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In every dream home a heartache

By Colin Moneyepenny
From Issue 58, Autumn 2002

Possibly it was Kevin Sampson who, I can recall reading in TTW&R a couple of years ago, came up with the scenario of a shining new downtown dockside home for Liverpool (oops, it was actually RAOTL – ed).

Subsequently it has of course been Everton who have grabbed the script on the waterside wonderland known as the Kings Dock. Personally I couldn’t care less if Brazil and Real Madrid were to share the ground –weird foreign idea that groundsharing is - I still think it’s a daft place to put a football stadium. For the minute, I’m patiently waiting for the dream weavers of Liverpool Vision to convince me it’s the stunning masterpiece that the unending hype keeps proclaiming.

I suppose its about perspectives. Mine is as a resident of Liverpool 1, about a quarter of a mile from the dock. Now I’ve not lived there all my life - though my wife and her family have done - for several generations in fact. It’s got an incredible history and has been a residential area for a lot longer than just about anywhere else in Merseyside. If I was back in any of the other parts of the city I’ve previously lived, not being a Blue, I’d likely not give the issue of this Stadium a second thought. If God had made me support Everton and I lived in Woolton or Waterloo or Wherever it didn’t directly affect me, I may even have been bitten by the Kings Dock bug myself.

Or maybe not. For the record, I’d prefer it if Liverpool stayed at Anfield but even as a season ticket holder I see that row primarily as an issue for the Club and the residents to resolve and that was my view before I was aware of the Dock proposal. If Liverpool were touting the same move down here, my views would be the same but a lot more “foam flecked” and I’d imagine the season ticket would long have been delivered in person back to Mr. Parry.

Having the prospect of a big Premier League ground – and about 80% of total attendances at the “multi-purpose” Arena will be for football – thrust into “my backyard”, does concentrate your mind more onto the cost side of a football equation you’ve, as a fan, long conditioned yourself to think mainly only has benefits. In fact I have lived a very few yards from a Stadium before, but that was through choice not someone saying “it’s going there and its nothing to do with you pal”. The thing that really bothers me most about the process as it’s unfolded so far is the determination of many in the pro-Stadium camp not to recognise even the slightest imperfection in their dream. For them it is wonderful in every way and all dissenters must have a hidden agenda. Kings Dock has indeed been prime conspiracy/ paranoia territory.

The present late summer situation on the development is that the submission of a planning application which had already been deferred has been put back again because of problems with Everton/Houston Securities guaranteeing their £35M contribution and with the failure of builders Bovis Lend Lease to so far underwrite the non Stadium part of the development. Work on feasibility studies has, for the moment, been suspended. If the project proceeds, as Vision and the developers insist will happen after this technical hiccough, it will be at best late 2003 before there is a decision by the Council on the planning application and then only if it is not “called in” by the Government.

So there is still some mileage in the process, some clouds of doubt have started to emerge, many difficult questions remain half answered at best and we’re not even certain who the “jury” on a planning application will be, let alone what their final verdict will be. For this reason it seems worrying to me that practically from the first whistle there has been a determination to sell the Arena as a done deal, a “fait accompli” which is only awaiting the minor matter of construction before the glorious blue - ribbon cutting ceremony can commence.

The “Echo” set the scene for this complacent triumphalism. Originally it slated the plan as a no hoper before experiencing a sudden blinding conversion which sent the editorial team scuttling to their thesaurus for extra superlatives for a stunning, world class masterpiece which had apparently slipped by their attention barely noticed for some months. “Oh, so that one’s the Stadium plan - why didn’t you tell us that before?”. After the preferred developer status was announced, the front page boldly declared “It’s Ours!” as if Trinity Mirror had successfully put in a late bid themselves.

Bill Kenwright then said the Stadium was 99% certain of going ahead while even the nature of the planning application remained undecided, before a single consultation meeting with local people had been fixed, before even the Everton/Houston part of the deal was sealed up. Most of the media coverage until the end of August has followed suit, along the lines of “when Everton relocate to Kings Dock….” as though the word “if” has disappeared from the language. Even the Council’s own newsletter, which should have been playing a straight bat, touted it as a certainty.

Not surprising then that, at least up until the latest news of problems, some Evertonians have been picking their new matchday boozers and debating names like McCartney Stadium, while some people here have felt the formal consultation process will only be a hollow, after the fact, box-ticking exercise.

Some time ago now, Everton - without Bill Kenwright – met with us and officially distanced themselves from the “It’s Ours” mentality and said they were well aware that this was far from over. Indeed Philip Carter, Mike Dunford and Ian Ross at that meeting, were genuinely courteous and seemed to accept that the concerns we had were very valid. The problem was, they seemed to know very little more about what was going on than we did. Ask “Vision” - the regeneration company dealing with the site - or ask the Council, was the stock answer to many of our quite specific questions about how we feel it will impact locally.

No one round here has any objections to Everton having a decent new Stadium, but many sincerely believe this isn’t the right site. It is water-locked, and has huge access problems. Though it might just, with some work, sustain a MEN type indoor arena, a whopping big Wapping Stadium seems a case of wishful thinking triumphing over objectivity. Indeed, Everton must have once shared the same worries as it was way down the list of their “possibles” until the City Council, as Mike Dunford admitted to us, invited them to submit a bid.

At present the local infrastructure creaks when a few thousand turn up for fixed-time events like the summer pops or a fireworks display. For example Park Lane was jammed for several hours after Liverpool’s treble homecoming last year. This wasn’t a mirage, it actually happened and it’s happened before. So it seems not unreasonable to ask for reassurances that there will be major investment in substantial infrastructure changes to accompany the Stadium and that it can be absolutely demonstrated that these will be effective.

The views of Vision and the developers on this crucial issue have ranged from saying yes of course massive investment in infrastructure must accompany the Stadium to contrarily venturing that what’s there now is more or less adequate. The new tram system is essential one minute but - when questions emerge about it ever happening - not very important the next. From the tiny amount we know the stance that little change is needed appears to be gaining momentum and closing the Strand – town’s busiest arterial route - for 20 minutes after “events” is reported as the interim favoured “solution” of Vision to a traffic problem which perversely they don’t entirely accept will materialise. It’s certainly an interesting way for them to attempt to fulfil their own stated city centre priority to “reduce the dominance of traffic on the Strand”.

There are for the record quite a lot of answers and reassurances on other issues – parking, public safety, access for emergency services, noise, litter, pollution and health, construction, the legacy of multiple “events” - which are also still needed. And that’s before we get to the big strategic issues of Objective One funding and the net economic and employment effects for people locally and for Merseyside generally. All of which is pretty serious stuff and in my book rather more important than whether the Stadium is Mickey Mouse or Amphibious Landing Craft shape - which we are led to believe are the only sort of factors that might lead to Government intervention. It seems if you keep English Heritage happy you’re half way there.

Yet this project has been pushed ahead with little regard to such fine details. Its backers started with their bold “can do” answer, that a Stadium is going there - told us that it will probably create loads of jobs and will be dead good for everyone - and have then tried to work out what the questions are. It seems to me that the political stakes have been raised so high by promises that this project will happen that it’s now about squeezing the quart into a pint pot. That reality has in effect meant building a hermetic seal around a process that has sadly been characterised by official secrecy and unofficial insults rather than transparency or rational debate.

The public consultation exercise locally has been dismal and dragging out information or documentation about anything of much significance, pretty much impossible. At the one formal meeting that has been held by Vision with the community, the project managers took up a lot of time with a detailed explanation of how wonderful the Stadium will be inside, including the high tech flummery in the executive boxes, until, after many looks of astonishment all around, someone worked up the courage to tell them that it may well be the greatest Stadium this side of the Planet Zarg, but that had no real relevance to the issues of traffic, environment and “liveability” we had come along expecting to discuss.

Vision have, since that debacle, not yet organised a follow up meeting and their promised new website is still under construction. They have sent out what to me were a less than convincing set of brief answers to questions raised with them. All the important documentation remains out of reach of the public, whatever side of the argument they sit on. More bizarrely they launched, through the “Echo”, the community programme that will go with the Stadium, without bothering to discuss it at all first with anyone in the community. Whether this is all down to hopeless public relations or a deliberate strategy to keep noses out, I don’t know or really care – the paternalistic end result is the same either way.

Certainly, though much blame for this may be laid at the door of Vision, Everton’s name is blasted all over the project, so even if the mysterious Houston Securities are the senior element of the Stadium partnership, they should not escape criticism, particularly when the point about lack of involvement and information to local people was made directly to them. Latterly they could certainly have been far more influential than they have been, but instead have contented themselves with a back seat and sending out priority applications for seats in a Stadium that may never be.

In all of Bill Kenwright’s voluminous outpourings on Kings Dock, I cannot remember one single mention of concern for the local community. Bill, I’m told is a very, very nice man and I have no reason to doubt it. Certainly he’s entitled to his public displays of passion and emotion for those wonderful Evertonians, for the magnificent Paul Gregg - the string pulling, money laden Director involved in Everton it appears only because of what he believes Kings Dock will deliver for Houston Securities - for the community being left behind in Walton, for whoever he wants. But his corresponding failure to deliver even a crumb of consideration to us has set the tone for some of his fellow Evertonians.

I can really only recall Ian Macdonald, from the pro lobby, who has bothered to spare the thought that local people’s views should be taken seriously too. Thanks Ian – it’s an appreciated gesture that was noticeable against the surrounding sound of official silence. Much of the rest of what little has been said about residents has sadly been nasty and dismissive or just plain stupid.

Evertonians for Kings Dock is a well organised and articulate lobby group which as the name might suggest, thinks this is a rather good plan. They have strongly influenced the process so far and quite probably without them the project would have long since floundered. A point Messrs. Gregg and Kenwright would do well to notice.

EfKD’s leading theorist on all things good about Kings Dock, is someone who writes on the Blue Kipper website under the pseudonym, Mickey Blue Eyes. MBE is a professional who has, he says, designed and run projects that make the KD look like a toy village. As a result he is very authoritative on the murky world of such projects and that allied to his regular, not very off the record chats with Vision Chairman Joe Dwyer, makes him a far better source of information than any of the sops we’ve been fed officially.

Mickey clearly sees anyone who doesn’t agree with him about KD as the enemy. To be fair, he doesn’t like quite a lot of people who do support it either. His analysis though of what’s happening - the wheeling and dealing - is often sharp and illuminating and I couldn’t agree more with his description of the “absurd closed world that has engulfed the project from the start” because that’s the chief gripe of this article. But not the only one.

Mick is clear about his own motivation, “The only thing I am interested in is securing the project for Everton and its fans”. Seems fair enough to me but then he complicates his argument by insisting the overall project is essential to the regeneration of the city which is more debatable, before going way over the top to insist that anyone who stands in its way - erm like us – will be responsible for the future economic stagnation of the city. Oh and they’ll lose us Capital of Culture too.

All of this means he doesn’t like us very much. “Leave the hysterical foam-flecked hysterical jeering to our infamous tiny minority of permanent whingers. In the end they won’t matter. Constructive things happen in spite of those arse-holes not because of them” or “as for the mere moaners, they don’t matter. They never have, except as an example of how not to get through your life and maybe as a butt for humour”. Oh dear - suddenly we’re the axis of evil. Lucky we didn’t mention the dirty fork as well.

So casually ignoring “the only thing I am interested in is securing the project for Everton and its fans”, we have the intertwining of the Stadium with the future of the city. Essentially Mickey’s saying, even asking questions about the Stadium shows you’re a traitor to Liverpool, pushing it back to the economic brink those of us who lived here in the “bad old days” remember so well. If it’s a strategy to bully people it’s a good one but though his tortured logic may wash with some, to me it’s like a blue rag to a colour blind bull.

I buy into passion for your football team, whoever they are, but tell me I’m not as passionate about the future of the city I was born in, choose to stay in, want my kids to have a future in and wish to die in, because I want some bloody answers to some relatively simple questions and I turn to fury – oh all right then, mild anger. Maybe I’m too cynical and if it was Liverpool FC pitching for Kings Dock, with exactly the same perceived benefits to the city, Mickey would still be in there denouncing anyone like myself who stood in its way, with his foam flecked invective. Maybe.

The big economic question of course is will this be a dynamic flagship project that contributes to pulling us out of the endemic poverty that brought the objective one status in the first place? Or are such schemes just the suits versus the unsuitable, a bonanza for people such as Paul Gregg, with plenty of money already, while at the trickle down end, not much changes? The conflict is between those like Mickey, who claim a monopoly of wisdom on the answer to that question and the right to impose it on everyone else against those of us who claim neither.

Now there is a completely different Mike who is also involved with EfKD, but this one is the less prosaic Mike Durkin, its joint co-ordinator. This Mike has also had a similar bee in his bonnet for some time about “can’t do mind-sets” and our “nimby 3” Councillors, in particular Joe Anderson, the new Labour, as opposed to the “new Labour” leader, in the city. How he can be classed as a nimby when he lives miles away is beyond me. If anything he’s a “Niseby” (Not in Someone Else’s Back Yard) which I suppose makes the majority of EfKD followers straightforward “Isebies”. Don’t you just love acronyms?

Anyway this other Mike had the rather good idea a few months ago of a couple of them meeting up with a couple of us and at least trying to understand each other’s points of view and seeing where the common ground, if any, lay. We may all have been bezzy mates by now but unfortunately the meeting was called off by Mike at a few minutes notice with no clear explanation but now I can guess Mickey had been on telling him not to talk to “arse-holes” who might show him how not to live his life.

In hindsight the cancellation was just as well as I suspect rather than being a chummy chat, the meeting might have been what my old pal Bernard Ingham once termed a “dialogue of the deaf”. Come to think of it, the “I’m clever and right and you’re thick and wrong” attitude of MBE does have an Inghamian ring to it.

The irony is that none of this wasteful intrigue and slang matching need have happened. If the plan is as perfect as until recently, we were constantly told it was, it would certainly have survived a more subtle and less antagonistic approach than the one we have endured so far. If “everyone’s a winner”, where’s the need for secrecy?

The point really is, no one has actually said you “can’t do” this, but rather that before you do it, you have to demonstrate not only (because of objective one and the other public funding) that the whole community will benefit but also (regardless of funding) that you’ve got the solutions to what seem on the surface to be some fairly intractable problems.

Yet the machismo of the “can do, will do” camp acknowledges no such problems so even getting to the starting point for honest debate has been difficult. “Can’t do Mind-sets” is nice political rhetoric but its bone shakingly empty when you apply it to an area where developments, which wouldn’t touch first base in other parts of the region, are happening left, right and centre. The derided ward Councillors are doing what every ward Councillor on Merseyside, including Mike Storey, would do in similar circumstances. Tossing insults and acronyms about is just a smokescreen for not bothering to engage with your critics. Tying the Stadium in with the future of the city is a red herring, or a blue kipper or something.

I’d suggest a more sensible way to proceed would have been three pronged.

Firstly, draw down expectation by making it very plain that the plan is a maybe and could only proceed after and if the logistical and financial problems were demonstrably shown as solvable i.e. what are the problems, how can they be resolved, how much will it cost and where will the money come from? Then add to this cautionary strategy, the semblance of a back up plan should indeed the problems prove insurmountable. (We asked Everton and there is no Plan B, beyond I suspect calling the people at “Goodison For Everton” for help). Finally as a principal part of your programme, why not engage frankly and openly and from the start with the local residents who you have unilaterally decided are going to be your new neighbours? After all, you’re the new kids on the block, not them.

Of course what has happened has been more or less the opposite of such a rational and fair approach to the proper weighing up of costs and benefits. Its legacy has so far been to create mistrust on both sides of the argument, which will result, is already resulting, in an almighty blame game whichever way the issue is resolved. If the project now does fall apart by being proven nonviable or by squabbling amongst the partners, Evertonians will be rightly furious at being led to the water but in the end not being allowed to drink. If it goes ahead with a cavalier disregard for solutions to local concerns, there will be an equally bitter and enduring legacy.

The third way of course is that a Stadium is built that not only makes old blue eyes happy but also accounts for all the concerns expressed above. A tall order quite possibly. But for our part, a change from the taciturn approach by the “unelected and unaccountable grandees of LiverpoolVision” - as EfKD once referred to them when they suspected they were about to rule in favour of the rival ICIAN bid - even at this relatively late stage may help. Persuading them and the Stadium supporters that we have lives and aspirations that also count is of great importance. Vision did say that existing city centre communities must feel the benefit of change so by their own words they and their chums at EfKD should be engaging with, rather than alienating, us.

What do we want to see? How about information and lots of it but not shoved at us in huge, indigestible bundles at the last minute so another box can be ticked? How about consultation that consults and includes rather than hands down what’s been decided? How about an insight into the convoluted process that led us to this stage, 95% of which has been conducted behind closed doors? How about transparency rather than secrecy?
How about the same treatment for us that would be afforded residents in the “leafier suburbs” if, post very unlikely mega lottery win, I came up with a plan to build a Stadium in a field next to Philip Carter or Joe Dwyer (Vision Chairman) or Mark Dickenson (Echo Editor) or any of the other prime movers and shakers in this one?
Or how about an in depth community consultation along the lines of that being done by Liverpool FC which Mike Storey lauded extensively and said should be the model for community engagement with new Stadium developments anywhere in the country? If its good enough for the aloof aristocrats of Anfield, how about the “people’s club”, with a far greater budget explaining, if they won’t follow suit, why not? How about, if they don’t do it, them reminding us again why they’re the “people’s club”?

How about a bit of even-handedness from the Liverpool Echo? How about them attempting at least a hint of consistency in their editorial position? How can we unashamedly be derided as self-interested nimbys in one column while later the same privileged pulpit proclaims Anfield residents as the most important people in the Liverpool ground debate. Well, we’re either all selfish nimbys or we’re all salt of the earth residents – so take your pick of sad stereotypes, but if you choose to insult us, do the same to them.

If Everton and Liverpool depart Goodison and Anfield respectively, we will witness the end of a glorious shared football history and of arguably the most famous heritage in world football. If that happens then as a fan I will be sad but then that’s life. As a resident however, my fear is that Kings Dock would at the same time turn out to prove both “pro” and “anti” camps right by being a dream come true for its blue devotees and a living and enduring mess for the people closest to it. I may soon have Everton moving in next door but they’ve never felt so far away.