mix of 200 three, four and five-bedroom detached and semi-detached homes.
“School sites are great to develop… it’s unusual to find sites which are that size under one lease and they are usually in established neighbourhoods with quite a large population which is always important.”
In 2011 the secondary school relocated from Gateacre to Belle Vale and a state-of-the-art £35 million building with high tech features including wind turbines and a cyber café.
Moving out of an area which had been its home since 1957 was, of course, a big change for Liverpool’s first comprehensive but the switch has proved a positive one according to the school’s deputy headteacher, Catherine Chapman.
“We are now in the heart of our community and closer to our students,” she says. “Due to our new location we are on main transport links to and from the city centre and we are also closer to other areas which may not have felt as ‘local’ in the past, such as Halewood, Huyton and Widnes.”
Although Catherine believes the school has always maintained positive links with the local community, the move to Belle Vale has made it more central and provided it with increased opportunities to work closer with local groups and associations.
“Our BIG Little Library based in Belle Vale Shopping Centre is a prime example of how the school works with its community, providing books, events and workshops all free of charge.”
It’s not just education providers and communities which can benefit from new up to date school buildings like Gatacre – housebuilders alike are also noticing a knock-on impact on property demand in areas chosen for relocated schools.
“With the school sites we have been working on, the schools have been moved to better facilities, usually on the doorstep, and that’s seen as being very attractive for that neighborhood when it comes to selling houses,” Faye adds.
Similar to Liverpool City Council, in 2015 Knowsley Council announced a housing partnership of its own between the local authority, Countryside and LMH to build 583 new homes across the borough ranging from two to five-bedroom properties including some affordable homes available on a Shared Ownership basis.
The partnership identified five former school playing fields and leisure centre sites in the area for housing developments, including the former Mackets School playing fields in Halewood where Countryside is now building 50 new homes.
Alongside this, the council has since earmarked eight former school sites for residential schemes including the former Bowring Comprehensive in Huyton, St Edmund Arrowsmith in Prescot and Stockbridge Comprehensive, to contribute towards the partnership’s target in the future.