After delays over several years a £70m plan to convert the Art Deco former Littlewoods building in Liverpool into film and TV studios, creating 4,000 jobs, is about to get back on track. Tony McDonough reports
A £70m plan to create a TV and movie-making complex in the former Littlewoods building in Liverpool, creating 4,000 jobs, is set to take a major step forward.
Manchester developer Capital & Centric, which has developed a number of commercial property schemes in Merseyside, has been involved in the project to transform the Littlewoods site off Edge Lane since 2015 and has a 250-year lease.
It converted an adjacent building, The Bunker, to become a hub for creative businesses but the plan to create a ‘Pinewood of the north’ in the main art deco building has met with a number of delays. And there were fears the building would have to be demolished following a blaze in September 2018.
However, a report will be put before the Liverpool City Council cabinet next Friday (December 3) recommending the project be revived, creating film studios, creative office space and new media facilities in two phases.
Approval next week will trigger an £8m remediation of the now dilapidated building, beginning in early 2022. The £8m will come from a £17m funding pot already approved by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and will be given to Capital & Centric to carry out the necessary investigations and works.
Earlier this year, two ‘pop-up’ film studios, collectively known as The Depot, were completed by contractors Morgan Sindall on behalf of the city council, close to the LIttlewoods building. That £3m project was funded from the £17m pot.
Phase one works will take approximately a year and once phase two is fully costed, this could lead to a full development contract. For phase two to proceed a fully-costed funding package is required, with the council and combined authority projecting to both invest £12m and a commercial lender being sought for the balance.
The scheme, which would be subject to planning permission, already has two proposed major anchor tenants – Twickenham Studios and Liverpool John Moores University. The arrangement would provide a direct link between academia and industry in what would be the largest facility of its type in the UK.
The Littlewoods Studios scheme would comprise:
- 85,000 sq ft of studio and ancillary space for Twickenham Film Studios, to be operated by TIME+SPACE Studios.
- 75,000 sq ft of education space proposed for Liverpool John Moores University to deliver a sector-leading Entertainment Technology Centre to ensure local young people develop high-level skills to work in the industry.
- A further 95,000 sq ft of flexible employment space for creative industries, which will be advertised to market for expressions of interest.
It is predicted that The Depot alone will create a £24m economic boost for the regional economy, creating 360 new jobs and 760 indirect jobs and forms part of Liverpool’s 10 post-pandemic pledges to stimulate growth.
Thanks to the work of Liverpool Film Office over a number of years, Liverpool is already the second most filmed city in the UK and is currently hosting illustrious productions such as Sky’s Funny Girl starring Gemma Arterton and Channel 4’s The Curse.
The BBC’s sixth series of Peaky Blinders, Doctor Who, Ridley Road, Netflix’s Stay Close, Sky’s COBRA: Cyberwar and major blockbusters such as Warner Bros’ The Batman and Netflix’s Munich: The Edge of War were also filmed in Liverpool.
However, the drawback for the city has always been the lack of a studio, sound stage and good post-production facilities. This means as soon as the cameras stop rolling, the bandwagon rolls out of town. This project seeks to address that.
Adam Higgins, co-founder of Capital & Centric, said: “This is a pivotal moment for the Littlewoods project and will kickstart activity on site. We’ve worked hard to get to this stage, investing in developing the vision for the site and securing key tenants.
“We can’t underestimate what an important regeneration project this is to Liverpool, which is shown in the support we’ve had from the City Council and Combined Authority. As well as cementing Liverpool’s position at the forefront of the UK’s creative industry, it will bring a shed load of benefits to people living nearby with thousands of jobs and millions invested.”
Councillor Sarah Doyle, Liverpool City Council’s Cabinet member for Economic Development, added: “Liverpool’s offer has blossomed over the past decade to the point that it feels like your bumping into a TV crew every other day or seeing the city on the TV or in the cinema every other week.
“The move from being the ‘go to city’ for exterior shoots to one that can provide productions with the studios and talent supply to match our stunning backdrops is one the city needs to deliver, as the economic and educational benefits are there for all to see.”