Liverpool’s elected mayor says the city needs to be more ambitious on infrastructure projects and said the ongoing row over World Heritage Status made him ‘frustrated and angry’. Tony McDonough reports
Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson wants to build a bridge across the River Mersey and says the city needs to “think big” if it wants to prosper in the coming decades.
Speaking at an event at the Hilton Hotel in Liverpool city centre, organised by business lobby group, Downtown in Business, Mr Anderson said big infrastructure projects were the norm in countries such as China and should be here, too.
He also said the ongoing dispute between the city and UNESCO over Liverpool’s World Heritage Status sometimes left him “frustrated and angry”.
“I would love to see a bridge from the Garden Festival site to the Wirral,” he said. “People might think that is too ambitious but what did they think about the idea to build the Mersey Tunnels?
“The tunnels will be coming to the end of their natural lives at some point and we have to start thinking ahead. In a Chinese city you can look out of the window and see 20 bridges Why can’t we have that kind of ambition when it comes to major infrastructure.”
World Heritage Status
Speaking in conversation with Downtown chief executive Frank McKenna, the Mayor also delivered a defiant message to UNESCO which has threatened to remove Liverpool’s WHS over proposed new developments. It is particularly concerned about plans to build on Central Docks in Liverpool Waters and the proposed new stadium for Everton FC in Bramley Moore Dock.
Mr McKenna, who has spoken in favour of handing back WHS rather than turn down new investment, remarked that we shouldn’t be dictated to by UNESCO officials who “needed a satnav to find Liverpool”.
Mr Anderson said: “I have tried to make sure that we don’t give UNESCO any reason to think we are not willing to engage with them. But people who have never been to Liverpool are sat on the other side of the world making decisions about WHS.
“No one can tell us we don’t protect out heritage. We have spent half a billion pounds protecting our historic buildings, more than any other city. But we have old docks that aren’t being used as docks any more. The dock wall was built to stop people pilfering on ships but now it is a barrier to the waterfront. I’ll protect some of it but not eight miles of it.
“It is all about getting the balance right and making sure the city develops, modernises and moves forward. I don’t like it when UNESCO makes statements without talking to us first. It sometimes makes me frustrated and angry.”
Invest to earn
He also put up a robust defence of his ‘invest to earn’ strategy which has seen the council, in line with other local authorities, invest in commercial developments and enterprises in order to make up for the catastrophic drop in Government funding due to nine years of austerity.
Last year the council paid around £17m for the Liverpool Central shopping mall and a few years ago acquired the Cunard Building, now its headquarters, for more than £10m. In September it sold its 10% stake in Liverpool John Lennon Airport for £19m – yielding a significant profit on its original £2m stake.
“We bring in £175m a year in Council Tax and the cost of social care alone is £167m. So the next 10 years is about growing our economy to make sure we generate the revenue to help people,” said the Mayor, who is currently serving a second term in office.
“We own the arena and the convention centre as well as the Pullman Hotel. The revenue from the rooms at the Pullman generates £1.6m a year for the city and that helps us keep thing such as children’s centres open.”
Mr Anderson said Liverpool needed to keep working to attract new investment and talked about the importance of building social housing and affordable homes as well as executive homes to keep wealthier investors in the city.
And he said the public and private sectors needed to continue to work together for the good of Liverpool. He urged the pension funds of Merseyside’s public sector workers, which he said were worth around £1.7bn, to invest more in the city region. He added: “They should be using that money to make ethical investments in the city.”
And, addressing the debate over whether Liverpool should have an elected mayor or revert to the council leader model, he said: “We have had a debate internally in the Labour Party about this… but people don’t give a monkey’s as long as we deliver on our promises.
“We are still not close to capacity in terms of the growth of Liverpool. The job is only half done and there is a lot more we can achieve.”