As Liverpool’s Festival Gardens receives new government funding, Mersey Mash looks into the development of the planned garden suburb that has been 35 years in the making. Daniel Williams reports.
It was in 1984 when Liverpool’s Festival Gardens first opened.
Now, almost 35 years later, the garden project has received £10 million from the government to help revitalise the area.
The development for the site has taken many years and has switched ownership a dozen times.
Built in South Liverpool on the banks of the River Mersey, it was originally the site of the International Garden Festival.
The festival was created with the intention to regenerate tourism in Liverpool after the city suffered from industrial decline in the wake of the Toxteth riots.
Described as “a five-month pageant of horticultural excellence and spectacular entertainment”, the gardens were built on a previously derelict 100-acre piece of land, used for the disposing of industrial waste.
The festival consisted of more than 60 gardens, and was originally a huge success, attracting nearly four million visitors.
Despite its popularity, the site closed its doors just a year after opening.
A large part of the site was developed into housing, with the remainder of the area undergoing several projects to build leisure facilities.
None of these projects succeeded though, and the site fell into a state of dereliction in 1997.
Aspirations persisted after the closure, with the hopes of changing the former tip to a potential hotspot in the North West region.
It wasn’t until 2010, 13 years after closing, that work began to revitalise the area.
Developers Langtree renovated the gardens by restoring two pagodas, a moon wall, and added new water features such as lakes and waterfalls.
The land was managed by The Land Trust on behalf of Langtree and was re-opened to the public in 2012.
On the re-opening of the Festival Gardens, the chief executive of The Land Trust, Euan Hall, said: “The people of Liverpool have a wonderful new asset on their doorstep.
“It has taken a lot of goodwill and blood, sweat and tears to get to this point but we expect everyone to be thrilled with the results.
“The gardens are utterly beautiful and will be a significant draw for the local area, the city and indeed the region.”
This draw didn’t last. Just three years after its opening, the site deteriorated.
In 2015, Liverpool City Council purchased the gardens for £6 million with the hope of transforming it into a ‘cultural garden suburb’, however, the body faced a serious challenge to complete this task.
The gardens were left to them in a state of disarray, with large areas of the site overgrown, and a travelling community had moved into the car park.
In fact, the gardens remained in such a state for nearly three more years.
A Liverpool Echo article in September 2018 showed the extent of the damage done to the gardens.
There was damage to a pagoda, vandalism, discarded plastic bottles and a shopping trolley dumped into the garden’s lakes.
Despite this, the council persisted, and two years after their initial takeover, the first major plans on how Festival Gardens could look emerged.
Mock images of the area were released showing plans to install a lighthouse, ferry terminal, and to build 2,500 new homes in the area, along with shops and cafés.
In early 2018, the Otterspool site was given the initial funding it needed to realise this vision, with the council revealing a £1 million plan to survey the site in preparation of a potential £700 million redevelopment.
The plan included investigating what lay below the site and would give the council an idea on how much the development will cost.
This cost was soon realised in a report in October 2018.
It emerged the area needed a high-cost clean-up due to the industrial material left underneath the gardens.
The cost of which had the potential to rise to nearly £29 million.
Between January and February 2019, the gardens were closed to allow further surveying work.
The ground below the site was further explored to assess the suitability of the area and to inform developers how the gardens can be revamped.
Now, after a long development cycle, real progress is starting to be made with fresh government funding.
It was announced that Homes England will be investing £10 million into the project, which can help build 1,500 new family homes.
The Funding comes from the Government’s £450 million Local Authority Accelerated Construction programme.
Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, believes this new funding is vitally important to renovate the gardens. He said: “We welcome this essential financial injection.
“Festival Gardens is a much-loved waterfront location and people have very fond memories of spending time there.
“We are fully aware of the potential the Festival Gardens has and its transformation will be a game-changer for this city’s economy in terms of new homes, construction jobs and growth.”
This sentiment was echoed by the Minister of State for Housing, Kit Malthouse MP.
The Conservative MP, born in Aigburth, thinks the new investment will greatly bolster the North West. He said:
“Delivering the homes Liverpool needs is a crucial element of our plan to build a successful and vibrant Northern Powerhouse.
“I was born and brought up in Liverpool and went to the original garden festival as a child, so I know how much this investment will regenerate a key area of this great city.”
Along with the announcement, Homes England has opened new offices in Mann Island, to collaborate with Liverpool City Region Combined Authority to build more homes.
The Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram, is excited to work alongside the government body.
He said: “I welcome today’s announcements from Homes England which demonstrate a real and ongoing commitment to the Liverpool City Region.
“I am particularly pleased to welcome the co-location of Homes England staff with the Combined Authority, which is the first arrangement of its kind in the country.
“Being physically based together in the same building will facilitate even closer joint working and present opportunities for further projects across the whole city region.”
The new government funding may also be a sign of things to come for Liverpool.
Many Scousers have criticised the lack of investment in the region, believing the Conservative government have neglected the area.
Now though, with new funding from Homes England, it’s possible the region will receive the investment it needs.
The Chairman of Homes England, Sir Edward Lister, believes the cash investment will lead to faster building of homes in the Liverpool region. He said:
“We are determined to use all the resources available to us to make homes happen across England- so I’m thrilled our funding means work can move forward rapidly at this historic site, providing homes for hundreds of families.
“And with Homes England and combined authority experts now working side by side, we expect to further accelerate the construction of new houses across the region.”
There is still a long way to go before the council’s dream to renovate the Otterspool site is realised, however, with fresh government funding, the wheel is finally spinning to transform the former tip into Liverpool’s next great landmark.
(Main image courtesy of Rept0n1x via Wikimedia Commons)