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 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEutB0xZSIA ).
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 (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2010/02/24/revealed-tax-payer-funded-national-museums-liverpool-paid-out-750k-for-spoiling-a-waterfront-view-100252-25901760/ ).
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 (http://liverpoolpreservationtrust.blogspot.com ). 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 (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/views/our-view/2010/02/24/750-000-too-high-a-price-for-national-museums-liverpool-to-have-to-pay-downing-100252-25900195/ ).
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?

5 comments:

David Swift said...

Yes, simply more puffery and PR spin from the hacks in Oldham Hall Street. As far as I can see a crime has been committed and the criminal gets off by supplying a wedge of cash to the "victim". Trouble is....it's our cash. Am I being cynical in wondering how this lucrative pay-off was organised?

Liverpool Preservation Trust said...

Oh and Mike Storey was a trustee of the museums as was the chairman of the NWDA who funded it as was the then chairman of English heretige Sir Neil Cossons. NML Spivs-R-Us with our heretige

Anonymous said...

Where's the evaluation for the data for the whoel of the Catastrophe of Culture?

http://www.liv.ac.uk/impacts08/seminars-and-events/Background_reports/Impacts_08%282009-05%29EconomicImpactMethodology-Abridged-FINAL.pdf

The were supposed to do the final report in October 2009.

Why is it that all we seem to know is the ongoing costs, ut not how we made the SUPPOSED £800m

Ronnie de Ramper said...

Supposed to be published on March 12, 2010

So far, with two weeks to go, not a word

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