Few with any aesthetic sensibilities can doubt that Peel Holdings are Britain’s worst developer.
It has developed Media City UK at Salford winner of this years Carbuncle Cup and other equally dreadful waterside schemes such as its Thamemead on Cylde scheme Glasgow Harbour, past winner of Scotlands own equivalent to the carbuncle cup.
What is most shocking is Peel Holdings utter indifference to making quality places, indeed their is only a single sell – jobs and regeneration never mind the quality, property development for property developments sake.
This would make them simply a cause for disappointment were it not for the massive power and influence that Peel Holdings, based in the tax haven of the Isle of Man, have based on their land holdings in the North West of England and the extent of regulatory capture they have over the political institutions both locally in the North West and now nationally.
Peel holdings have two massive projects in Merseyside at Birkenhead docks and at Liverpool Waters, directly north of the Pierhead World Heritage site. These are projects on a Shanghai scale. They also have major interests owning the Manchester Ship Canal and land alongside it as well as the Manchester Ship Canal. All of these projects have been wrapped up under the ‘Atlantic Gateway’ rubric.
The only thing holding together the ‘Atlantic Gateway’ proposal is Peels landholdings, in large part it is a proposal to extend housing growth along a corridor between Liverpool and Manchester which risks diverting attention from the city centres. For that reason Manchester authorities have circumspect.
Peel Holdings have had greatest leverage in Liverpool where Liverpool Council Leader Joe Anderson has been a firece promoter of the Liverpool waters scheme, even in the face of grave concerns expressed by English Heritage and Unesco. Peel holdings have also funded a number of astroturf business and other groups to support the project hiring politically connected individuals to lead the effort.
This was conceived by Peel Holdings and pressed heavily on the former North West RDA. They then adopted the concept and signed an agreement with Liverpool and Manchester in March 2010. With the demise of the RDA peel submitted a proposal for a LEP covering the entire corridor, their ambition would be for this to take over planning powers. Following opposition it dropped the idea in September 2010.
None the less it did not stop the lobbying. The Hesiltine/Lehy report on Liverpool for BIS this October stated
Government should offer in-principle and practical support for the Atlantic Gateway proposition, including senior level engagement and co-investment
through strategic infrastructural investment, this corridor will become a major driver of national economic development and growth;
There are good ideas here, including expanding Liverpool at Sefton (also owned by Peel by the way), developing key logistics facilities along the ship canal and better road/rail connections to ports.
Heseltine has clearly caught the ear of the Chancellor as his speech said that the government would help turn, “Atlantic Gateway into a reality”. Despite the verbal mention from Osborne, there is no reference to the Atlantic Gateway in the Treasury’s full 98-page written report.
What is concerning about the proposal is not the infrastructure vision or the potential for private sector and international investment but how this tempting bait is being used to promote, and bypass normal planning controls, proposals for bog standard and very poor quality developments, of which Liverpool waters is prime example. For example no less that six enterprise zones cover Peel Holdings sites.
The Liverpool Waters proposal is backed to the hilt by the leader of Liverpool City Council despite Unesco threatening to withdraw World Heritage status if it goes ahead.
Why would anyone refurbish a listed building at risk in Liverpool for offices if you have 100% capital relief and 5 year business rate relief for a new office at Liverpool Waters. All the proposal will do is suck investment from the adjoining city centre leaving its heritage to rot.
Once Osbourne’s proposals go ahead then English Heritage will have a duty to promote ‘sustainable development’ defined in the NPPF to include demolition of listed buildings. Even proposals harmful to the setting of World Heritage sites will need to be ‘weighed’ against economic benefits by English Heritage, who now may be liable for costs on appeal. This is effectively a way of silencing them. Rather than bodies being able to offer rigorously independent advice specific to their domain they will have to carry out the kind of balancing exercise that should be the role of the final decision maker.