Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Calculating The Cost Of A Cracked Covenant

Liverpool in 1963: Merseybeat was at its peak, Everton won the league & across Stanley Park, Shanks was turning his recently promoted squad into a major footballing force. It was a heady time, reflected in the singing of Merseybeat hits on the terraces ( ).
Oh & another thing, the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board sold the land on which Mann Island was situated to the then Liverpool Corporation. It wasn't a big issue then.
It is now ( ).
Yes, indeed, remember all those imbeciles who dismissed concerns at the mutilation of the waterfront? You're living in the past, we were told. Well, the past has returned to give these characters a kick where it hurts most -- the pocket.
Of course, it's all a big shock to the Oldham Echo, which splashes Ben Schofield's article on its front page this morning. To summarise Schofield's anguished piece, National Museums Liverpool (NML) has paid Downing, the owners of the Port of Liverpool building (one of the Three Graces) £750,000 because the new Museum of Liverpool (you know, the one Roger McGough insisted was ours) blocks the view of the Pilotage Office from the Port of Liverpool building. This breaks a covenant dating back to the sale of the land 47 years ago, as Schofield confirms:
"The covenant dates back to 1963 when the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board -- which then owned Mann Island and the Port of Liverpool building -- sold the land the museum now stands on to Liverpool Corporation.
"It kept hold of the imposing port headquarters but wanted to protect its view of the Pilotage Office at the entrance to Canning Half Tide Dock.
"It insisted nothing was built within 40ft of the river and any new buildings would not be taller than 40ft.
"The new Museum of Liverpool breaks both parts of the covenant."
Lifted your jaw from the floor yet? OK, let's try to ascertain the whos, whys, whens, wheres & hows of this farce, shall we? Oh sorry, forgot for a moment that when a cock-up on this scale emerges, Oldham Hall Street doesn't do finger-pointing. That said, Schofield does offer this nugget of potential culpability:
"It only came to light partway through the museum's planning stage and stunned NML's trustees because it left them vulnerable to a compensation claim by the Port of Liverpool's owners, Downing.
"At first NML lawyers said if the case went to court, the settlement would be around £70,000.
"But desperate to keep the project on track, NML director Dr David Fleming and then chair of trustees Loyd Grossman chose to pay £750,000 up front -- and up to 10 times over the odds."
Fleming's record has been less than impressive, as Wayne has consistently pointed out ( ). As for Grossman, it beggars belief that a TV celebrity should have been in a position to sanction such a move. Grossman was on the panel which awarded Liverpool its Capital of Culture status back in 2003. Did this entitle him to occupy his position with NML?
In contrast to Catherine Jones' fawning piece earlier this month, Schfield openly admits that the project "is now months behind schedule."
He also sketches a picture of complacent/ignorant lawyers acting on NML's behalf who blithely insisted that it wouldn't be such a big deal & quotes a source who ruefully recalls:
"Everyone was steaming ahead and presumably no one did a complete job looking into the rights of the land."
I think "steaming ahead" is somehow supposed to refer back to the port's maritime past. However, it also sums up the approach & attitude of all those guilty of wrecking the character of the waterfront; the "where there's a space, let's build apace" mentality forming a poisonous pincer movement with a council whose leader seems to think the Three Graces date back eight centuries.
An NML spokesman tells Schofield that the covenant amounts to a "restriction". Interpreting the covenant in that way reveals NML's disregard for the waterfront area. He also fails pathetically in trying to put the best possible spin on the spending of £750,000 of our money to Downing.
Incidentally, the claim by NML that knowledge of the covenant "came to light part way through the museum's planning stage" doesn't quite tally with Downing's version of events:
"We were approached at the eleventh hour and did work expediently to accommodate the museum so that the project was not jeopardized."
I'm no expert on these matters, but I can't see how the planning stage would be at "the eleventh hour" of the project. Perhaps Fleming & Grossman (when the former isn't giving soundbites to pliable Trinity Mirror hacks & the latter isn't launching another bloody brand of sauce) could elucidate. What do you reckon?
The Oldham Echo feels compelled to pen an anguished, hand-wringing editorial on the whole debacle ( ).
Typically, however, it keeps its consternation at NML's actions to a minimum, preferring a sense of wounded dismay to scornful attribution. Instead, it won't surprise many that the editorial then seeks to draw Downing into the fray as a villain of the piece:
"And what of Downing? Hard-nosed businessmen and women may point out they are perfectly entitled to benefit from a decades-old covenant, however perverse the outcome may seem to outsiders.
"But what of the greater good? What of the greater interests of the people of Liverpool and the city of Liverpool?
"Does this costly outcome have anything to do with the spirit of resurgence and regeneration currently coursing through the city's veins? It doesn't seem to, does it?
"Couldn't a better deal have been done? Couldn't a compromise have been reached?"
All valid points, of course. It's a pity that Oldham Hall Street didn't consider such wider concerns when putting 100 Liverpool printers out of work as a consequence of moving its printing operations 50 miles down the M62. Isn't it?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Look Who's Back

It's been a while since David Bartlett posted on his Dale Street Blues blog (perhaps Mark Thomas pleaded with him not to dabble anymore with the curse of the blogosphere; it starts out as the occasional Tweet, then the tentative postings on Facebook, & before you know it, you're hooked, blogging from Oldham Hall Street really does screw you up).
Still, it's nice to see that David has spent his time away from the keyboard constructively, as evidenced by this cerebral offering: .
We're grateful to David for elevating the tone of local political discourse. Keep it up, David (ahem).

Celebrating A Carbuncle

Wayne's already fired a well-aimed salvo at the PR spin surrounding of the Museum of Liverpool ( ), in particular the piece Catherine Jones wrote for today's Oldham Echo.
However, it's also worth casting an eye over an article she penned for Friday's Echo, just hours after the official handover of the carbuncle from the contractors to NML ( ). The occasion was marked by "a fundraising dinner" [hasn't the monstrosity already been paid for, largely through our money?] &, judging by Jones' breathless prose, some observers might unkindly suspect that she herself had what the aristocracy still like to term "a good meal".
Thursday night's festivities were graced by the presence of Phil Redmond, whose "thoughts" in the Daily Ghost must surely warrant an entire section of Private Eye's Pseud's Corner. Redmond was in expansive mood as he declared to a clearly-rapt Jones:
"It was a great night and provided our supporters from the business and cultural community with their first opportunity to view the museum's spaces, and it previewed what will undoubtedly become one of the best vantage points in the city through a magnificent 80ft picture window."
Ah yes, that view, can't argue with Redmond's use of the word "magnificent" to describe it, can we? It'll afford an unparalleled view of Professor Chucklebutty's upturned caravan, aka, the Mersey Ferry terminal building, & the almost cancerous cluster of high-rise "developments" around the Three Graces [not bad-looking for 800 years, btw, eh, Warren?], not to mention the burger stalls which will adorn the west entrance to the Liver Building.
Jones enthuses in her apologia for journalism:
"[The Museum] will boast four main themes - port city, creative city, people's city and global city."
OK, let's break this down into manageable portions of effluvia, shall we? The port of Liverpool still exists, of course, but presenting it as a museum artefact confirms the view of many that it'll be another exercise in nostalgia, a piteous pining for a Golden Age that never was [my grandfather worked on the docks when those who got work for the day were picked out from pens containing their not-so fortunate colleagues].
As for the "creative city" theme, we all know the talent & originality that's emanated from Merseyside down the years. So what makes me suspect that it'll be dominated by four Liverpool lads who split up over 40 years' ago?
And then, of course, we have the "people's city" theme. NML must have a twisted sense of humour to call it that; a "people's city" would have been consulted, at the very least, about the Botoxification of the entire waterfront. Incidentally, it's an open secret that NML were going to include a section on Hillsborough under this theme. Crass & insensitive are two of the more printable words that come to mind.
Liverpool's development & history as a port means that calling it a "global city" is intellectual tautology. Its maritime links, moreover, hark back to an era which ended, roughly, in the early twentieth-century.
Anyway, I'm sure that such matters didn't concern the revellers on Thursday night. Among their number was Roger McGough who, as Jones, trilled, "is writing new verse to add to the museum's exhibits."
You just know something is inherently naff when a local poet agrees to scribble some doggerel about the city, don't you?
It's a shame, really. Roger's done some good things in the past... like the, erm, Scaffold [remember "Lily the Pink"?], but his ringing endorsement of the monstrosity is cringe-inducing:
"As a Liverpool lad, the museum belongs to me as much as anyone, and I'm happy to be lending my support in the ways I know best, through art and poetry.
"I encourage others who hold the city close to their hearts to get involved with their new museum with continued support and a passion for the arts, history and culture."
So the museum "belongs" to us, eh, Roger? It's our museum, is it? Now that's what I call creative writing.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

Nelson Mandela's release from jail on this day 20 years ago is one of those "where were you when..." moments. I recall it as a cold February Sunday afternoon on my 27th birthday. The BBC's normal current affairs programme scrapped its format for the day & transmitted live pictures from South Africa.
Of course, much has changed since then, a good deal of it inimical to those like Mandela who dedicated their lives to the struggle. That discussion can, however, wait at least a short while.
Here's a clip I saw on Channel 4's "The Tube" back in 84 of Jerry Dammers & chums, produced by Our Declan (Elvis Costello), performing one of the songs which became the soundtrack to the final push for apartheid's demise: .
Twenty-six years on it still works as a powerful calling-to-arms.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The History Man

I made a mistake in my previous post regarding the rental income for the city council from Grosvenor-pool, as a commenter pointed out. However, those who may be wondering, & with good reason, whether Warren Bradley really did say that the Three Graces went as far back as the Charter for the city in 1207 may be interested in watching the clip I mentioned: . *

I'm out on my maths. Warren's completely out on his history.
*[Acknowledgements to Wayne.]

Monday, February 08, 2010

Putting The Con Into Confidence

Welcome to the weird & wonderful world of Warren Bradley. Cllr Bradley never tires of telling us, via his PR agents on Oldham Hall Street, what an unalloyed success story Grosvenor-pool has been for the city. He was at it again this morning in the Daily Ghost (love the "relaunch", btw, Mark, how long have you been given?) , rhapsodising about the council's handover of the land colonised by Grosvenor ( ).
Alan Weston was the one to draw the short straw & put the best possible gloss on a shabby stitch-up. However, his valiant efforts were pitifully transparent as he briefly described the general outline of the arrangement:
"Under the terms of the lease, Grosvenor will own the 42 acres of land occupied by Liverpool One for the next 250 years, in return for which the city council will receive 5% of the rental value -- now standing at £1.7m a year.
"But with the complex not yet fully occupied and discounted rent deals for some stores coming to an end, that figure is sure to rise in future years."
Hmm, so let me get this straight. The council's take from the arrangement will be 5% of £1.7m: £85,000. Right, I see. That's what I call good business. Another fly in the ointment is to be found in Weston's breezy assurances of sunlit uplands & eternal happiness for the retail behemoth. He undermines the faux feel-good factor later on in his piece with his admission that "More than 95% of the 1.6m sq. ft. scheme is currently let".
Not much scope there for extra revenue from the complex, eh? There's also the distinct possibility that retailers will respond to the end of the discounted rent scheme in the way they did at the Albert Dock two decades ago, ie., leave. The recession may be technically over, but retailers know as well as shoppers that its effects are still taking place.
At which point, let's consider the words of local soothsayer & saviour, Warren Bradley. Bear with him here. After all, he did once say in a TV interview that the Three Graces were as old as the city itself (btw, the Cavern started as a Cavalier hang-out for King Charles' troops in between civil war battles for Liverpool Castle). Anyway, speak up, Warren, take it away:
"Liverpool One has brought real confidence back to the city centre, and just as importantly, to those outside the city centre."
Ah yes, Warren, you can really see that "confidence" in the rising number of empty retail spaces on Church Street. What's more, the residents in Dingle, Belle Vale, Speke, Croxteth, Kirkdale, etc. really exude that "confidence" because of Grosvenor-pool. What happens in their own neighbourhoods is strictly secondary, isn't it, Warren? Any other pearls of wisdom, councillor?
"The council is now seen more as a company than as a local authority, and we have conducted ourselves in a way that is appropriate to a major development."
Absoluteley! Why think of yourselves as heading a council when you can tell yourselves & others that you're really a crack team of business people; that deal with Grosvenor confirms how business-savvy you are, right? Anything else to add before we bid adieu?
"The 42 acres now occupied by Liverpool One were previously low grade and didn't offer anything. What we have now represents a good deal for the city council, and we should be grateful to Grosvenor for having the confidence to do it in Liverpool."
Perfect, Warren, perfect. Yes, "confidence" is the word; just add the term "trick" & you have the summation of the Fib Dems' Bread & Circus approach to running a major UK city. Oh, btw, the original Chavasse Park wasn't exactly Edenesque. Nor, however, was it "low grade". I seem to remember that it formed a natural amphitheatre for one of the main stages during the Matthew Street festival. So are you slighting a festival you normally praise ad nauseam? Surely not, eh, Warren? That would affect "confidence", wouldn't it?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

His Evolution Was Not Televised

Recommended reading: Sean O'Hagan's piece on the return of Gil Scott-Heron in today's Observer ( ).
Scott-Heron has brilliantly covered Robert Johnson's "Me & the Devil" ( ).

A "Fair & Balanced" Response To Fox

Despite the best efforts of some on the Right, the "culture wars" largely remain a US political phenomenon; the homogeneity of the leaderships to be found in New Labour, the Tories & the Lib Dems extends to a general consensus regarding the issues that fuel the fires of the US Right. Last week saw the Daily Show's Jon Stewart venture into the Lions' Den, aka, Rupert Murdoch's Fox News' studios in Manhattan. Stewart was the "guest" of Bill O'Reilly, a strident populist who fits the bill for a network which once tried to copyright the "fair & balanced" tag with which it flatters itself.
To be "fair", as Stewart himself noted, O'Reilly is not the network's worst offender; one of his colleagues, Glenn Beck, last year accused Obama of racism against white people.
Stewart stood up to the barbs that were thrown his way, countering with a few well-considered ripostes, including this observation ( ): "They [Fox] have taken reasonable concerns about this president and this economy and turned it into a full-fledged panic attack about the next coming of Chairman Mao."

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Establishing The Truth

Justice delayed for 20 years, but it's to be hoped that it won't be denied for much longer. The eight-person panel which will oversee most, though not all, documents surrounding Hillsborough has its first meeting in Liverpool today ( ).
David Conn, whose work on this as well as many other football-related investigative matters has been exemplary, quotes Home Secretary Alan Johnson: "I believe that the independent panel has an historic opportunity to bring healing to those affected by the tragedy, and that its establishment can help to begin to bring an end to the grievances strongly felt by many."
The panel can certainly begin to address the issues, but Johnson is complacent to think that "healing" can be delivered when too many individuals won't have to answer for their actions & statements.
It's a point inadvertently raised by the chief constable of South Yorkshire Police, Andy Holt: "There is a good deal of suspicion from the families that a cover-up took place, and the panel will provide transparency, an assurance that the release of our documents is above board and being done with integrity."
It seems odd to see the word integrity used in connection with South Yorkshire Police; that there was a cover-up isn't a "suspicion", it's a fact.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Treacherous Waters

Liverpool Waters. The name sounds so nice, doesn't it? Perhaps saying the name often enough produces a soothing, soporific effect. The reality is that you'd need to be in a stupor to swallow the effluent served up by Peel Holdings. Maybe that's why their pals on Oldham Hall Street are so keen to persuade us that it will transform the north end docks with a piece by Neil Hodgson which reminds us why associating Trinity Mirror with investigative journalism is just as risible as associating John Terry with fidelity ( ).
Yes, you've read that correctly, Hodgson does, indeed, claim that there is "massive public backing" for the latest round of mutilation a supposed World Heritage Site faces (all the journos on Oldham Hall Street write their own headlines, the sub-editors have long gone).
Hodgson's panegyric to Peel's plans begins in a manner which provokes astonishment & hilarity in equal measure:
" 'When can you start?' was the reaction of most visitors at developer Peel Holdings' Liverpool Waters public showing."
And it gets worse, much worse, as Hodgson's puff-piece for Peel plumbs hitherto unchartered depths of subterranean sychophancy. We're told that the "public showing" was a "consultation", that the plans are a "redevelopment" (such a nice, warm euphemism), that the event was "a huge hit" with people who attended (in their "hundreds", apparently), & that "early analysis of almost 300 questionnaires revealed that 99% were in favour of the 30-50 year scheme."
If, say, three of Peel's lackeys are roped in to make positive noises, but one of them hesitates before giving assent, I guess that counts as a 99% level of support. It also places Peel & the Oldham Echo in good company: North Korea's regime often claims 99% support from the people, too.
Keen to give the impression that they're a reasonable & flexible bunch, Peel's spokeswoman tells a clearly smitten Hodgson that they're interacting with the public on this plan, & that they are ready to "make amendments to the scheme as appropriate." Note the "as appropriate" bit, btw, it's their wafer-thin charm offensive fleetingly exposed.
There are more honeyed words from Lindsey Ashworth, the development's "director" for Hodgson to scribble down. This is in stark contrast to Wayne's encounter with Ashworth ( ), during which he sneered: "We don't have to put this show on" & charmingly declared: "We are doing you a favour."
And what aroused such contemptous arrogance from Ashworth? Merely the wholly reasonable objection that the entire plan should be the subject of a public inquiry. Yes, they want the public's views, all right, as long as they tally with their own. Oh, & remember this, they're doing us a favour. Isn't that nice of them?

Monday, February 01, 2010

A Paper You Can Trust

Accuracy, reliability, integrity. We all know the Oldham Echo is rightly renowned for those qualities; Big Al would surely remind us of that while comparing it to the New York Times.
However, every now & again, there is an unfortunate slip-up. Isn't there, Al? What's that, Al? Sorry, didn't quite catch that, must be my hearing, seems you've gone strangely mute.
Anyway, let's allow Simon from the No Rock and Roll Fun blog to explain ( ):
"The Liverpool Echo has managed to ruin plans for American singer Taylor Bright to do a small gig in the city: the paper erroneously claimed it was Taylor Swift off the Grammys who would be appearing."
The fact that the Grammys, at which Taylor Swift appeared, were held in Los Angeles 24 hours before the supposed gig in Liverpool didn't permeate the dense skulls on Oldham Hall Street.
And the upshot of this typical inattention to detail? Well, would you believe it, they're sorry, as Simon notes:
"The Echo is contrite:
'The Echo regrets the mistake in Saturday's paper and has apologised to the school governors.
'We are making a donation to school funds as a gesture of goodwill.'
" 'and, hey, maybe we should get the kids some tickets to go see Beyonce who we know for a fact is going to be playing Anfield Comp on Thursday, right?' "
Actually, that's on Friday. However, that other Echo article about McCartney joining Pete Price for the Sunday afternoon karaoke session at The Grapes is true. Isn't it, Al?