A city with a plan, but viability concerns remain

Falconer Chester Hall’s Director Quentin Keohane gives his views on Liverpool’s local plan:

Liverpool’s recently adopted local plan has now been absorbed by the development community and it’s fair to say it didn’t scare the horses in a way that some commentators had been predicting.

The key challenge facing developers isn’t a local plan that constrains ambition, but rather viability in an age of rising materials and labour costs.

But first, back to the local plan.  Developers are now on board with the adoption of national space standards and, as it sets a baseline for developments, there’s an agreement that it presents a level playing field.

Less popular has been the council’s insistence on a minimum of circa 50 per cent of 2 bed units or larger.  There’s a sense that this is perhaps trying to direct the market, but as we know, in a free society with plenty of choice markets head where their needs are satisfied, not where somebody wishes them to go.  The reduction in 1-bed and studio units is making viability tougher which, when added to the inflationary issues mentioned above, pose a genuine threat to the city’s crane count.

Talking of cranes, how much the plan will impact on scale and height remains to be seen. These have been interpreted conservatively by planners to date and, combined with unit mix and build costs once again brings us back to viability.  A city like Bristol, with average earnings considerably higher than Liverpool, can more readily cope with such challenges but it remains to be seen what the cumulative impact might be on Liverpool.

The plan’s improved focus on the quality of design, materials and build has been welcomed; the greater percentage of affordable homes less so, particularly amongst city centre developers who face much higher land costs.

So, there’s now certainty of direction and we should see the benefits of the plan made manifest in terms of better build quality and design.  This will have a direct impact on our communities and the wider feel of the city.  Just need to keep a watchful eye on sustainability and viability, but the city can now move forward with clarity as to desired outcomes.