Liverpool FOE and WDM supporters posing as 'clones' in the middle of Liverpool's shopping centreRegeneration - the name of the game?

By Gary Mahoney - Liverpool Friends of the Earth

‘There are fundamental questions that have not been satisfactorily answered by those responsible for spending public money in Liverpool.’

Regeneration is one of the major themes on the current political agenda. Nowhere is this more evident - or more controversial - than on Merseyside. Large sums of money are available specifically to arrest and reverse decline experienced in so many towns and cities throughout the country.

Some conflict is inevitable: regeneration of an area means change and change is not always welcome. There is often tension between what is perceived as the 'greater good' and the needs and aspirations of the communities most affected. No project is likely to satisfy everybody! However, as Merseyside's regeneration agenda drives forward, doubts have emerged about accountability; how the agenda is controlled, who and what drives it forward and ultimately what the regeneration process is trying to achieve.

It would seem that regeneration requires large-scale demolition and huge infrastructure projects. We are told that these projects create jobs in the construction, supply and allied industries; that they will then attract big high street names; that these - and the luxury accommodation being provided - will attract high spenders to our ailing city centres. All this will supposedly lead to an upturn in the local economy, through the much vaunted but seldom clearly identified 'trickle down' effect.

Do we have examples of cities where this type of regeneration has been tried and shown to be of long lasting benefit to the local population? Or are we creating cities where the local community are priced out of the housing market, few of the construction jobs go to local people because of skills gaps and most of the other new 'opportunities' are low paid jobs in the service industries? It may be possible to show that after such an exercise the average wealth in a community rises, but this could be because of an influx of wealthier people. The original community may be just as badly (or indeed worse) off as before the exercise started.

What are we trying to create when we regenerate an area? If all we do is build similar developments to attract the same national and international businesses as every other city is doing then what will happen to diversity? How will Liverpool differ from Birmingham, Leeds or anywhere else that has gone through this process? Where will our 'unique selling point' be? Just how sustainable is the process?

Something is seriously wrong when public money and effort goes into supporting the interests of major commercial corporations above the needs and aspirations of people in the community. But the rules of the World Trade Organisation - to which our government signs up - underpin this basically corrupt process. This is one reason why it's vital to raise our voices when the G8 leaders meet in July.

Liverpool a 'Clone Town'?
Liverpool Friends of the Earth and World Development Movement (WDM) supporters posed as 'clones' in the middle of the city's shopping centre (see photo above) - calling attention to the dominance of big-name stores and the loss of independent local ones. This is well documented in the New Economics Foundation's report Clone Town Britain.
All the signs are that the Grosvenor-led expansion of Liverpool City Centre will reinforce this trend here. Yet studies show that money spent in local businesses stays locally, rather than filling the pockets of distant executives and shareholders.

A Local Business View
Dave Morgan owns the busy Green Fish cafés, at The Door on Hanover Street and the original one on Upper Newington.
"People come in from near and far: workers, residents, visitors to Liverpool. They frequently comment on the pleasure of finding somewhere that's unique - a little oasis in the city centre.
"I worry that the 'smartening up' of the centre will mean that only big chain stores and franchises will be able to afford rent. Owning property will be out of the question. Many cafés, local newsagents and other small businesses are afraid they won't even survive the disruption caused by the current building programme. Branches of major corporations can just ride it out.
"Supporting small businesses is vital because more of our turnover stays within the area; for instance, I buy all my ingredients locally."

World Development Movement
Bernie Draper, who chairs Liverpool Central WDM group, says:
"In the developing world - just as in this country - the actions of big corporations drive local people out of business. They produce cheaper goods by using cheaper labour, exploiting poor working conditions and weak environmental laws. In poor countries, this is devastating - malnutrition, disease and homelessness result.
“The World Trade Organisation's General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS) gives even more power to corporations to privatise public services such as health and education without accountability to governments and local authorities. We are campaigning to stop this agreement."

A Local Resident's View
The city of Liverpool has steadily lost its personality since the 1960s, according to Florence Gersten, founder of the Save Our City campaign. She recalls Coopers ("an enormous and wonderful grocer's shop") in the building now occupied by WH Smith on Church St; numerous independent bakers, cafés such as Reece's in the Lyceum building, music shops and bookstores….virtually all replaced by a small number of national or international brands.
"The destruction of individuality and of what is familiar leads to insecurity, loss of a sense of responsibility and lack of civic pride - professional commentators call it 'alienation'."

Printer friendly page