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Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Can Liverpool Win a Place Back on the Global Stage? by Tim Clark

[ I write a lot about Rust Belt type cities in the US, but America is hardly alone in being home to former industrial towns that are struggling to reinvent themselves. Tim Clark takes a brief look at Liverpool and what it is up to - Aaron. ]

Mayors, city planners, and business leaders from around the world were joined by a surprise last-minute delegate at the New Cities Summit in Paris last week. The delegates, who had gathered to tackle some of the greatest challenges of modern times, were joined by the UK’s newest city mayor – Liverpool’s Joe Anderson.

With the election papers barely counted Labour Mayor Anderson was whisked to France to join Conservative Cities Minister Greg Clark at the summit. Key to Anderson’s trip has been to learn how to help regenerate Liverpool into the thriving city which it was once known.

For this reason Anderson cuts a strange figure at a summit which focuses on global mega-cities of China or the gleaming science parks being built in Russia or India. He has however attracted the attention of the world’s media in Paris, all keen to ask Anderson about his new role as a regional city mayor, and met with fellow world leaders including the Deputy Mayor of Paris.

“It has been interesting to compare what they [Paris] are doing and what we are doing, and how to get through austere times.” Anderson said. “In a way we are very similar, though Paris is on a different scale to what we are doing in Liverpool.”

Paris, like Liverpool, has areas which have suffered from neglect, however the problem in Paris is particularly acute. The French capital’s famous ‘red belt’ of suburbs has been confined to the edges of popular French culture and imagination since the impressionists scorned it in the 1900s. Yet however much maligned the suburbs are, they are now home to over one in every nine of the French population.

Paris is now looking to turn these forgotten districts into clusters for industries and attract global businesses. Though Liverpool may not have the same global clout as Paris, the ideas have had an impact on Anderson.

“Being here [at the World Cities Summit] is two fold, one is to raise Liverpool’s profile as a major city in the UK, and the other is to pick up and share some good practices.

“We’re looking to learn from Paris what we can do to build on what Liverpool naturally has,” Anderson says. “Paris setting up areas of specific opportunities for growth, such as the creative industries and bio-sciences.

“We’ve negotiated with the government to have an enterprise zone and five mayoral development zones. Liverpool is currently the only city outside London to have these powers. It looks like we will develop a relationship with Paris which is mutually beneficial about sharing good practice, so we can learn from what they’ve done and what we’ve done.”

The devolution of power from central government has been key to Cities Minister Greg Clark’s policy of allowing cities to both borrow to build infrastructure to attract businesses and also keep the extra income they generate.

It has been muted that Liverpool will gain extra powers including running key transport services if the city can make the economic case.

“We want to grow the city again, Liverpool has just under 450,000 people, but at one time it was over 800,000 and the infrastructure to cope with that size population is still there. That is a challenge alone, how to maintain infrastructure built for a large metropolis in the face of dwindling income from taxes and a smaller population.

“It’s not just a case of growing and strengthening the city economically, but growing the population as well and sustaining it, and that is why we’ve got to create opportunities to convince people to stay.

Among the gleaming visions on the future on offer at the New Cities Summit it is difficult to imagine Liverpool’s place among them. Liverpool is a city which lives on the glories of it’s past. As Second city of the Empire the port grew to become one of the world’s biggest trade centres, handling over 40 per cent of world trade. It was the Shanghai of Victorian Britain, but it has long since been left bereft of civic pride and the steep decline in fortunes since the Second World War has meant it’s place on the world stage has similarly suffered.

“We have 18,000 people on the housing waiting list and that is a problem. I’ve pledged to build 5,000 houses a year. We need quality affordable homes for sale and in the rental sector, and we have to do that if we want to halt the fact that people are leaving to places where they can find accommodation and jobs.”

One of the plans which is central to job creation is the Peel Holdings Liverpool Waters Development. With an estimated £5.5 billion in investment it is according to Anderson key to bringing Liverpool back to the level of it’s industrial past.

The project has been controversial, with Unesco delegation report stating that the scheme could cause ‘irreversible damage’ to the city’s heritage-listed waterfront. This is something

“It can be as good as Canary Wharf in my view,” Anderson says. “It will bring in businesses, especially in the financial sector. What we want to offer is a brand which is world renowned and that comes down to leadership, so I am ready for that.”

Tim Clark is a freelance journalist based in the U.K. He splits his time between writing about comedy for his website Such Small Portions and writing about travel, architecture and education.

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