Melwood: What next for the LFC training ground… family homes?
As Liverpool Football Club’s (LFC) first team training ground since the 1950s Melwood has long been a major presence in West Derby, so when LFC recently announced plans to relocate to Kirkby it came as a shock to many.
What happens to the near 10-acre site if or when the club moves on is now a hot topic. A development of 160 family homes has been suggested but is this what the area needs?
Words by Lawrence Saunders
Just days after agreeing a six-year extension to his contract as Liverpool manager last year, Jürgen Klopp was reiterating his desire to bridge the gap between the club’s two training bases – the Academy in Kirkby and Melwood in West Derby.
Fast-forward to February 2017 and the club announced plans to bring LFC’s first team and academy training operations together on one site in Kirkby.
Subject to planning permission for the £50 million project, the Reds’ senior squad will vacate their historic West Derby base during the summer of 2019 – leaving behind a prime piece of land which the club says can provide space for “much needed new family homes in the city”.
A consultation over the plans has recently been conducted, inviting local residents to submit their views on the proposals which, at this stage, include a development of 160 family homes with vehicular access from Melwood Drive, Crown Road and Deysbrook Lane.
Initial reaction to the news has been mixed.
“It would be a sorry day for West Derby if the training facilities of this world-renowned club were shifted elsewhere,” says Stephen Guy, chairman of the West Derby Society, which has been raising awareness about the district and assisting with planning issues since 1977.
“There is talk going around that the reason the move to Kirkby has come up is because of the new West Derby Medical Centre which has been built almost opposite the entrance to Melwood and is causing some traffic disruption.
“We’re suggesting to the club that it moves the entrance to the training ground round to the much quieter Crown Road where the old entrance was some years ago.”
Despite the society’s opposition to the plans and its suggestion of an alternative resolution, it appears the club is fully committed to the Kirkby move.
Councillor Tony Conception, a Labour representative for the Yew Tree ward where the training ground is located, met with LFC in March to discuss residents’ concerns over the plans to leave Melwood but has admitted to Your Move that he doesn’t expect the club will stay.
With LFC’s mind seemingly made up, thoughts turn to the residential potential of the site and what type of housing would be a good fit for the area.
According to the manager of a long-established estate agent in nearby West Derby Village, any new homes won’t be on the market for long with a strong demand for property in the area being reported.
“There is certainly a shortage of houses for sale in L12 at the moment,” says Leah O’Neill, branch manager at Sutton Kersh.
“On average, we’re getting between 30 and 40 applicants registering every week for properties – the vast majority being first-time buyers – but the supply just isn’t meeting demand.”
Leah is hopeful any developer who takes on the site will be sympathetic to the budgets of those applicants and will design the scheme accordingly with a mix of affordable homes alongside some larger detached properties for families looking to upsize.
Others are less willing to consider the possibility of a residential development on Melwood.
“We [West Derby Society] don’t believe that West Derby can hold very much more new housing,” says Stephen, referencing Bellway’s nearby Bellefield development and Redrow’s Regency Manor scheme on the former Holly Lodge school site.
“We don’t oppose new housing in the right circumstances but our feeling is that the infrastructure of West Derby cannot support housing on this particular site.
“160 new houses would put an intolerable strain on the roads and the schools nearby. Several of the schools in the area surrounding the site are full and there are no new ones planned.”
Another established estate agent in the village agrees that people are disappointed to see LFC moving out of the area and has noted a particularly negative reaction to the news.
“I can’t see [luxury] housing being built on Melwood… I think it’s going to be more family oriented and will hopefully reflect people’s budgets in the area.”
However in spite of this, Peter Bellamy at Northwood is keen to focus on the positives of any future development, both on a commercial level and for prospective homebuyers.
“As an estate agent I think it’s quite encouraging news – there are opportunities with any new development for business to come your way,” says Peter, director at Northwood.
“Even if it’s not with the housebuilder directly then there can be opportunities which spring off it with part-exchange and things like that.”
Peter believes the fact that West Derby tends to be quite appealing to young and growing families means affordability would be an issue with any development.
With this in mind, does he envisage another luxury scheme similar to the nearby Bellefield development on Everton FC’s old training ground, where prices start just north of £330,000?
“I can’t see that sort of housing being built on Melwood,” adds Peter.
“The vast majority of stock around the training ground is three-bedroom semi-detached so if its going to be in-keeping with the character of the area then that’s the sort of stock that we are going to want to see.
“I think it’s going to be more family orientated – two, three and four-bedroom houses – and will hopefully reflect people’s budgets in the area because we know from our own data what their potential budgets are.”
Cllr Conception confirms that no decision has yet been made on what kind of demographic the development will be aimed at ahead of the scheme going out to tender but, like Leah, Peter is hopeful the needs of local residents will be considered.
“If you were looking to tailor a development on the Melwood site to prospective applicants in the area then you would be aiming at between £150,000 to £200,000.
“That range of budgets would fit a lot of pockets and it would be nice to think it would be something like that, but I don’t know.”