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.


How can cities become more bike friendly? The Netherlands offers useful lessons

(Aurore Belot/AFP via Getty Images)

It might seem like cycling is in the DNA of the Netherlands, a country where even the prime minister takes his bicycle to work. But the Dutch haven’t always lived as one with their bikes. In the Amsterdam of the early 1970s, cars were considered the wave of the future. They can be seen filling up squares and streets in historical photographs, and killed an average of over two Amsterdammers per week, including many children.

It is nothing more than an “accident of history” that the Netherlands embraced cycling, says Marco te Brömmelstoet, the director of the Urban Cycling Institute in Amsterdam and a man better known as the city’s cycling professor. Today’s bike rider’s paradise was created after parents and activists took to the streets to protest “child murder” by car. A Saudi oil embargo, rising gas prices, concerns about pollution and anger about the destruction of entire neighbourhoods to build motorways did the rest. 

Amsterdam, 1958. Not a cyclist's paradise. (Keystone/Getty Images)

What’s important about this history is that it can be replicated in other cities, too. Of course, the Netherlands has certain advantages – it’s flat as a pancake, for example. But in the eyes of traffic reformers, the rise of e-bikes (and even cargo bikes) means there’s no excuse for prioritising cars everywhere. 

So how can cities, flat or not, follow Amsterdam’s path to creating places where cycling is a pleasant, safe and common way to get around? The Dutch have some tips. 

Separate bikes from car traffic

Any city could start painting dedicated bike lanes on the streets. But in the Netherlands, those white marks indicating space for cyclists are considered just a minor first step. 

“A line on the road is not enough. Motorists will ignore it,” says Frans Jan van Rossem, a civil servant specialising in cycling policy in Utrecht. If other cities want their residents to choose bikes instead of cars when dodging pandemic-era public transport, protecting them from fast-moving car traffic must be the priority, Van Rossem says. 

The Dutch research institute CROW developed a widely praised design manual for bicycle infrastructure, full of tips for creating these protected lanes: A row of vertical white posts or a curb can serve as a physical separator, for example. Still, cyclists tend to feel safest in a "solitary" path, separated from the road by grass, trees, or an elevated concrete island. 

“The main bottleneck, the main reason why people don’t cycle, is that they don’t feel safe,” Van Rossem notes. “To start, construct separate paths.”

Turn those bike paths into a network

Many cities may have some bike lanes on some streets, but leave cyclists to roll the dice everywhere else. Will conditions still be safe when they turn left or right? Often they have to continue their way without any protected facilities for cyclists. 

“In many cases, cities take fast action, without thinking it through very well,” says Lucas Harms. He leads the Dutch Cycling Embassy, a partnership between the Dutch government and several companies, which promotes Dutch bike knowhow globally. “Don’t build small pieces of bike lane from nothing to nowhere. Think about a network of cycling infrastructure.” 

Utrecht aims to have cyclists within 200 to 300 metres of a connected path anywhere in the city, Van Rossem says. Avoid constructing those paths in sketchy industrial areas, he warns. “A connection through an unattractive area may be fast, but won’t be used a lot.”

Embrace the ‘fietsstraat’, a street where bikes come first

On some streets, drivers have to give up their privileges. (Rick Nederstigt/AFP via Getty Images)

A peculiar Dutch invention called "fietsstraat" (cycling street) holds strong potential for the rest of the world, Kevin Krizek says. He’s a transportation professor from Colorado who spent three years at Radboud University in Nijmegen. 

On cycling streets, cars are “guests”, restricted by a speed limit of 30 kilometres per hour. Drivers are not allowed to pass, so cyclists comfortably dominate the road. In the Netherlands the fietsstraat is usually paved with red asphalt, to resemble a bike path and notify drivers of their secondary status. But creating a cycling street can be easy. “All you need to do is put signs at intersections,” Krizek says. The effect is revolutionary in his view. Drivers have to give up their privileges, and cyclists can take the lead. 

Some Dutch traffic experts worry the cycling street won’t work if a city doesn’t also have a robust cycling culture. In the Netherlands, drivers are aware of the perils of urban cycling because they too use bicycles. Moreover, Dutch cities use sophisticated “circulation plans” to direct cars away from city centres and residential areas, onto a few main routes. 

Without “calming” traffic this way, the cycling street could be a step too far, Harms says. “In a city like New York, where all roads are equally accessible and full, it’s better to separate bicycles and cars,” he says.

Redesign intersections for cyclists' safety

If cyclists have to cross intersections “at the mercy of the Gods”, you’re not there yet, says Harms. When he travels abroad, he often finds clumsily designed crossings. As soon as cars turn, cyclists may fear for their lives. 

Harms recommends placing physical barriers between cars and bikes in places where they must cross. The Dutch build elevated islands to direct traffic into separate sections. The golden rule: cars wait behind bicycles. That way, drivers can see cyclists clearly at all times. Barriers also force Dutch cyclists to turn left in the safest way possible. They cross the street first and wait for their turn again before making their way left.

“You can create that with simple temporary measures,” Harms says. Planters work fine, for example. “They must be forgiving, though. When someone makes a mistake, you don’t want them to get seriously injured by a flower box’s sharp edge.”

Professor Krizek points out how the Dutch integrated cycling routes into roundabouts. Some are small; some are big and glorious, like the Hovenring between Eindhoven and Veldhoven, where cyclists take a futuristic-looking roundabout lifted above the highway. Most of those traffic circles move high volumes of cars and cyclists through intersections efficiently and safely. For a simpler solution, the Dutch manual suggests guiding cyclists to quieter streets – crossing a block up or down may be safer. “Nobody knows how to do intersections better than the Dutch,” says Krizek. 

Ban cars, or at least discourage them

A man rides down from a three-level bicycle parking garage near Amsterdam's main train station. (Timothy Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

The quickest, most affordable way to make a city more bikeable is to ban cars, says Ria Hilhorst, cycling policy advisor for the City of Amsterdam. It will make streets remarkably safe – and will most likely enrage a significant amount of people. 

Amsterdam doesn’t outlaw cars, but it does deliberately make their owners feel unwelcome in the historic city’s cramped streets. Paid parking is hugely effective, for example. Many car owners decide to avoid paying and use bicycles or public transportation for trips into the city. Utrecht, meanwhile, boasts the world’s largest bicycle parking garage, which provides a dizzying 12,500 parking spots.

To further discourage drivers from entering the city’s heart, Amsterdam will soon remove more than 10,000 car-parking spaces. Strategically placed barriers already make it impossible to cross Amsterdam efficiently by car. “In Amsterdam, it is faster to cross the city on a bike than by car,” Harms says. “That is the result of very conscious policy decisions.”

Communicate the benefits clearly

Shopkeepers always fear they will lose clients when their businesses won’t be directly accessible by car, but that’s a myth, says Harms. “A lot of research concludes that better access for pedestrians and cyclists, making a street more attractive, is an economic boost.”

Try replacing one parking space with a small park, he recommends, and residents will see how it improves their community. Home values will eventually rise in calmer, bike-friendlier neighbourhoods without through traffic, Van Rossem says. Fewer cars mean more room for green spaces, for example.

“I often miss the notion that cycling and walking can contribute a lot to the city. One of the greatest threats to public health is lack of exercise. A more walkable and bikeable city can be part of the solution,” says Ria Hilhorst. “But in many countries, cycling is seen as something for losers. I made it, so I have a car and I’m going to use it, is the idea. 

“Changing this requires political courage. Keep your back straight, and present a vision. What do you gain? Tranquility, fewer emissions, health benefits, traffic safety, less space occupied by vehicles.” 

Again, she points to Amsterdam’s history. “It is possible; we were a car city too.”

Karlijn van Houwelingen is a journalist based in New York City.