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Of Time And The City: Liverpool’s paradise regained?

This article is over 13 years, 2 months old
Pete Dwyer examines a new film that lifts the lid on the contradictions behind Liverpool’s status as European City of Culture
Issue 2126
 (Pic:» Tim Sanders )
(Pic: » Tim Sanders)

Themes of poverty, change, urban decay and renewal loom large in the new film by Liverpudlian director Terence Davies. Of Time And The City is a very personal view of Liverpool after the Second World War up until the early 1970s when Davies moved away.

The film is full of shots of the waterfront docks that were central to the development of the city and once put it at the heart of a global empire – a key link in the slave trade’s “Atlantic triangle”. But as Davies shows, much, including the docks, has changed since then.

He pours scorn on the hype of the city’s royal ceremonies (calling the Queen’s Coronation “the Betty Windsor show”), but it is no coincidence that the film’s release coincides with the climax of Liverpool’s year as the European Capital of Culture.

The film feeds into the desperate desire to recast Liverpool as a city reborn – erasing the popular 1980s image of a riot-torn town complete with “loony-left” councils.

The city council, the great and the good of the cultural glitterati and property developers constantly sell Liverpool as a “post-industrial” city. Dreamed up before the latest crisis of capitalism, the message is clear – business is leading the way.

You would be forgiven for thinking the regeneration has been the product of the private sector.

But images in the film of slum clearances and new council houses built in Liverpool after the Second World War are a reminder of how it was the struggle for a decent welfare state that changed much of the face of Britain. And, in an attempt to deal with long-term industrial decline, Liverpool has been the recipient of practically every government regeneration scheme since the 1960s.

With around 10,000 manufacturing jobs lost in Liverpool since the late 1990s, much has been made of the rise in the number of new jobs in the service sector. But the recent growth of the city has not been built on the back of this so-called new economy – 35 percent of employees in Merseyside are employed in the public sector.

Liverpool still has four of the 210 poorest postcode areas in the country. In areas like Kensington on the edge of the city, working class people have a 50 percent chance of dying below the average life expectancy.

Despite the hype around the European Capital of Culture, the city is no better placed to weather the recession. The release of the national unemployment figures last month showed that the Liverpool city-region bucked the national trend of increases in those claiming jobseekers allowance.

But, as Alec McFadden of Merseyside TUC explains, “Merseyside’s claimant rate is growing more slowly because unemployment was higher here already.”

A local construction company closed last week with the loss of several hundred jobs and owing £100 million. The company had built several city centre apartment schemes, was developing a new one on the Kings Waterfront, and was central to a number of flagship residential schemes across the north west of England.

It is now feared that its collapse could threaten a large number of smaller building firms across the region.

And, despite the hype, not all regeneration plans are popular.

Hundreds of homes earmarked for “regeneration” are decent Victorian and Georgian houses being demolished to make way for new developments.

Disgracefully, the council has issued compulsory purchase orders on families as part of the Edge Lane redevelopment on the outskirts of the city.

In Kensington, whole streets are being demolished in favour of developers. In nearby Toxteth local residents have been complaining that their voices have been ignored as the bulldozers move in.

This has not gone without some resistance. Local people have been campaigning against the demolition of homes and to protect local heritage sites and parks.

In October, with several hundred onlookers cheering them on, scuffles broke out in the city centre after months of intimidation and harassment by the police came to a head as several campaign groups refused to be moved on.

With real unemployment still around 15-25 percent, two local car plants putting workers on short working time, and 35 percent of city centre apartments vacant (before the credit crunch started) surely there must have been some irony in the headlines of local papers that greeted the opening of the Liverpool One shopping development with “Welcome to Paradise”.

Davies’ film ends with shots of crowds of young people queuing to get into one of the burgeoning bars and clubs that have sprung up across the city centre in the last few years.

Tucked away in the background is a poster for a gig by local band Amsterdam. Their homage to the city, Does This Train Stop On Merseyside?, captures well the creative and chequered history of the city. One of the lines of the song reminds us “the blood of Africa is on every wall”.

Paradise indeed!


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