Experts hired to create a ‘new vision’ for Port Sunlight

Urban design experts Planit-IE have been tasked with creating a ‘new vision’ for Port Sunlight in Wirral and a public consultation is being held in the next couple of days. Tony McDonough reports

Port Sunlight
Port Sunlight was built by industrialist William Hesketh Lever more than 130 years ago. Picture by Tony McDonough

 

Urban design experts have been tasked with creating a new public realm strategy for one of Liverpool city region’s most picturesque areas – Port Sunlight Village.

Located in Wirral, Port Sunlight is a village built 130 years ago on former marshland by industrialist William Hesketh Lever to house his workers from his soap factory and their families. It comprises 900 Grade II-listed buildings within 130 acres of parkland.

It now welcomes 300,000 visitors a year and includes the Lady Lever Art Gallery, a visitor centre and the Gladstone Theatre. Its 1,100 residential properties are home to 2,065 people.

In 2019, the Port Sunlight Village Trust (PSVT) secured £53,200 in funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to launch its five-year strategic plan, which aims to articulate a “dynamic new vision”.

Now PSVT has appointed urban designers and landscape architects Planit-IE to develop a new public realm strategy for Port Sunlight. The brief was developed in partnership with Wirral Council who have a shared responsibility for the village’s public realm.

Public realm plays a fundamental role in how well places function and our perception and understanding of them. For PSVT, the commissioning of a public realm strategy represents a significant step in the organisation’s strategic plan’.

Since the launch of the plan in 2019, a lot of work has gone on behind the scenes to support the development of a new masterplan for the village. The staff and board have worked with external organisations to develop their thinking.

Port Sunlight
Port Sunlight in Wirral is home to more than 2,000 people. Picture by Tony McDonough
Port Sunlight
A bowling green at Port Sunlight in Wirral. Picture by Tony McDonough

 

These include Chris Blandford Associates, Creative Heritage Consultants, L&R Consulting, Outside Studios, Donald Insall Associates, the University of Manchester, EMBED and the Disability Collaborative Network, and The Environment Partnership.

During the last two years, and in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, PSVT has identified new uses for its public buildings and spaces, improved its understanding of the significance and meaning of the site.

It has started to adopt a fresh approach to interpreting the village’s heritage, increased its knowledge of the condition and needs of Port Sunlight’s heritage assets, and taken time to reflect on its role in combatting climate change and social injustice.

Paul Harris, chief executive of PSVT, said: “This public realm strategy represents the final piece of our masterplan, bringing all of these elements together to form an exciting new vision for the village.

“It is a vision that protects the heritage character and value of the site whilst also ensuring that the village is relevant and an inclusive and welcoming place for all. We are very excited about Port Sunlight’s future and delighted to be working with Planit-IE.”

PSVT and the Planit-IE team have planned two days of public consultation starting today, Friday, October 15, and on Saturday, October 16. It takes place on the museum green opposite the main Port Sunlight Museum off King George’s Drive in the village.

Anna Couch, studio director of Planit-IE, added: “When it was first conceived and developed Port Sunlight was an exemplar model village which raised expectations for the quality of workers housing, with values centred on health and well-being at the heart of its vision.

“We are keen to explore how this original vision still resonates and translates in the 21st Century”

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