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Larry Neild on a new book that worries about allowing our public spaces to go into private hands

Published on June 23rd 2009.


ONE of the triumphs of the Victorian age was the creation of the great public parks, no more so than in Liverpool. They have become, and remain great gathering points for the population.

If the parks were one of the most enduring achievements of the 19th century, the 21st century is likely to be remembered for the privatisation of great public spaces.

Minton says: 'From Liverpool to Manchester, London to Newcastle, more and more streets are owned by private companies with the sole aim of making money ... imposing skyscrapers and fortress-like developments which not only provide physical barriers but engineer fear and mistrust.'

Liverpool One, the showpiece extension to Liverpool city centre, is one of the “privatised” areas prominently mentioned in a new book out this week, Ground Control.

Author Anna Minton writes about Liverpool, Manchester and other major cities where increasing amounts of once-public space is handed over to the control of private organisations.

The argument in favour of “private” streets is that ownership ensures high levels of security, safety and cleanliness.

But when people in Liverpool say they are “going to town” they do so in the knowledge the streets belong universally to all of us.

Have you seen a Big Issue seller on the other side of the invisible wall separating the public city centre from the “private” city centre?

There is perhaps a feeling when visiting Liverpool One that you are really a visitor, entering somebody’s private space, welcomed only at their invitation and with their permission. So you had better be on your Sunday-best behaviour.

It is easier, perhaps, to understand why places like the Trafford Centre, Cheshire Oaks and similar out of town shopping malls are in private hands. You can choose whether or not to go them. Liverpool’s main Post Office is now housed within the wall-less Liverpool One complex (a name first coined in the marketing blurb. The 42 acres was not originally meant to have a distinct name at all).

Private space is a practice spreading to the suburbs where increasing numbers

of gated communities are being built. It’s an idea imported from the US where the rich and famous insist on living behind closed walls. Have you visited Yew Tree Road in Calderstones, or Millionaire’s Row, as I call it, judging from the fortifications?

I can’t decide whether it is to keep us out, or prevent WAG-ish families from getting out of their safe havens to invade “our” public space. Most of the occupants are happy to grow rich courtesy of the ordinary folk living in Cloud Public Land, but they are unwilling to rub shoulders when it really comes down to it.

Yet our politicians seemingly hand over the rights to developers to expand no-go areas.

In her book, Anna Minton suggests privatising the streets is actually having a negative impact on our lives.

It has allowed private developers to wrestle control away from local government, creating spaces designed for profit and watched over by CCTV, with their own uniformed security guards.

Minton says: “ From Liverpool to Manchester, London to Newcastle, more and more streets are owned by private companies with the sole aim of making money ... imposing skyscrapers and fortress-like developments which not only provide physical barriers but engineer fear and mistrust. “

She wants to see an alternative continental approach that will celebrate shared public space to reinvigorate civic engagement.

Meanwhile if you do want this week’s Big Issue head to Church Street or Williamson Square, "traditional" public spaces with litter, warts and all.

*Anna Minton is also the author of The Joseph Rowntree Foundation Viewpoint on Fear and Distrust, and is a member of the writers' panel for The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. Ground Control, released June 25. Penguin Books, £9.99.

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32 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

DigJune 23rd 2009.

Don't get me started on the standard of driving as well! Too late. The people you would expect to be the best drivers, ie; the most experienced, are also, generally the worst. Cabbies (sorry Fat Git), white van man, truckers and older drivers. The amount of aggression from Hackney drivers and truckers is shocking. I think a lot of them get bored driving all day so to alleviate that boredom & frustration they take chances & play games with other drivers. Turning the road into a dangerous playground.

DigJune 23rd 2009.

I hate secret shoppers! The cause of paranoia and cynicism in my line of work! Where's the camera? Is this phone call being recorded and analysed? How do I respond to this email? I hate you!

Leave BlankJune 23rd 2009.

I don't see the problem. Developers buy land and build "mawls" to make money. Councils encourage them as it tidies up the city and brings in the shoppers. If you want to keep the interesting bits, don't sell them to the developers - but you have to use them, or they will have no option but to sell out. There's no future in people saying how interesting it is and then going on into the mawl to spend their money.

AnonymousJune 23rd 2009.

How DARE anyone say that Liverpool ONE is gray and colourless. It is a retail paradise and Yo! Sushi too. What more do you want people?

Stanley StreetJune 23rd 2009.

Dig, it's been bad longer than you say. I used to walk to work in town every day but the biggest delay was trying to cross Berry Street at the Duke Street junction. It was almost impossible to cross because at least five cars on their way into town would go through the red lights at every cycle so there was only rarely a gap in the traffic to run across.

Secret shopperJune 23rd 2009.

Steady on there!

NoNameDriverJune 23rd 2009.

Disabled Drivers! Let's sort them out. Every day there's a disabled driver who hogs a (free) parking space meant for two, denying the council a potential daily income of £40 (2 x 10 hours x £2 per hour) or £280 a week. Selfish person.We need a touch clampdown on disabled parking. Nobody would deny legally disabled people convenient parking, though should it necessarily be free. I see so many top of the range limos with blue badges. Let them have convenient parking but pay for it like the rest of us. However, it's clear many people using blue badges are fitter than I am. Name withheld for fear of being clobbered with somebody's crutches.

Good runner, used daily.June 23rd 2009.

Quite right! Even box junctions are grid-locked by selfish chumps who go through the red light and get stuck.Incidentally, I reckon that we turned off from Laz's subject about fourteen junctions ago.

Sir Walter RaleighJune 23rd 2009.

The old Cycling Proficiency Test fittted cyclists to better use the road than many drivers these days! Many motorists can't take a left turn at 5mph without swerving over to the right, haven't a clue how to turn right at junction so hold up all the straight-ahead traffic and the 'rule of the road' - KEEP LEFT - is beyond most drivers. When I drive I have to lean across the passenger seat to see the road ahead because all the chumps are hogging the crown of the road when they are neither overtaking nor turning right! They should be arrested and made to do their test again.

DigJune 23rd 2009.

In what respect? Anyway I always talk like a tit don't I anonymouse?

Stanley StreetJune 23rd 2009.

Walking around Liverpool One is like walking around the Trafford Centre. Certainly the chain shops are there but the interesting bits between them - the pubs, corners, independent shops, alleys, architecture and serendipitous finds along small back passages - simply aren't there. These "shopping mawls" were invented for the United States so that fat, lazy, car-dependent and antisocial people don't have to walk too far or have intercourse with people.

DigJune 23rd 2009.

Read my rant from earlier on Walter. I don't condemn all cyclists. General cycle proficiency awareness is also shocking. They aren't just a danger to pedestrians and motorists but they put their own lives in real danger regularly with their abysmal awareness and manoevres. Something needs to be done. I thought a law had already passed banning cyclists from pavements and making them wear helmets at all times. There should be some sort of cycling profiency register also. If somebody hasn't had driving lessons yet uses a bike on the roads how can they possibly know the laws and rules of the road?

R. G. BargeeJune 23rd 2009.

The Duke isn't doing enough about the adult louts that barge about on bicycles on his precious private pavements. Mind you, Merseyside Police and Storey's secret police (and so-called "crime wardens") do bu**er-all about these antisocial yobs tearing about on the pedestrian areas of the publicly-owned streets.

Sir Walter RaleighJune 23rd 2009.

Helmets? On a bicycle? Certainly not! Only the sort of middle class twerps who bicycle on pavements wear those silly helmets, the sort who allow their spoilt children to put their filthy footwear all over public seating in parks, gardens, promenades and in the food parts of supermarket trolleys! They ought to be flogged.

mancsJune 23rd 2009.

Liverpool one is definitely not on a par with the Trafford Centre. L1 is grey and colourless without any of the ambient details that make the TC such a retail pleasure. L1 would make a perfect backdrop to any soulless dystopian film fantasy.The idea was right but the execution was wrong.

PedestrianJune 23rd 2009.

The lights at the junction of Victoria Street, Cook Street and North John Street are a nightmare, especially for pedestrians. At least there are no traffbic lights in Liverpool One. Maybe they are banned there.

DigJune 23rd 2009.

People going through red lights has become an epidemic the last few months. I've been driving for 15 years and I've never known it as bad. The Sefton Street/ Parliament Street junction is a joke. The streets are almost becoming like the streets of India where the motorists philosophy is 'the might is right'.

DigJune 23rd 2009.

Proficiency sorry.

Maurice MinorJune 23rd 2009.

Police cars are so badly driven with regard to queue-jumping and risible lane discipline I assume that when they are off-duty they must all drive Audis and BMWs.

Sir Walter RaleighJune 23rd 2009.

Ahem! Not all cyclists - why, I am one myself. I don't ride in pedestrian areas and I disapprove strongly of these silly cycle lanes which were another way of local councils wasting money that became available. They are no use to cyclists and have narrowed roads and junctions so much that now many motorists haven't a clue about lane discipline!The drug dealers, ruffians and scallies who ride bicycles on pavements are a menace, however.

DigJune 23rd 2009.

Cyclists are a major liability to every driver and pedestrian around the city centre. Watch them when you walk or drive around the city centre yourselves. You will soon appreciate how bad they are. The majority are a law unto themselves.

SouthEnderJune 23rd 2009.

The handing over of so many publi streets to Grosvenor is one of the biggest mistakes made by the Lib Dems in Liverpool. On my rare visits to Liverpool One, which I am sure will become even rarer, I get the distinct impression that I am so how trespassing with the Duk'e permission, ok so long as I am well behaved and spend some of my money in his shops.

DigJune 23rd 2009.

Didn't you know cyclists can do whatever they want? Cycle on roads without helmets, go through red lights, cycle on pavements. They can go and do whatever they want where they want when they want. It's a perk of being morally superior as they're saving the planet. Apologies to the 1% of law abiding decent cyclists out there. You all know what category you're in.

Man of the WorldJune 23rd 2009.

As an old India hand I can assure Dig that 'might is right' is NOT how Indian streets work at all. It is all much more bizarre than that. Dig should stick to ranting about how wonderful Liverpool is. At least he has been there.

DigJune 23rd 2009.

I first heard 'the might is right' saying from an Indian guy I met through work. We do talk about driving regularly at work. I heard the same saying again more recently on TV from Sanjeev Bhaskar while he was driving in India for a documentary. You're right about 1 thing though. I haven't been to India.

Stanley StreetJune 23rd 2009.

The real joy of recreational (rather than proper, food-type shopping) is unexpectedly coming across some hidden treasure tucked away up some back passage. These things can only come about in a 'mature' shopping environment like an old city centre, with many competing landlords, low rents and no meddling politicians anxious to squander European funding on half-baked 'regeneration' schemes that ruin whole areas.A bit like Mathew Street before it went crap in the 1980s

Stanley StreetJune 23rd 2009.

Leave Blank - you're right, I don't bother with Liverpool city centre any more. There's nothing left to attract me in! Even John Lewis isn't a patch on the old George Henry Lee. I should imagine that out-of-town town shoppers who actually want the hideous 'mawl' experience will prefer to go to the Trafford Centre where the parking is completely free and fat, lazy shoppers are protected from the cold, wind and rain. Unlike Liverpool One where 'Q-Park' empties your wallet before you even get to the shops!

RespectAmberJune 23rd 2009.

Have you ever known a place like Liverpool where the majority of motorists are ambler gamblers. They ebven shoot through red lights as though there is an amnesty for the first four or five seconds of red. I think this is because the phasing of the lights is so stupid in the city centre people know if they get caught on red they are in for a long wait. And what about those lights along the Strand. They go through phases for pedestrians and buses even when there are no pedestrians or buses waiting. And cyclists? They don't let little things like traffic lights, on any colour, interrupting their little journeys.

TourmanJune 23rd 2009.

Militant cyclists are a curse of modern life and the present government and our local council do nothing to stop them. The streets have been narrowed to "accomatedate" cyclist and ridiculous cycle lanes put in, some going against the flow of traffic, which idiot came up with that one. Liverpool One, terrible name, will allow cyclists to cycle until some-one is injured on their private streets, then ban bikes. At least 15 people have been killed by cyclists on the pavements in the past 5 years and how many have gone to jail? NONE, one law for cyclists that lets them get away with everything and another for the motorist that penalises them for everything. Ban the Bike from the city centre, open up the roads agian and get the traffic flowing. Use the ACC car park in the Albert Dock, not the exspensive Qpark.

AnonymousJune 23rd 2009.

How DARE anyone say that Liverpool ONE is gray and colourless. It is a retail paradise and Yo! Sushi too. What more do you want people?

AnonymousJune 23rd 2009.

Dig, you are talking like a tit again.

Duke StreetJune 23rd 2009.

'Mancs' said it was GREY...

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