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The Duke of Westminster, Britain's richest man, plans to privatise a large part of Liverpool city centre, creating ...
The Duke of Westminster, Britain's richest man, plans to privatise a large part of Liverpool city centre, creating a new urban village with its own social standards and police force, according to The Sunday Times (p7).

The plan, which will see 35 streets in the heart of the city sealed off and redeveloped, has sparked anger among locals and civil liberty groups. While the duke's company, Grosvenor Estates, insists the £750m redevlopment programme will transform the area before Liverpool becomes European Capital of Culture in 2008, his critics say the plans are an attempt to gentrify the city centre and smack of snobbery.

Despite such objections, the duke's plans are already well advanced. Grosvenor Estates recently secured from the city council a 250-year lease on an area that stretches from the Paradise shopping district to the Pierhead on the Mersey. The company intends to spend £100m on the compulsory purchase of all the buildings in the area. It will then create in their place a new shopping centre and a village of 350 modern flats, penthouses and town houses.

The city council says the regular police and other emergency services will be allowed access but the duke's sheriffs will 'maintain standards'. They will have the power to block off roads and prevent undesirables using facilities such as pubs and shops in the area. Vagrants, skateboarders, unruly gangs of youths and demonstrators can all expect to be turned away at its entrances.

A two-month public inquiry, which ended last month, heard that Grosvenor's streets would have traditional rights of way replaced by 'public realm arrangements' policed by 'quartermasters' with powers to eject people. Private security companies have similar powers in shopping malls but it is thought this is the first time they have been given the right to decide who walks through a city's streets.

Civil rights charity Liberty is outraged and has instructed lawyers to find a way to mount a legal challenge. A petition with 150,000 has also been collected calling for Quiggins, the world's biggest Beatlemania flea market, to be protected from demolition.

The city council supports the project, which it describes as the biggest of its type in Europe. It sees it as a vital component in the city's regeneration and says it could create 4,000 jobs. While big retailers have committed to the scheme, it will mean the end for Quiggins, an emporium of 45 small businesses and a mecca for Beatles's fans.

Planning permission has already been granted for the scheme but deputy prime minister John Prescott is expected to make a final decision early next year.

In response, the following letter was submitted to the Sunday Times by Grosvenor:

The Editor, Sunday Times

Dear Sir

Your article about Grosvenor's development in Liverpool (ST 30 November) was not only inaccurate - it missed the point.

There will be no 'gates', no 'ringfencing', no 'sheriffs', not even any 'entrances'.

Grosvenor and other investors will be remaking some streets and public spaces - that will remain open to everyone, 24 hours a day - and managed, lit, maintained and cleaned entirely at private sector expense. This will free-up public expenditure for places where it is most needed, where there is no prospect of private funding.

The approach is similar to the Business Improvement Districts (BID's) being tried elsewhere in Liverpool City Centre, in Central London and in several other places. It is all about raising private money to make our town and city centres more attractive - to encourage people back into them, to live, shop, work, etc; to fight-off competition from out-of-town centres. People visit clean and properly managed shopping centres; and town centres on the Continent and elsewhere. They want similar standards in their own city centre.

Private companies recognise this and are willing to contribute, in order to improve their businesses and investments.

There is huge public support for the Grosvenor project.

Yours faithfully

Rodney Holmes


8 December 2003

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