The Baltic Triangle, Liverpool
The Baltic Triangle is a section of the hinterland of Wapping and Queens Docks in Liverpool. A historic industrial area, it has numerous maritime connections, getting its name from the many companies based in the area which trade with the Baltic countries. Evidence still survives of this in the Grade II* Swedish Seaman’s Church and the Grade II Baltic Fleet pub. It is part of the buffer zone for the city’s World Heritage Site.
The whole area was heavily bombed during the Second World War. There was some post-war re-building and these, plus the surviving older industrial buildings, help shape the character of the Triangle. Amongst the listed buildings are the huge warehouse at 45-51 Greenland Street and Heaps Rice Mill off Park Lane (both Grade II). Both buildings had become derelict by the end of the 20th century, indicative of the malaise of the area.
New commercial use of the historic area
From 2005 onwards the fortunes of the area slowly began to change led by the live music scene - especially via the ‘New Picket’ and Elevator studios. In 2006 a large arts venue, the A Foundation, opened and regular exhibitions and the live music scene played a part in the Capital of Culture year in 2008. More creative people were attracted to the area - looking for affordable venues, accommodation and most importantly, others with a like-mind.
A common and re-occurring feature of regeneration in many towns and cities, especially involving the independent, arts, music and creative industries is that they are attracted to run-down places that can provide large, flexible, affordable premises - and which act as a magnet to similar people.
They particularly look for large spaces to host events, art installations and performances, close to city centres. Often, once they come, the area becomes more fashionable and property prices rise, leading to the gentrification of the neighbourhood. This then drives out the very people who made the area attractive and distinctive in the first place. In Liverpool, in the Baltic Triangle, the creative community wanted to do something to break out of this cycle.
What is the attraction of the Baltic Triangle?
Experience had taught those early movers to the Baltic Triangle that this type of development is best done from the grassroots upwards, and that they needed to have more control over the buildings they occupied. This would prevent them being forced out due to increasing rents and property values.
One of the new companies instrumental in developing the area as a creative and digital hub is Baltic Creative - a Community Interest Company. Established in 2009 with support from the City Council, they took long term leases on around 18 former warehouses and industrial premises across four main blocks.
They've gradually converted a series of their buildings into small units (often sheds inside larger premises) and rent these out exclusively to digital and creative industries. These generally employ up to 25 people, often moving to larger premises as they develop. All of the company’s profits are reinvested into their three core objectives; providing additional space for creative and digital industries, being an advocate for the creative and digital industry and playing a role in the wider regeneration of the Baltic Triangle.
Historic elements contribute to new functions
One of the first buildings to be re-used as a creative venue was the huge warehouse on Parliament Street, home to Elevator Studios. It provides over 90,000 square feet of floor-space for musicians, artists and other creative companies. The quality of the building, with its wood beams and exposed brick make it ‘an inspiring place in which to record music’. This view is replicated across the Baltic Triangle area.
Baltic Creative has almost finished restoring and converting a pair of old warehouses on Norfolk Street as a new Digital Tech Hub, with space for up to 30 companies. This offers spaces in a historic building, providing premises which are flexible, modernised yet retaining the unique quirkiness that old industrial buildings bring. Even before the buildings’ restoration has finished, more than half of the offices have been let - such is the demand for this type of space.
The Norfolk Street site is an example of the council using conditions to control development in the area to encourage digital and creative industries. They published the ‘Baltic Development Framework’ in December 2017, establishing development principles to ensure the character of the area is retained. The Council is also looking to develop a ‘Spatial Regeneration Framework’ for the Baltic Triangle and adopt this as a Supplementary Planning Document. This will give greater control over future development in the area, by setting planning and development principles to which all new applications must adhere.
Growth of this type of activity nearby
All of Baltic Creative’s spaces are currently fully let. They now serve over 150 companies and manage over 118,000 square feet of space. Demand is huge - with 250 enquiries from people wanting to rent space in 2018 alone and currently 80 new companies on their waiting list.
Their tenants employ around 500 people, growing by around 8% annually. The 2017 annual report shows that GVA to the Liverpool City region of the SMEs at Baltic Creative is £8.35 million per year.
Baltic Creative have plans for a Phase 2 Tech Hub by 2021 which would provide a further 40 workspaces. Further evidence of growth is in the conversion of The Contemporary Urban Centre, part of the massive Victorian Warehouse on Greenland Street into two specialist schools; one, The Studio for 14-19 year olds, specialises in creative and digital technology and successfully uses its links with companies in the area as part of the student’s curriculum.
The economic success of the Baltic Triangle has meant that the area has expanded across Parliament Street to include the historic former Cain’s Brewery (Grade II) and adjacent streets. Baltic Creative has recently renovated the disused canning warehouse behind the brewery into another series of innovative spaces for digital and creative industries. Again the units are fully let and the area is thriving. The old brewery itself is being converted into a range of eclectic bars, markets, artist’s workshops, and design studios – a hugely popular local attraction.
Stakeholders and businesses in the area have indicated that the area is struggling to keep up with demand which has increased the popularity of places such as the ‘Ten Streets’, a similar area of the city. For example a Baltic based business, ‘Make Liverpool’, has expanded by opening a second space in the Ten Streets as there was no room in the Baltic. Council officers are working with companies to retain business in the city by linking them with available units in the Ten Streets once they have outgrown their Baltic premises.
Perhaps the ultimate indication of the success of the Baltic Triangle is that it is number three on the Rough Guides ‘50 things to do before you die’