Is Liverpool finally regaining its rightful place at the top of the British arts industry?

Sir Paul McCartney speaks at the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts in 2006. Image: Getty.

It was shaping up to be a very exciting summer in Liverpool City Region, especially as far as the TV and film industry is concerned. Not only were we shortlisted – so we thought – In May, to become Channel 4's new UK HQ, but Twickenham Studios also announced, in June, that it would invest £50m to create the Hollywood of the north in Littlewoods Studios in the iconic art deco Littlewoods building, near Liverpool city centre, almost next door to Edge Hill railway station.

Twickenham Studios, which opened in 1913, provided facilities for such blockbuster movies as Blade Runner, The Italian Job, Gandhi and, more recently, The Martian and Baby Driver, as well as TV series such as Black Mirror and McMafia.

Announcing the move, the studio’s chief operating officer Maria Walker said:

“This is a major milestone in our history. When we saw the vision for Littlewoods we knew we had to be a part of what will be an incredibly special place.

“Liverpool’s architecture, accessibility and can-do attitude sees film-makers return to the city time and time again. With the added benefit of our studios, they’ll have access to gold-standard interior facilities right on the doorstep of unique exterior locations. It will be great to see Liverpool become an international focal point for TV and film.” 

As you might expect, many Liverpolitans were very excited about this double dose of good news – not least because Liverpool, as one of the UK's largest cities, is notable for the absence of any significant or national broadcast TV HQ. Look at this fairly random and inexhaustive list:

  • Birmingham has the BBC English Regions HQ, BBC West Midlands, BBC Birmingham Network Production Centre, ITV Central;
  • Bristol has BBC West, BBC Natural History Unit, BBC Bristol Network Production Unit, ITV West;
  • Cardiff has BBC Cymru Wales, BBC Cymru Wales National Production Unit, S4C, ITV Wales;
  • Glasgow has BBC Scotland, BBC Alba, BBC Scotland Network Production Centre, STV;
  • Greater Manchester has BBC Salford, BBC North West, ITV Granada;
  • Leeds has BBC Yorkshire, ITV Yorkshire;

Liverpool currently has… nothing.

Disappointingly, however, Joe Anderson, mayor of the city of Liverpool, tweeted on 23 July that Liverpool had been rejected by Channel 4. He suggested that the decision that the new HS2 railway would bypass of the city may be a significant factor – noting that only the three cities which will be directly connected onto HS2 (that is Birmingham, Greater Manchester and Leeds) would compete to be the home of the new Channel 4 headquarters: 

I have previously written at length about the damage that the HS2 bypass of Liverpool is expected to do to the city and, sadly, this may be an example. It is also worth remembering that a video was published by the Department for Transport, on 29 October 2013, in which Anderson offered strong support for HS2, with this accompanying blurb: "Joe Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool, explains why HS2 is good for Liverpool". Hopefully he has now changed his mind.

Anyway, back to the good news. I have read that Liverpool is the most filmed UK city outside of London already, with film and TV productions recently shot in Liverpool City Region including Fantastic Beasts And Where to Find ThemPeaky Blinders and Victoria, amongst many others. The recent news suggests this will only increase.

And this report by the Office for National Statistics highlights the enormous growth in the film industry in the UK in recent years, showing, for example, that it contributed £7.7bn to our nation's economy in 2016, about four times what it contributed in 2008. Toronto in Canada would be an excellent example for Liverpool City Region to aspire to: the movie/TV industry there is worth about £1.5bn per year to their local economy and here is their film studio district.

This is quite serendipitous for me, personally. Last year I wrote a screenplay titled GOD II (no, it isn't about metro mayor Steve Rotheram), which would be ideally suited to the planned new facilities. I like to do my bit, so I sent it to Twickenham Studios, and they replied positively, stating that they look forward to taking the project forward using Littlewoods Studios – so all we need now is to get a producer on board. I am also currently adapting the screenplay into a novel, if any publisher is interested.

Here’s another piece of local entertainment news, hot off the press: Paul McCartney performed at Liverpool Football Club's world famous Anfield stadium in 2008, as part of Liverpool's very successful year as European Capital of Culture. On 7 June of this year, a decade on, the club reported  that it had submitted two planning applications to Liverpool City Council requesting permission to stage 60,000 capacity music concerts in the future, allowing us to welcome the world's biggest music stars. This is pretty appropriate for Liverpool, given the city's global reputation in the music industry – thanks, in large part, to the great man himself. The club also sought permission to host sports such as American Football. 

One last thing. In May Liverpool City Council, in partnership with Liverpool City Region and Professional Liverpool, backed plans to build more bloody offices in Liverpool city centre. That’s most welcome, too.

@davemail2017 is CityMetic's Liverpool City Region columnist.


Here’s how we plant 2 billion more trees in the UK

A tree in Northallerton, North Yorkshire. Image: Getty.

The UK’s official climate advisor, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), recently published a report outlining how to reduce the 12 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions that come from land use by two thirds by 2050. Alongside recommending cutting meat and dairy consumption by 20 per cent, the report calls for the annual creation of up to 50,000 hectares of broadleaf and conifer woodland for the next three decades. This would increase forest cover from 13 per cent to at least 17 per cent – a level not seen in Britain since before the Norman invasion.

Reforestation at that rate would mean creating roughly the area of the city of Leeds every year for the next three decades. At typical stocking densities of 1,500 stems per hectare, the ambition is to establish some 2.25 billion additional trees. Given that the UK, as with most of Europe, is in the grip of ash dieback, a disease likely to prove fatal for many millions of native ash trees, the scale of the challenge is massive.

On a crowded and intensively farmed island like Britain, unlocking a million and a half hectares of land will be no mean feat. But it’s not impossible – and is an unprecedented opportunity not only to tackle the climate crisis but also the biodiversity crisis that is every bit as detrimental to our wellbeing.

Trees and farms

One million and a half hectares is just 6 per cent of the mainland UK’s land area. To give some sense of perspective on this, 696,000 hectares of “temporary grassland” were registered in 2019. So if land supply is not the problem, what is? Often it’s cultural inertia. Farmers are firmly rooted to the land and perhaps understandably reluctant to stop producing food and instead become foresters. But the choice need not be so binary.

The intensification of agriculture has caused catastrophic declines in many species throughout the UK by reducing vast wooded areas and thousands of miles of hedgerows to small pockets of vegetation, isolating populations and making them more vulnerable to extinction.

Integrating trees with the farmed landscape delivers multiple benefits for farms and the environment. Reforestation doesn’t have to mean a return to the ecologically and culturally inappropriate single-species blocks of non-native conifers, which were planted en masse in the 1970s and 1980s. Incentivised under tax breaks to secure a domestic timber supply, many of the resulting plantations were located in places difficult or in some cases impossible to actually harvest.

Productive farmland needn’t be converted to woodland. Instead, that 4 per cent of land could be found by scattering trees more widely. After all, more trees on farmland is good for business. They prevent soil erosion and the run-off of pollutants, provide shade and shelter for livestock, a useful source of renewable fuel and year-round forage for pollinating insects.

The first tranche of tree planting could involve new hedgerows full of large trees, preferably with wide headlands of permanently untilled soils, providing further wildlife refuge.

Natural regeneration

Where appropriate, new woody habitats can be created simply by stopping how the land is currently used, such as by removing livestock. This process can be helped by scattering seeds in areas where seed sources are low. But patience is a virtue. If people can learn to tolerate less clipped and manicured landscapes, nature can run its own course.

A focus on deliberate tree planting also raises uncomfortable truths. Most trees are planted with an accompanying stake to keep them upright and a plastic shelter that protects the sapling from grazing damage. All too often, these shelters aren’t retrieved. Left to the elements, they break down into ever smaller pieces, and can be swept into rivers and eventually the ocean, where they threaten marine wildlife. Two billion tree shelters is a lot of plastic.

The main reason for using tree shelters at all is because the deer population in the UK is so high that in many places, it is all but impossible to establish new trees. This also has serious implications for existing woodland, which is prevented from naturally regenerating. In time, these trees will age and die, threatening the loss of the woodland itself. Climate change, pests and pathogens and the lack of a coordinated, centrally supported approach to deer management means the outlook for the UK’s existing treescape is uncertain at best.

An ecologically joined-up solution would be to reintroduce the natural predators of deer, such as lynx, wolves, and bears. Whether rewilding should get that far in the UK is still the subject of debate. Before that, perhaps the focus should be on providing the necessary habitat, rich in native trees.

A positive response would be to implement the balanced recommendations, made almost a decade ago in a government review, of creating more new habitat, improving what’s already there, and finding ways to link it together. Bigger, better, and more connected habitats.

But the UK is losing trees at increasing rates and not just through diseases. The recent removal of Victorian-era street trees in Sheffield and many other towns and cities is another issue to contend with. As the climate warms, increasing urban temperatures will mean cities need shade from street trees more than ever.

Trees aren’t the environmental panacea that the politicians might have people believe – even if they do make for great photo opportunities – but we do need more of them. Efforts to expand tree cover are underway across the world and the UK will benefit from contributing its share. Hitting the right balance – some commercial forestry, lots of new native woodland and millions of scattered trees – will be key to maximising the benefits they bring.

Nick Atkinson, Senior Lecturer in Ecology & Conservation, Nottingham Trent University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.