This week’s news about the iconic Littlewoods Building on Edge Lane in Liverpool being engulfed in flames left locals shocked and upset.
Here we look back over the history of the building and ask what next for the imposing structure? Mike Pearson reminds landlords of their responsibilities in relation to empty buildings.
The Art Deco building was earmarked for demotion in 2013 but looked set to receive a new lease of life before the fire hit. Twickenham Studios had plans to make it into ‘The Hollywood of The North”. Liverpool is thriving as a film destination and cheaper to come to than London. Scenes from Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts, Sherlock Holmes and Peaky Blinders all feature the city’s streets.
Liverpool is popular with film crews as it has more listed buildings than anywhere else in the UK outside of London. But it may come as a surprise to many that the “Littlewoods Pools” building was never granted listed status. It was built in 1938 and it is widely accepted that the designer was the same Scottish architect responsible for The Lewis’ department store building in the city centre, Gerald de Courcy Fraser.
It’s hard to miss the building as you approach Liverpool from the East. Most passing by have little idea about how it used to house monstrous printing equipment that produced millions of football pools coupons every week. Players would dream of winning a golden ticket, but the game petered out with the arrival of The National Lottery and online gaming.
In later life the building was requisitioned by the Government. During the war it acted as a postal censorship department, its huge printing press produced more than 17 million National Registration Cards.
Since 2003 the building stood empty, its presses sold off, dismantled and taken abroad. In 2017 it was acquired by Capital and Centric, a Manchester-based development company. There was a lot of excitement about the building becoming a hotel but the work never got off the ground.
Earlier this year news that Twickenham Studios would be a major tenant were welcomed by the city. Their involvement guaranteed the 17,000 sq metre site would act as a magnet to other creative industries, saving the building from demolition.
When fire struck on 2nd September 2018 the building was badly damaged.
Mayor Joe Anderson was left having to defend himself on Twitter amidst claims that seemed to be alleging it was an “insurance job”. The city’s leader tweeted the following:
“To all those attacking me or Liverpool Council over Littlewoods Building, we did not own it HCA a Government Land Agency owned it, we have worked hard to get it off them and to get a partner and funding, the plans we have are amazing that’s why I am so sad at news.”
To all those attacking me or Liverpool Council over Littlewoods Building, we did not own it HCA a Government Land Agency owned it, we have worked hard to get it off them and to get a partner and funding, the plans we have are amazing that’s why I am so sad at news.
— Joe Anderson (@mayor_anderson) September 2, 2018
One wing of the building lost its roof and upper floor. Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service described the fire as “significant” with the area alight covering thousands of square metres. The roof and flooring at the building was badly damaged as flames took hold on the Sunday evening. The news was welcomed when they announced it so far seems the Art-Deco building’s structural integrity has not been compromised.
By the 3rd September, owners Capital and Centric had released a defiant statement.Their Co-Founder Adam Higgins said:
“While there is damage to the floor and roof, the walls of the west wing and overall structure seem intact. We’ll know more once we can get inside, but we’re extremely hopeful that we’ll be able to save the iconic structure that people see from Edge Lane.
“The building is so important to the social heritage of Liverpool and has always been at the heart of our plans to create a hub for TV and film. We won’t let this put us off.”
Higgins went on to pledge that the incident was only a setback and that it won’t hamper the ambitions for the Littlewood’s site to be a major regional home for creative industries. They praised firefighters.
We’re still standing at #littlewoodsbuildings Feeling very optimistic that this isn’t going to set our film studio plans back too far. Once again thanks to @MerseyFire who are still on site dealing with odd flare ups, these guys have been amazing pic.twitter.com/5IyRibE8JN
— CAPITAL&CENTRIC (@CapitalCentric) September 4, 2018
Mike Pearson, Managing Director at Wirral Fire Protection offers the following advice to landlords:
Owners of vacant buildings have the same legal responsibility for fire safety as when the building is in use. Empty buildings are much more likely to be targeted by arsonists, thieves and those randomly inflicting mindless damage. It makes sense to get professional advice about protecting your asset and anybody who may visit the property such as contractors, potential tenants and even fire fighters attending a fire situation.
Follow Mikes tips to ensure persons are not exposed to unnecessary risk and reduce the likelihood of a dispute with insurers in the case of a claim for fire losses:
> Maintain the efficiency of protective installations such as fire and intruder alarm systems, (and CCTV, suppression/sprinkler systems where fitted)
> Consider installing a means to have fire and security alarm systems remotely monitored.
> Remove any sources of ignition from within the premises.
> Minimise the amount of combustible materials present, both inside and outside the building.
> Reduce the attractiveness of the building to vandals or thieves by carefully removing, as far as possible, any contents, fixtures or fittings which may be of value or architectural interest.
> Optimise levels of physical security by fitting, for example, 5-lever mortice locks to entrance doors.
> Ensure any postal or other deliveries are stopped. Letter plate apertures should be sealed, but failing this, all unwanted deliveries should be removed on a regular basis.
> Remove any graffiti and carry out repairs to broken windows, security fencing etc on a regular and prompt basis.