The £70m plans to redevelop Liverpool's iconic Littlewoods building into one of the country's biggest TV and film complexes has been dealt a huge blow.
Liverpool John Moores University has confirmed it will no longer be one of the anchor tenants of the project - leaving its future in doubt.
In November 2021 plans backed by Liverpool city council and the City Region Combined Authority laid out the ambition of converting the famous Edge Lane site into one of Europe's premier TV and film hubs - a move which could lead to the creation of 4000 jobs. The project was to be undertaken in two phases, with the Combined Authority providing £8m to carry out critical remediation works after the building suffered significant dilapidation over two decades, worsened by fire damage in 2018.
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Last month it was confirmed that contracts were still being signed between the Combined Authority and current leaseholders Capital and Centric, who would act as development partners for the project. It is hoped that work can start on the building later this year.
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 proposed major anchor tenants – Twickenham Studios and Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU).
However Liverpool John Moores University has now confirmed that it will no longer be leasing the previously agreed 75,000 sq ft in the Littlewoods project. The decision will come as a huge blow to one of the city’s most ambitious regeneration projects with the university previously expected to be one of the major tenants of the new studio site.
Liverpool is currently the second most filmed UK location outside of London and has attracted a large number of film and TV productions in recent years. Liverpool Film Office confirmed last November that the sector was drawing in close to £20m of inward investment a year.
The Depot, two large ‘blank canvas’ studio spaces, opened on Edge Lane 12 months ago and have been a key part of the city’s recent TV and film boom. The proposed Littlewoods studio project would dovetail with the attraction of the Depot and help solidify the city’s reputation as the ‘Hollywood of the North’.
LJMU has said that it will remain an “active and close partner” but will instead be looking to invest further in its own campus and facilities. Last month, Capital&Centric confirmed its commitment to the project, with John Moffat of the company saying agreements were almost in place to “kick-start the delivery of our vision” and build “one of the biggest film and television complexes in the UK.”
The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, which providing £8m for the first phase remediation work, said it remains committed to the project despite the significant setback. A spokesperson for the Combined Authority said that that the success of the Depot means there Littlewoods project should still go ahead.
Liverpool city council has also confirmed its continued support of the project. It said talks have already begun with other education partners.
A spokesperson for LJMU said: “Littlewoods is a remarkable project and the university is fully supportive of the transformational potential it has for film and TV industries in the city and the opportunities it will create.
“Screen, creative, digital and media disciplines are an important part of our portfolio; to provide our digital and creative arts students with an exceptional university experience, we will continue to invest in our existing city campus facilities, but will not be leasing space in the Littlewoods project.
“We will remain an active and close partner, committed to working in partnership with the film office, the city, the combined authority and the film industry locally to support inclusive growth in this sector.”
A spokesperson for the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority said: “The film and TV industry in the city region continues to go from strength to strength. Demand for high-end studio space in the city region has been proven by The Depot, which was also supported by funding from the Combined Authority and is adjacent to the Littlewoods site.
“Since opening last October, the facility, which is operated by Liverpool Film Office, has been used for six TV commercials, one feature film and is currently being let for six months by a major US streaming service to produce a flagship TV drama.
“Liverpool is already the UK’s most filmed city outside London and is a hotbed of movie, TV and creative talent. Favoured by filmmakers for doubling up as New York and London, the city region has recently hosted blockbusters such as The Batman, Peaky Blinders and Munich: The Edge of War.
“The Combined Authority has also invested £3m into the LCR Production Fund, supporting high-end TV productions in the city region including multi-Bafta-award-winners Time and Help and Martin Freeman’s The Responder. The fund is aimed at securing and developing talent in the city region and it provided a major boost to the pandemic-hit economy.
“The redevelopment of the former Littlewoods Building aims to create an internationally significant, 260,000 square foot film studio, commercial, creative employment, and educational space, which would enhance the City Region’s reputation in culture and creativity, generate jobs across a range of skills and provide opportunities for the City Region’s growing creative and digital cluster.
“The Combined Authority will be recommended to reconfirm its funding commitment, while the developer seeks new tenants for the development, as the project continues to offer significant benefits for employment and the development of the film industry within the City Region.”
John Moffat, Capital&Centric said: “We’re not doing the deal with LJMU as originally envisaged but we’re still in talks with them about being involved. This doesn’t change the overall vision for the Littlewoods Project, there will still be an education provider whether the University are involved or not and this doesn’t impact on the Combined Authority pressing ahead with funding.
"The legal agreements are almost in place for us to kick start this massive regeneration project that will cement Liverpool’s position at the forefront of the UK’s film and TV industry, generate millions of pounds for the local economy and provide exciting job opportunities for generations to come.”
A spokesperson for Liverpool City Council said: “The withdrawal of LJMU from the Littlewoods scheme is regrettable but it makes no material difference to the planned remediation of the site, the funding for which is set to be approved this month.
“Talks have begun with other education partners to establish interest for when the scheme is ready to be delivered.”
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