British heritage buildings in Liverpool are receiving a fresh test as international developers arrive to buy up key local sites and convert them to new uses. Last year there were five such purchases of building at floating estate-builder Allsop, which has taken a stake in the neighbouring Artscape Distillery Studio, and has advised developers Savills and Kier on the new main instalment of Artscape.
Architectural interest has lured developers, as well as by the regeneration of many of the estate’s historic buildings – including the former Royal Liver Company’s half-built Liver Building, former knitting establishment Malley & Co and composer Dudley Andrew’s new building, the Grogg. Design features have also been preserved, and some of the most important art-historical features such as the beer stopper in The Grogg are being saved, against a backdrop of significant financing difficulties on the London market, for future sale as heritage conservation.
Illustration of the Liver Building at Artscape Distillery Studio. Photograph: Adam John Jones
The Liver Building faces demolition. Last year the application for a development of 137 apartments in its old base, with 45% set aside for affordable housing, was withdrawn from the Liverpool city council planning agenda at the eleventh hour. This area has four vacant towers with another awaiting a masterplan, due to be unveiled in May this year.
The Artscape distillery is low key in that respect and still a student space. It is intended for the long term – and is partly self-financed, borrowing from banks and tenants such as Kingston Scott. The requirement for them to rent at “affordable” rates means that their rent is only a few hundred pounds a month, while some students receive bursaries and others subsidised rooms in local hostels.
Allsop is an educational charity and has provided the Jardine-Suite from the Berkeley Hospital to arts students for several years. “One of the most unassuming areas of the city has caught the imagination of international investors,” says Allsop’s chief executive, Niall Clink. “And local architects and developers recognise the importance of historic buildings in Liverpool.”
The main office of Artscape Distillery Studio, with reception, boardroom and reception rooms. Photograph: Adam John Jones
An application for an Artscape Distillery Studio extension – including an ensuite bathroom, plant room and second room to join the existing studio – is due for approval shortly. We hope this will remain self-funding but we have been told that our space at the distillery must have a clear timetable. The impact of this on our students is devastating and completely unfair.”
This is not the first time that O-3 (a student premises company) at Queen’s University, Belfast, has attempted to annex new space. The company has previously looked at purchasing and moving into the Fleadh dormitories on Fountain Terrace, off the main campus, where Queen’s is also planning to expand into a new campus. “There was already a full redevelopment plan to create a great cultural hub in a sensitive way,” says O-3’s managing director Iain McCarthney. “None of that is in doubt at this stage, but as usual, it’s taken two or three weeks longer than anticipated.” O-3 is now looking at acquiring part of the Fleadh.
Artspace Distillery Studio, which uses student space and housed upcoming artists beyond; their studio and office
One of the applicants behind the Artscape Distillery Studio is Hoskins Architecture, formerly known as Hodder + Partners. “In terms of the social impact of our project, we’re always focused on affordable housing, and it was always our objective to deliver affordable homes in Artspace’s space,” says Ben Derbyshire, a senior associate at the practice. “At the moment, with a reduced number of students, we can’t plan student accommodation, so we are working on having a long-term lease on this extension – it’s more a space with current tenants. But we can also work with artists to deliver artist-led studios or studios along the rest of the site.”
Artist Maurice Sheppard, who installed model railway stations in the inner courtyard of Artspace Distillery Studio, left his retail space, at Glass One, behind, and is now working on drawing units. Photograph: Adam John Jones
The implications of the sale of Arts