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Regeneration of Stanley Dock, Liverpool

by Pat Power, Executive Director and Joe Hynes, Property Surveyor, Harcourt Developments

A visiting professor to Liverpool in 2012 described Stanley Dock as "the biggest adaptive re-use challenge in Europe"! When Harcourt Developments bought the historic dock and warehouses ensemble in 2010, they were fully aware of the difficulties presented by its condition, scale, location and heritage status but were attracted by that challenge which had deterred all other, more cautious, developers over previous decades. The buildings boast floor-space of over two million square feet, with over 1.4 million square feet in the Tobacco Warehouse alone! It was a bold move which demonstrated vision, determination and confidence in Liverpool's future. It also showed faith in the enduring appeal and potential of industrial heritage.

Stanley Docks, Liverpool
Restored North Warehouse on left and the and Tobacco Warehouse on the right © Hinchliffe Heritage

Stanley Dock is part of Liverpool's remarkable maritime heritage. It is within Liverpool's World Heritage Site, the centrepiece of the Stanley Dock Conservation Area and includes many listed buildings, including the Grade II* North Warehouse. The dock itself opened in 1848 to the design of the dock engineer Jesse Hartley who had previously designed the more celebrated Albert Dock ensemble, closer to the city centre. The North and South Warehouses and Hydraulic Pumping Station were completed by 1855. In 1901, the 14 storey Tobacco Warehouse was completed in the infilled southern half of the dock. The east end of the North Warehouse was damaged in an air raid in 1941 and rebuilt in 1953 as a rum warehouse.

Until recently, Stanley Dock and its warehouses had lain empty and slowly decaying for almost 30 years. Their poor condition and vacancy was a cause of great concern: the fabric was decaying; original building materials were stolen; Historic England placed the buildings on its Heritage at Risk Register; and Liverpool City Council enforced some emergency repairs to prevent major collapse. The monumental scale of the buildings meant monumental repair costs. Their future was in grave doubt. The surrounding area suffers from industrial obsolescence, is the least visited part of the World Heritage Site and isolates Stanley Dock from the city centre.

Derelict warehouse, Stanley Dock, Liverpool
North Warehouse before restoration © Hinchliffe Heritage

However, Harcourt saw the potential of Stanley Dock and the opportunity to use its restoration as a catalyst for the regeneration of the area between it and the city centre and thereby effectively expand the city centre towards Stanley Dock. Upon purchase, they immediately began the process of getting statutory permissions and finance in place. They began work on site in January 2013 with the conversion of the North Warehouse and the Rum Warehouse into a hotel and events venue, which opened for business in June 2014. Inevitably many issues of detail arose during the works but all were overcome by a spirit of co-operation, compromise and practicality shown by Harcourt, their professional advisers (notably Darmody Architecture and Hinchliffe Heritage), Liverpool City Council's Planning Service and Historic England (at that time called English Heritage).

The works involved replacing a badly leaking roof, making walls and floors structurally sound, rebuilding the collapsed west parapet and restoring the original form and character of the building to a set of conservation principles established at the beginning. A principal objective was to retain the maximum historic fabric and character and retain an industrial aesthetic. All original window/door openings have been used and no new openings have been made. Intervention in historic fabric has been minimal and reversible. As a Grade II* listed building at risk, the North Warehouse was potentially eligible for a repairs grant from Historic England, but Harcourt did not have time to wait for a decision on a grant. An offered contribution from the Regional Growth Fund never materialised, causing some delay, and so this first phase was entirely privately-funded.

Converted warehouse building, Stanley Docks, Liverpool
Entrance to Titanic Hotel © Hinchliffe Heritage

With further consents now in place for the Tobacco Warehouse and the South Warehouse, work has started on converting the former into 538 apartments with the creation of two of the three planned atria through the building to deliver light into its vast floor plate and a sales marketing campaign is already in place. 

The restoration of the North Warehouse at Stanley Dock is the first urban regeneration project to be delivered in this part of North Liverpool and the first to bring visitors into it. It has been a great success commercially, with high occupancy rates in the hotel and a string of prestigious events in the Rum Warehouse. It is also becoming an icon of heritage-led regeneration, receiving awards from the RTPI, IHBC, The Civic Trust amongst others. Its success has encouraged Liverpool City Council to join and promote the Ten Streets Initiative, a "Cultural Enterprise Industry Hub" in the ten streets between Stanley Dock and the city centre, as part of the much wider Atlantic Corridor Development Framework.

There's a long way to go but Harcourt's vision for Stanley Dock and North Liverpool is already becoming reality.

Titanic Hotel, North Warehouse, Stanley Dock, Liverpool
Lounge of Titanic Hotel © Historic England DP168245

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