Developer thwarts Liverpool's millennium project

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The Independent Online
LIVERPOOL seems likely to lose a pounds 120m showpiece millennium docklands development, already backed by pounds 10m of European money, after the Court of Appeal ruled yesterday that a rival developer had a prior option to build a massive retail complex on the site.

The city council had pinned hopes for new jobs and tourists on its Discovery Park, planned for a reclaimed dockland site near the Albert Dock. One of the park's centrepieces was to be a museum "exploring man's journey of self-discovery". Exhibits were already being prepared for it.

But the Walton Group, fronted by Bill Davies, a local property developer who already owns two large parcels of land in Liverpool city centre, said it had secured a retail development option on the site for pounds 25,000 in March 1996.

Walton argued that its pounds 160m shops scheme for the waterfront Chavasse Park must take precedence because the Discovery Park developers overran the time allowed for raising Government and European millennium funding.

After the judgment, lawyers involved in the case said the city council will lose its pounds 10m grant for the Discovery Park project from the European Regional Development Fund. Other backers were then sure to pull out.

Final talks on the massive injection of money needed for the scheme were due to start this month and Liverpool council feared that if legal clearance were not given in time funding would be withdrawn. Yesterday, the council said it was considering its options.

Liverpool has been planning the Discovery Park since 1997 but the project has been dogged by delays that puts its completion date back to 2001 - and thus allowed Walton Group to make its challenge.

Last year, the Millennium Commission warned the city council that the commercial element of the project was swamping the tourist attraction. Costly parts, including a striking pedestrian bridge, had to be scaled back before a pounds 27m grant would be released, the Commission said.

Yesterday, the leader of Liverpool City Council, Mike Storey, said the city centre would thrive despite the setback. He dropped a thinly veiled hint that the previous Labour council administration must carry some blame for the judgment.

The council may yet challenge the Walton Group's own plans for a retail development at the site, on the basis that the council has already backed a shopping expansion in a nearby part of the city known as the Bluecoat Triangle.

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