Here’s why we should Build More Bloody Offices in Liverpool

Moorfields: the new Whitehall? Image: Geograph.co.uk/creative commons.

I recently saw an excellent slogan which mainly speaks to a particularly difficult issue for our friends in London: “BUILD MORE BLOODY HOUSES”. Me, being creative, I made up a Liverpool version: “BUILD MORE BLOODY OFFICES”.

Good, eh? Is there a correlation here? Could Liverpool and London help each other out? Is it time for a ‘radical’ idea, again? Oh, and did you know that Liverpool is geographically at the centre of the UK?

According to the Office for National Statistics, as at 31 March 2017, there were 78,070 civil servants working in London, plus nearly as many again working in the neighbouring East or South East regions.

Now, we are not greedy around here, so if we helpfully volunteered to move about a third of these, which is about 40,000 jobs, to the eminently suitable, and massively cheaper, Liverpool city centre then we could help to cool down the overheating London and South East economy and, indeed, spread the love to Liverpool City Region.

I have even identified the perfect location in Liverpool’s Central Business District (CBD), along Pall Mall (yes, Liverpool has got one too). This picture shows that it is crying out for, say, eight state-of-the-art purpose built Grade ‘A’ office blocks to be built there.

Image: Google.

Moorfields underground station is less than five minutes’ walk from here and is a hub station of the Liverpool Underground; what’s not to like?

We just need the City of Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson or the Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram to incentivise the building of the required office blocks, like other cities have done. Or better still, they could collaborate to achieve the goal together given that it would enormously benefit the whole of the Liverpool City Region and our residents.

From Moorfields station our new Liverpolitan Civil Servants could commute easily and quickly to almost anywhere within Greater Liverpool, which alone has a population of towards 3m people, and where there is a very wide variety of housing, locations and lifestyles available. For example, if some employees wanted to live adjacent to one of our many golden beaches, the Liverpool u derground runs alongside many of them, like: Birkdale, where the links hosting the 2017 Open Golf Championship, Royal Birkdale Golf Club is; or Hoylake, where the host of the 2014 host Open Golf Championship, Royal Liverpool Golf Club, is; or Crosby beach, pictured here:

 

Another Place, by Anthony Gormley, on Crosby Beach. Image: Chris Howells/Wikimedia Commons.

Birkdale is currently 38 minutes from Moorfields station on the Liverpool Underground; Hoylake is 27 minutes; and Crosby Beach 15 minutes, for example. And these travel times will be reduced when the brand new train fleet is rolled out across the network in 2020. 

Or maybe some employees would prefer to live in the city centre’s Georgian Quarter, which I expect a few would be able to afford to, despite it being quite expensive. It will be only four minutes from Moorfields station on the Liverpool Underground when St James station re-opens; or about five minutes on a City Bike; or about a 20 minute walk to Pall Mall.

Hope Street is a past winner of the Academy of Urbanism ‘Best Street’ Award. It connects our two cathedrals and is the High Street for the Georgian Quarter. It is a sought after place to live and there are some fine old pubs, restaurants and theatres in the beautiful streets around there, if you like that sort of thing.

Some employees could even choose to live in Liverpool Marina, which is also in the city centre, adjacent to the Arena and Conference Centre, and is just six minutes on the Liverpool Underground from Moorfields station; or about 10 minutes on a City Bike; or about a 30 minute scenic walk along the waterfront to Pall Mall.

Or, if anyone wants an epic lifestyle in a loft-style apartment, it would be hard to beat the gigantic and dramatic Grade II listed Tobacco Warehouse, at Stanley Dock, the largest brick building in the world when it was built in 1901. There are 12 trains per hour on the Liverpool underground in each direction here, and it will be just three minutes from Moorfields station when Vauxhall station opens; about five minutes on a City Bike; or about a 15 minute walk to Pall Mall. 

So, there is certainly something for everyone around here, including lots of high calibre cultural attractions; Liverpool was the 2008 European Capital of Culture after all, and there is even some top class sport, if you are that way inclined.


The official Liverpool City Region is also home to about 60,000 students, across three universities (more, in Greater Liverpool), including the Russell Group University of Liverpool, one of the country’s original “red brick” universities, founded in 1881. That’s not to mention our other Higher Education institutions, such as the magnificent and world renowned Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine , as supported by Bill Gates, who even went to the trouble of visiting what is the world’s oldest such institution, to show his support, with the then chancellor George Osborne, back in 2016. So there are plenty of future potential Civil Service employees to choose from too, and it would save them the trouble of having to move to London to get a job.

We just need a few very influential people to adopt and implement this idea, or at the very least a watered down version of it. It could be transformational for Liverpool City Region and would definitely save the taxpayer a ton of money. They could even employ some local people.

Having said all that, maybe we should be greedy after all, as other places are, and lobby hard to become our country’s new political capital. Liverpool is certainly a beautiful enough city to comfortably fulfil such a role, and the Peel-owned £5.5bn Liverpool Waters development, adjacent to the city centre’s Central Business District, would be a very suitable, stunning setting. It’s inherently secure too, as there is already an enormous dock wall surrounding the site. ‘Government City’, anyone? A 21st century capital, both literally and symbolically facing out to the wide world.

One last thing. May I draw your attention to this enlightening 2011 report titled “Rebalancing Britain: Policy or slogan? Liverpool City Region - Building on its Strengths”, written by Lord Heseltine and Sir Terry Leahy

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.

 
 
 
 

Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.


Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.