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Renaissance man

Civil engineer, businessman and next ICE president Joe Dwyer has spent the last year pulling together a plan to end decades of urban decline in his home town, Liverpool. He talks to Andrew Bolton about the lessons of past regeneration failures and the dou

LATER THIS month, Liverpool City Council is expected to agree plans for a £2bn city centre makeover which, it hopes, will help put the metropolis back on the map as one of Britain's premier cities.

Put simply the plan is to improve Liverpool's transport infrastructure, redevelop the huge swathes of derelict city centre buildings and promote new development in the draughty spaces along the city's river front around Pier Head and the famous Liver Building.

Much of the success of these plans depends on the efforts of Joe Dwyer, ICE's next president, Liverpudlian and recently retired chairman of Wimpey, the housebuilder and former civil engineering giant.

A year ago Dwyer returned from London to his home town after a 17 year absence. He had been persuaded to lead the new urban task force for the city by former ICE president and English Partnerships chairman Sir Alan Cockshaw.

The task force was established last summer after Environment Minister Richard Caborn named Liverpool, along with Sheffield and east Manchester , as priority areas for urban regeneration. Cockshaw knew Dwyer and persuaded him to take on the job.

'He knew I was retiring from Wimpey, ' says Dwyer. 'With Liverpool being one of the priority areas, knowing I was a Liverpudlian, he asked me if I would chair an urban taskforce to regenerate the city.'

He admits to having initial misgivings about returning to Liverpool, not least because the city's track record of political instability had paralysed efforts to end the decline of one of Britain's great maritime cities.

But after meeting North West Regional Development Agency chief executive Mike Shields, Mike Storey the leader of Liverpool City Council and David Henshaw its chief executive, Dwyer felt more relaxed.

'I got the impression that there was political stability in the city, and all the signs were that the agencies, from the Government down, had the same agenda, ' he says.

But chairing the new regeneration company, now christened Liverpool Vision, meant being determined to learn from previous regeneration failures. These include the Garden Festival of the early 1980s and the more recent redevelopment of the Albert Dock, just south of Pier Head. Both were piecemeal efforts, too far from the city centre, whose shops and businesses drive the local economy.

Dwyer also wanted to ensure that conflicting political and business factions did not undermine the regeneration strategy.

To do this, he has used his experience as a senioe executive and contractor - developer to drive the redevelopment plan forward through consensus.

He set up a powerful board of directors to represent a cross section of business, political and public sector interests. Its members include Shields, Storey and Henshaw plus Liverpool City Council's Labour opposition leader Gideon Ben-Tovin.

Other directors are Littlewoods chairman James Ross, fashion retailer David WadeSmith, Maritime Housing Association chief executive Andrea Titterington, English Partnerships development director David Shelton, Tesco chief executive Tony Leahy and shadow Strategic Rail Authority chief executive Mike Grant He also decided that Liverpool Vision should be 'a management company, a delivery mechanism for urban regeneration' rather than a development corporation.

His belief is that development corporations often get bogged down in turf wars with local councils. He prefers to see the regeneration company help the council rather than compete with it.

Dwyer puts Liverpool's past regeneration failures down to the fact that it has never produced a clear strategic plan of what is needed and where. This, he says, accounts for developers fighting shy of putting money into the city.

For example, says Dwyer, it explains why Lime Street in the city centre has suffered. Most of its shops and cinemas stand empty and Dwyer points out that a developer recently pulled out of building a multiplex cinema because there were numerous outstanding planning applications for cinemas elsewhere in the centre.

His first step was to ask consultant BDP to assess the potential of the city's buildings and infrastructure. Then early this year he appointed a high powered consortium of master planners, led by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to develop the strategic framework to revitalise the city centre over the next 20 years.

Just as important, Dwyer launched a major public consultation exercise, recruiting 100 volunteers representing a cross section of the population. They act as the sounding board for the redevelopment strategy.

'We trained them, took them through urban planning workshops and showed them examples of regeneration in cities like Leeds and Manchester, ' he says.

Consultation has been going on over the last six months, and has had a major impact on the shaping of the strategy. In one instance the consultation group forced the consultants to rethink the idea of building an imposing landmark structure like Bilbao's aluminiumclad Guggenheim Museum on the waterfront alongside Pier Head's traditional mercantile buildings.

The final strategy is due to go before the city council by the end of the month.

The next, tricky, phase will involve persuading private investors to develop schemes which fit this strategy.

Developers have long been sceptical about investing in Liverpool despite the fact that it's 130,000m 2of city centre retail space generates some of the highest revenues in the country, evidence that more shops are needed.

But Liverpool has a reputation for being a difficult place in which to get projects off the ground, and this has always put developers off in the past.

It is hoped that the current period of stability under the leadership of its Liberal Democrat mayor will help. One of Liverpool's major employers, Ford's Halewood factory, also appears to have shaken off its reputation for poor industrial relations.

Consequently Dwyer believes the attitudes of property developers have started to change in the last five years.

Liverpool Vision has also just held a competition for a £369M project to turn the vast area of derelict streets and buildings in the city centre into shops and flats, to accommodate a 40% expansion of the shopping district. Most of the major property developers put in bids before Grosvenor Estates won.

Dwyer is determined to maximise the amount of private finance that is put into the city's redevelopment, believing the city has, in the past, grown up on a 'culture of dependency' on public subsidy. He believes this over reliance on state and European aid has caused property values in Liverpool to fall, undermining investors' confidence.

But he also believes that some public money will be needed to develop the transport infrastructure necessary to complement development. He estimates that from the £2bn he hopes to attract to the city, £490M will come from central Government, or from the European Union.

Some European money is already being spent on improving the streets where the Grosvenor retail area will be.

More public money is expected to go into improvements to the city's underground railway network, possibly involving the reopening of disused dock railway tunnels and construction of a new underground station for the shopping district. The SOM team has also suggested reopening another disused tunnel to take lorries to the container port north of the centre.

There is also talk of a light rail scheme with lines to the northern and southern suburbs, and of plans to reorganise the city centre's road network, which has been allowed to isolate key parts of the centre, hampering pedestrian movement.

Much now depends on the efforts of Dwyer and his colleagues to help the city build on the growing confidence of those considering investing in its renaissance. Regeneration schemes have come and gone in Liverpool, but at least this one has succeeded in uniting the main players.

Ten things Liverpool needs

Turn the waterfront into a major leisure and tourist attraction

Remodel the road network to take through traffic out of the shopping centre Improve routes into the city centre from the M62

Expand the central retail district Increase the number of people living in the city centre

Use regeneration to stop the graduate brain drain

Free up the flow of buses using the city centre.

Improve the rail network under the city centre

Reopen disused dock tunnels as new road and rail links

Promote subsidy-free private investment

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