About four years late, the Echo has at long last stated the blindingly obvious – that the International Garden Festival (IGF) site is largely unsuitable for housing development. You may recall that Mayor Anderson paid the previous owners – the Langtree development company – the princely sum of £6 million for this derelict land fronting the River Mersey. A smart move for Langtree; a bad deal for the city of Liverpool. Anyone local over the age of fifty knows that the land had been the city’s major waste tip before the IGF of the mid-eighties. Equally, anyone with half a brain knew that the site was a toxic waste land, and would need a hugely expensive programme of decontamination before it could be used for housing.
I do not blame Langtree for off-loading this unviable site. However, I do hold responsible our self-styled “entrepreneurial” mayor for buying it. He should have been wide awake to what lay ahead, taking a lead from the ill-fated Housing Market Renewal Initiative of the Blair government. On Merseyside, this well-intentioned scheme embraced Wirral, Liverpool, and Sefton. The allocation for the latter was wholly used up on the decontamination of a single site, illustrating how expensive that process can be, and acting as a warning to those who make precipitate and grandiose commitments of council funds, to white elephant developments.
This brings me to the vexed question of the proposed new stadium for Everton Football Club. There are many questions to be resolved about the commercial viability of the scheme, but these are matters for the club, a privately-owned company. I do maintain, however, that it is not for the mayor or anyone else to involve the city’s funds in it. Already, the case for that position is being underlined by the increasing costs of the project. An initial estimate of £300 million has already escalated to £500 million, and is bound to rise much further.
Way back, on the 17/5/16, the mayor boasted that such a stadium might be built within three years, and “may boost Liverpool’s Commonwealth Games bid”. Here we are in 2019 with no start in sight and no games on offer. Undaunted, the mayor tweeted on the 19/7/16 that “a stadium within two years is achievable”. A month later, on the 17/8/16, an Evertonian website quoted the mayor that “EFC have the cash ……and could be in their new home within three years”. Promises, promises – all built on sand.
On the financing of the new stadium, the mayor said on the 10/1/18 that Liverpool City Council was close to agreeing to provide two-thirds of the funding required. By the 29/3/18, he insisted that “the city and people of Liverpool won’t spend a penny on the deal”. However, three weeks earlier, on the 6/3/19, the Echo reported that “the LCC paid out over £700,000 on consulting fees over the EFC stadium plans”.
This led an assiduous battler for council transparency to seek information on these fees. What were they exactly? To whom were they paid and what was the purpose of the consultancy? Needless to say, she was ignored. The next step was to formally request information under Freedom of Information legislation. She was then told she could not have it because release of such information might damage “dialogue” between the council and the club. This is utter rubbish, and a direct repudiation of the people’s right to know. The owner of EFC has already publicly stated that the funding of a new stadium will come from private sources, whilst the mayor has claimed that the club will reimburse the city for its expenses. Why not confirm, therefore, the details of this public expenditure?
The city is being run like a privately-owned venture capital company. Little wonder, then, that an old school friend – resident in the Far East for fifty years – tells me that the word is spreading in financial circles there, to avoid investment in Liverpool. If we are not careful, the ripple effects of this weakened reputation will spread like wildfire. Merseyside Police have already launched an investigation into fraud within Knowsley Council, involving a council officer. Who knows, for goodness sake, where it will end?