by John P. Houghton
THE ‘Anfield Project’ regeneration proposals look great on paper, but making them a reality requires long-term commitment from the council, the club – and the fans.
Liverpool City Council, the football club and ‘Your Housing Group’ have just released their long-awaited draft plans for the regeneration of the Anfield area.You can view them here: www.anfieldproject.co.uk
The ‘Anfield Project’ includes the expansion of the stadium – following FSG’s decision to re-develop rather than re-locate – and promises much more: 250 new and 500 refurbished homes; a big push to create 700 new jobs by attracting new employers and helping local businesses to grow; a ‘training hotel’ to help local people into work; and a ‘food hub’ centred on Stanley Park.
The proposals signal an end to two decades of uncertainty about the future of Anfield.
If implemented, they should start to reverse the damaging legacy of the ‘Housing Market Renewal’ programme, which emptied dozens of streets and demolished hundreds of good quality homes. The sudden abolition of the programme by the Coalition government left Anfield in a state of limbo and fuelled local frustration at another failed promise of regeneration.
The new proposals are light years ahead of housing market renewal. They promise a much more sophisticated and innovative programme, and the overall approach is in line with Mayor Joe Anderson’s welcome commitment to redevelop more homes than are demolished in the city.
EASIER SAID THAN DONE…..
That said, the promise of regeneration is very different from the reality. It’s the difference between a manager ‘guaranteeing’ a top-four finish and the team actually delivering one – a lot can, and usually does, go wrong in between.
That’s especially true of the current proposals, for two reasons. The first is the economic climate. According to a House of Commission special inquiry into regeneration, around 90% of regeneration projects have stalled or been scrapped entirely over the past few years.
The most dramatic example of this malaise is the Bradford Hole. What was supposed to be a shiny new Westfield shopping centre, Bradford’s equivalent of Liverpool ONE, is a derelict gash in the city centre that nobody can afford to fill, never mind re-develop.
Nationally, the current rate of house-building is at its lowest since the 1920s and there are few signs that the property development market is picking up, outside of a few marquee locations, mostly in London and the South East. The old regeneration model doesn’t work anymore because lenders aren’t lending, house builders aren’t building and house buyers aren’t buying.
So the club and the council are trying to do something very ambitious in a very difficult climate, at a time when people’s faith in regeneration has been tested to destruction. In places like Anfield, scarred by housing market renewal, ‘regeneration’ isn’t a promise: it’s a threat. See the Echo’s coverage of the “mixed reaction” to the plans for proof.
The second complicating factor is the nature of what’s being proposed. Put simply, building or redeveloping a sports stadium isn’t a great way to deliver urban regeneration. It’s easy to think of a new football stadium as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of a regeneration programme, but that’s rarely the case.
Often, they have the opposite effect – displacing low-income tenants through short-term demolition and longer-term gentrification. Look at the controversy over the Carpenter’s estate in Newham, just over the road from the Olympic stadium, the mixed fortunes of the Plaine Saint-Denis redevelopment in Paris, part of the 1998 World Cup legacy, and the protests that have erupted in Brazil over the ballooning costs of next year’s World Cup.
Earlier this year, I completed a piece of work on the regeneration of the neighbourhoods around one of the biggest football stadiums in the world. The area is a decade ahead of where Anfield is now. The local authority and developers had ambitious plans for using the redevelopment of the stadium as the catalyst for a wider process of urban renewal.
The stadium wouldn’t just be an occasional sporting venue. It would be a cultural hub, the centre of a resurgent local economy, creating new jobs and businesses, and a tourist attracting on non-match days – similar in many ways to the Anfield Project proposals.
The project hadn’t – yet – met those goals. There remained a big gap between the mini-economy of the stadium and the surrounding, low-income local economy. The redevelopment delivered a new stadium, more visitors and increased commercial activity – but these changes had been slow to translate into tangible improvements for local residents.
This is true of most regeneration projects based on large-scale physical re-development. So when looking at the ‘Anfield Project’ plans, we need to borrow one of the rules from Moneyball: the best indication of future achievement is past performance, not the projection of ambitions. We can imagine an amazing future for Anfield, like we imagined Bruno Cheyrou could become the next Zidane.
But experience tells us that we have to get a lot of things right, to make regeneration work for the residents who most need better homes, facilities and jobs. New buildings, whether they’re stadiums or shopping malls, don’t get people into work, improve the schools or make housing quality homes more affordable.
MAKING THE DIFFERENCE
The Anfield plans are out for consultation, so I’d suggest a few things could improve then further.
The first is the need to attract some serious economic players, in addition to the football club, with the potential for generating jobs and attracting additional inward investment. There is a brief mention of attracting “significant employers”, but this needs to be pursued aggressively and relentlessly.
A good example is the Kings Cross development in London. Argent, the lead developer, has attracted a number of major ‘anchor tenants’ including Google, the Guardian and Central St. Martin’s College – a global tech company, a major media outfit and an academic institution.
Second, it’s important to create a buzz in the area, especially on non-match days. Most of the spaces around stadiums are zombie zones, not places you want to spend your spare time. They need animating, through public art (whether you liked the ‘Super Lambananas’ or not, they got people talking and brightened up a few boring corners of the city) and support for local community projects. This kind of buzz also boosts local shops and trades.
The , in the old Mitchells bakery on the corner of Oakfield Road, is a great example of a bottom-up initiative bringing new life, energy and colour to Anfield. The project is backed by Liverpool Biennial, which knows all about bringing places to life.
Linked to the need to create a buzz is the importance of decent transport connections. The draft proposals say very little about this. The mention of a ‘Park & Ride’ scheme is actually about horse riding in Stanley Park! Making Anfield more accessible is going to be important for residents, casual visitors and businesses.
Finally, successful regeneration programmes stick to their original ambitions. The draft Anfield Project proposal states that:
“The ambition is for neighbourhood renewal of national importance based on local interests with strong community involvement.”
That last bit is key. Regeneration ultimately has to be about local residents. They need to be involved in as equal partners every decision when they’re not taking decisions for themselves. The best examples of neighbourhood renewal come about when the people are in charge. Look at the Eldonians in Liverpool or Shirley Porter’s nemesis, Walterton and Elgin Community Homes in Westminster.
And yet the commitment to community involvement often gets dropped when residents don’t do as they’re told. The draft plans refer to Community Interest Companies and Land Trusts; encouraging these kinds of community-owned structures should help ensure that residents are in the lead.
PAYING DOWN THE DEBT
In financial terms, Liverpool is no longer a club mired in debt. But as a part of the local community, it has a debt to the Anfield area. The club isn’t to blame for the decline of Anfield over the years, but the interminable indecision over the re-development / re-location of the stadium was a major contributory factor.
The fans have also got a role to play; in supporting the efforts of Anfield residents and holding the council and the club to their commitments. The support that TAW, alongside fan forums and websites, gave to Homebaked’s successful fundraising drive to buy a new oven is a neat example of how the global fan base can help deliver local change.
It’s easy, when thinking about big redevelopment plans, to look up to the ‘big players’: the council, the housebuilders, the ‘decision makers’. But the activism of Liverpool fans in recent years, helping to get rid of Hicks and Gillett and now campaigning for affordable ticket prices, reminds everyone that the club ultimately belongs to the people. It should be the same for the streets and houses around Anfield.
After so many false dawns and broken promises, LFC fans everywhere can help the residents of Anfield get the future they deserve.