The Futurist cinema on Lime Street, pictured above in 2014, was Liverpool’s first purpose-built cinema. It has been closed since the late 1980s and successive Councils in the city have left it to rot away. When proposals were made to demolish the historic building – in particular the facade that is visible from Lime Street – campaigns began, both popular and legal, to prevent the demolition and to force the council and developers to incorporate the facade into new plans for the south section of Lime Street. The council and the city’s Mayor Joe Anderson were adamant that the building was beyond saving and vowed to demolish it and all the other buildings between the two listed pubs either end of this part of Lime Street – The Crown and The Vines. Repeated legal challenges came and went, going back and forth in favour of the council and the campaigners. A few weeks ago the High Court rejected an appeal by the campaigners and the council wasted no time and within hours they had pulled down the top part of the Futurist’s facade. Shamefully disregarding the possibility that the campaigners may appeal again. Once the facade was gone – the battle was lost.
The council had gotten its way with its cultural vandalism. After the facade was pulled down, the Mayor made promises that parts of it will be incorporated into new developments, which will include a hotel, shops and student accommodation – as if Liverpool hasn’t got enough of them already. Yesterday the remaining shell of the Futurist was being torn down by diggers, with a dust suppression unit hosing down the debris to prevent dust spreading. Over the next three weeks the Futurist and the buildings either side of it will disappear and then over a period of two years more unimaginative and bland buildings will spring up on the site. I filmed the demolition of the Futurist for a couple of minutes yesterday and I’ve put the video on YouTube. Several people were doing the same, recording for posterity the end of a Liverpool landmark for a century.
Across the road from the Futurist is the former ABC building – thankfully it is listed so Mayor Anderson can’t demolish it. An ambitious project is in hand for its redevelopment as a cultural venue, which is very welcome for a wonderful building that has been empty since 2000. It is one of the first buildings that people arriving in Liverpool via Lime Street Station will see so it is important that the building is restored and utilised again. More disturbingly are the plans to demolish a section of the former Rapids Hardware store on nearby Renshaw Street. The Rapids store until just a few years ago occupied almost the entire length of one side of Renshaw Street, with the long shop front thought to be the longest single shop front in the country. Most of the buildings are now used for other uses since Rapids moved to off Williamson Square. These include a Chinese restaurant, a Sainsbury’s store, a fancy hairdressers and a student accommodation letting agency. However, the north end of the old Rapids is still empty and it is this section that developers want to develop into more student accommodation.
Above: The ABC Cinema building on Lime Street and the former Rapids store runs right up to and around the corner opposite St Luke’s Church
The redevelopment of much of Liverpool city centre and the surrounding areas has been going on for decades and the growth in student accommodation seems to have become the main driving force behind redevelopment in recent years with new tall buildings being built across the city. Whole areas, such as the Baltic Triangle, have benefited hugely by the building of student accommodation and the subsequent influx of students into those areas, but now developers are beginning to encroach on the most culturally significant areas of the city centre and, even worse, are demolishing historic buildings such as the Futurist to build even more. The drive to ever more development is damaging the cultural side of the city and is even threatening our city’s World Heritage status as the council continues to approve developments in areas such as Mann Island and Princes Dock. They lie either side of the historic Pier Head with the The Three Graces (below) which are at the heart of our successful awarding of World Heritage Status. Developments are encroaching on the Pier Head and other historic parts of the city centre. The council needs to slow down and give much more consideration to the impact new developments are having on the city. New development is good, but not when it destroys or damages historic and culturally significant sites in the city.
The Three Graces: l-r – The Liver Building, The Cunard Building, The Port Authority Building