The developers behind Liverpool’s £70m Littlewoods film studio plans insist the project doesn’t hang in the balance despite the loss of a key partner.
Capital & Centric, the developers leading the scheme, have also hit out at claims that the regeneration project is “high risk”, instead doubling down on their belief it remains a “huge opportunity” that will benefit the entire city region. This comes as Liverpool John Moores University confirmed this week it would no longer be one of the anchor tenants within the proposed studios.
Speaking to the ECHO, Adam Higgins, co-founder of Capital & Centric, admitted that the project, which has been touted since 2014, had been “challenging” and “complicated”, but sought to provide reassurance that it is “closer now than it has ever been to being delivered.”
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Adam said contracts between Capital & Centric and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority were a matter of “days away” from being signed and completed. This would release £8m of funding to carry out surveys and remediation works on the dilapidated Art Deco building which has been left in a state of disrepair for close to three decades, worsened by fire damage in 2018.
The remediation covers the first phase of the £70m plans backed by the Combined Authority and Liverpool City Council. For phase two to proceed, a fully-costed funding package is required, with the council and combined authority projecting to both invest £12m and a commercial lender being sought for the balance.
When announcing the plans, it was confirmed that the scheme already had major anchor tenants – Twickenham Studios and Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU). However, the latter will no longer be leasing 75,000 sq ft in the building, choosing instead to invest in its existing campus.
Adam said that Capital & Centric had known about the decision for some weeks and that a new education partner for the project is now being sought. Hopes remain that diggers and workers will be on site early in the new year - once contracts are completed later this month. Liverpool City Council and the Combined Authority have both reaffirmed their commitment to the large regeneration project.
Capital & Centric has owned the former home of former Littlewoods Pools operation since 2012. Early plans consisted of a hotel and industrial workspace on the site, but after talks with Liverpool Film Office the idea to build a film and TV complex started to take shape.
Adam said: “We wanted to build something that wasn't just of a local significance, but more national and international significance. That’s where we came up with the idea for the film studios.”
According to Adam, for the idea to be brought forward, public funding from the Government or local authorities was required. However this was more necessary in Liverpool than in other major cities such as Manchester or Birmingham, he said. Responding to criticisms of the speed of the development and that projects always face lengthy time scales in Liverpool, Adam said this was down to rental values being lower.
He added: adding: “It broadly costs the same to build in Liverpool [as in Manchester and Birmingham], but the rental values in Liverpool are lower. Viability for a commercial property in Liverpool is more challenging.
“There’s less of a difference between the cost of the building and what the value is going to be. That tends to make things happen slower in Liverpool. [Projects] often needed more public sector support or Government grants or central government grants. Manchester hasn't needed that [recently]."
Looking at the potential of the project, Capital & Centric point to its unique benefits of delivering “regeneration right in the heart of a community that needs it." The wider Kensington area has seen its fortunes change in recent decades with the Littlewoods empire moving on in the mid 1990s.
The film studio hopes to create 4000 jobs and generate inward investment within the local community, rather than centralise the economic potential to the city centre of Liverpool. The success of The Depot, two pop up studio situated next to the iconic site on long lane, is also mentioned as key signifier of Littlewood’s potential as one of the largest TV and film studios in Europe.
Referring back to comments made in a Liverpool city council report in 2021 which claimed the Littlewoods project was ‘high risk’, Adam said the untapped potential of the film industry outweighs these fears. The council report said that the project’s risk is a result of the studios not being projected to turn over high levels of revenue in its first few years.
He said: “You can see from the Depot, they've been incredibly successful and it's given the city an awful lot of encouragement. I don’t think [the Littlewoods project] is high risk at all.
He notes how a large amount of Government funding is tied into phase one of the project and that the film industry is currently at its “strongest”, adding: “[The report] overstated the risk and I think it will be a huge success for Liverpool.”
However, asked if the Capital & Centric is in a ‘risk free’ position now that public funding will largely drive the project forward, in turn removing consequences if the development doesn’t come to fruition, Adam said: "We've had the risk since 2012. We've carried the risk for 10 years and every single penny that's been spent on it [until now] has been Capital & Centric's money.
“We've been taking this forward for eight years at our risk. It's not unusual to get to this stage and to have to bring in other finances. A huge amount of investment has gone in, [but it will be] worth it because we're going to create this amazing legacy for the city.”
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