Famous for The Beatles, the Liver Building and the Toxteth riots, Liverpool is less known for economic prosperity and attractive residential housing. But times are changing, and the city is looking - as a place to live or invest in - increasingly appealing.
In its heyday, in the late 1700s, the port city was crucial to trade between the UK and US. But its fortunes rapidly diminished in the 20th century as the decline in world trade hit the docks. By the late 1970s, Liverpool had one of the highest rates of unemployment in Britain, and the population had fallen from 900,000, in 1901, to just 439,000. In the 1980s, the city council's radical politics clashed with the Thatcher government and Liverpool became synonymous with riots, crime and deprivation - an image it has found hard to shake off.
But in recent years, Liverpool has made a remarkable recovery, and there is a self-confidence about the city that is attracting investors. "The difference in the atmosphere of the city in the mid-1990s and that experienced today is huge," says Jim Gill, chief executive of the regeneration company Liverpool Vision. "If you study Liverpool's economic history in many years' time, I've no doubt that the years between 2000 and 2008 will be seen as an absolutely crucial turning point in the city's fortunes.
"By happy coincidence, additional boosts are given by the city's 700th birthday celebrations in 2007 and by the Capital of Culture status in 2008, which fit in nicely with this important period in Liverpool's history. We're climbing back up. It's Liverpool's time again."
Established in 1999, Liverpool Vision was created as a partnership between the Northwest Development Agency, Liverpool City Council and English Partnerships. It brings together the public and private sectors to help identify areas most in need of regeneration. The company, which has produced a Strategic Regeneration Framework for Liverpool's rebirth, is offering advice and guidance and helping to attract funding. The results have been staggering. About £2bn has poured into the city and some 17,000 jobs have been created. John Lennon airport has been extended and renovated, new shopping areas and public spaces are being built, and new bars, restaurants and museums are helping to reinvigorate the city.
The housing market has experienced one of the fastest turn-arounds witnessed by the industry. Estate agents in Liverpool report a demand that is far exceeding supply. Phil Furlong, associate partner of The Venmore Partnership agents, says: "Areas you wouldn't have driven through, let alone lived in, are now commanding weighty premiums. Liverpool has always been quite an insular city, and although I've no doubt regeneration would have happened anyway, it was given massive momentum by the announcement of the Capital of Culture status, which brought in developers from all over the UK to look around. They saw beyond the stereotypes, to terrific architecture, wide tree-lined streets and massive potential.
"In Kensington two years ago... we'd be lucky to get £22,000 for a three-bedroom Georgian semi. As soon as investors from the South-east came to look around, prices increased. Within seven months, the same properties were achieving £70,000."
Venmore has been marketing Gloucester Place, built by the developers Braidwater. Situated in the rather uninspiring Lowhill area on the outskirts of the city, the apartments occupy an elevated position with wonderful views over the city. The first batch sold out within two hours.
Chris Neill, head of residential sales for Knight Frank in Liverpool, says: "Though Liverpool is still an immature residential housing market, it is entering a really exciting phase... New mixed-use developments, some of them among the largest seen in the UK, will link previously disparate areas of the city, in effect doubling or tripling the current size of the city centre and consolidating the market."
City Loft Developments, among the first to invest, has a prime site on the waterfront. Adjacent to the Liver Building, the Princes Dock scheme is two towers comprising 162 flats and 2,000 sq ft of commercial space. The building and interiors were designed in conjunction with Conran Partners and prices of flats range from £125,000 to £200,000. City Loft Developments is expecting great results when it launches the sale of these rare city-centre properties later this week.
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