Decision to keep the development of the facility in-house will be a blow to Liverpool developer and hotel operator Signature Living which had launched its own high-profile bid. Tony McDonough reports
Liverpool City Council has unveiled plans to transform the historic Croxteth Hall and Country Park into a major tourist attraction – and has shelved plans to outsource it to a private operator.
Plans include more events, including concerts, fairs and artisan markets, as well as new food and drink facilities, doubling the number of annual visitors.
The decision to keep the development of the facility in-house will be a blow to Liverpool developer and hotel operator Signature Living which had launched its own high-profile bid. Another bidder was believed to be Liverpool-based Flanagan Group.
In August last year the council announced a Europe-wide search for a private sector partner to develop what was the former home of there Earls of Sefton as it struggled with the £1m-a-year running costs.
Signature, which operates a number of hotels in the city centre including the Shankly and 30 James Street Hotels, was quick to reveal its plans to transform Croxteth Hall into a major wedding venue.
However, after undergoing a procurement process to find an external operator, the council has decided instead to keep the historic country house estate and develop a visitor and commercial strategy based along the National Trust model.
A report to Liverpool City Council’s cabinet this Friday (23 March) will recommend the authority undergo a major repair programme to the Grade II-listed house as well fund and develop a raft of income generating measures, including:
- A new food, drink and hospitality provision
- Developing the current wedding market
- Operating more frequent events including concerts, seasonal fairs and artisan markets
- Improve facilities for car parking for both day-to-day park users and those attending events
The hall and country park, which also accommodates an adventure playground, gift shop, aerial rope adventure course, horse riding centre and café, currently attracts in excess of 600,000 visits a year but these numbers could double under the new plan.
The city council already successfully manages historic buildings including the Town Hall and St George’s Hall, and in recent years has significantly grown the events programme through a diverse range of cultural activities.
As part of the “invest to earn” strategy the council will establish a new team of event, commercial and marketing professionals to maximise the impact of the investment and turn the 500 acre estate, which also boasts Liverpool’s largest park, into a profit-making attraction.
Another key appointment will be an estate manager responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operation of the site. At the moment the estate costs the council approximately £1m a year, set against an annual income of £600,000, and the report recommends a fund be established to carry out the works.
Discussions are also underway to relocate Myerscough College to a new educational centre which will free up 44 rooms and enable the council to further develop commercial events within the hall.
Cllr Steve Munby, Cabinet Member for City Services, said: “It was clear they (the private bidders) had put considerable thought into how they could satisfy the complex challenges this unique concession required.
“I fully appreciate they will be disappointed not to be given the opportunity to manage the estate but this new commercialisaiton approach to our parks has negated the need for an external operator at Croxteth.
“The fact we are undergoing huge cuts to our budgets has led to a radical rethink of how we run many of our services including our parks. Having already transformed the fortunes of St George’s Hall and the Town Hall fills me with confidence that we can achieve great things at Croxteth to ensure it is enjoyed for generations to come.”