Poorly Planned and Designed Housing at
Queens, Coburg, Brunswick & Herculaneum Docks

Lack of an overall strategy document dictating the future direction of the dock water spaces creates poor quality designs. This problem was highlighted by UNESCO.

New buildings in dock areas more suited to the edge of a Surrey town rather than  a city with a world renowned historical maritime tradition.

New developments on the dock areas render the areas lifeless.

Dock areas rendered lifeless sleeping areas.

Dock areas are absent of vitality.

Dockside developments designed around cars not people.

Quayside waterscapes not used to maximum advantage.

No rapid-transit rail is run into the dock areas, reducing the attractiveness of the waterscape .

Jonathan Brown, Merseyside Civic Society

Seven miles of waterfront puts Liverpool on a par with world cities like Nice, Sydney or downtown Manhattan. At present we have still to develop sufficient civic vision to understand what that means in planning terms.

For instance, the Albert Dock’s water space is actually bigger than Trafalgar Square in London – stretching in each direction we are blessed with an extensive series of magnificent historic “water-squares”, unique in all the world. Magnificent because their setting overlooks the mighty Mersey, with the great metropolis of Liverpool rising up behind.

This legacy in stone is a gift from the past that our friends in other cities would die for. So, what have we spent the last two decades doing with those “water squares”, whose heritage is acknowledged as of “universal human significance” by the United Nations? What lessons have we learned since central government stepped in and saved the Albert Dock from demolition?

It is painful to say that we have spent much of that time filling many of the old docks in for car parking and “anytown” development, and allowed the rise of an exclusive, suburban-scale “apartmentopolis” of flats, forecourts for car dealerships and fast-food restaurants. The latest example of this lack of stewardship is the abominable multi-storey car park just up from the Liver Buildings on the Princes dock – an absolute eyesore, and the foolhardy proposals to fill in the Georgian Waterloo Dock.

The increasing outcry shows united concern at potential damage to what is not just one of Liverpool’s but the world’s prize heritage assets. We urgently need an ambitious and above all imaginative review of the riverfront’s potential.

World Class Tower Would Have Brought Vitality to Lifeless Dock Areas

The Brunswick Quay Tower was reject by the Council and then on appeal by Ruth Kelly the secretary of state for communities and local government in Whitehall, London.  This project would have injected life and class architecture into the lifeless dock areas. The needless rejection sets back any meaningful regeneration.

The Successful Albert Dock Model

The Albert Dock was an industrial complex maximising the quay space available. Yet Jessie Hartley, the designer, took into account that men would be working in wet and windy weather on the riverfront. Winds can be cutting on the riverfront. The warehouses were built right to the quay's edge creating a overhanging walkway protecting the men working beneath.

When the Albert  Dock warehouses were converted to residential and leisure use in the early 1980s, this design was perfect to create a tight intimate atmosphere with protected covered colonnade walkways which became public pavements. The high warehouses offered protection from cold river winds with protected  walkways facing the enclosed dock. Cars are excluded. The public areas are on a human scale. Even in wet and windy weather the Albert Dock still attracts visitors because of the protection offered from the elements. An intimate human-scale waterside atmosphere is created making Albert Dock a magnet for people and small businesses of bars, cafes and restaurants. The dock is bustling with people during the day and evening. A complex full of vitality. The formula is simple: buildings high and up to the quays, covered pavements and no cars.

Below:  The Albert Dock takes the building to the edge of the quays and offers  pedestrians covered colonnade pavements giving protection from river-wind and rain. Cars are omitted.

New Developments in Dock Areas Lack Vitality

Despite the successful Albert Dock model, new developments were primarily formed around cars, their parking and access. This created a low density community around the Queens branch dock, Brunswick and Coburg Docks and the in-filled Herculaneum Dock. Little entertainment was provided, not even shops. A totally contrasting environment was created from what Albert Dock offered. The new developments are dead, rendering them mere sleeping areas, with the residents having to shop elsewhere and be entertained elsewhere.

The developments are more suited in style and layout to the edge of a Surrey town rather than a city with a rich maritime tradition. The flats built on the in-filled Herculaneum Dock resemble public council housing. An object lesson of now not to do it. A big mistake all around. The successful Albert Dock model, a clear example of how to do it, was totally ignored.

Below: Houses between Queens and Coburg Docks, more suited to an inland Surrey town than a city with a rich maritime tradition. Cars are ever-present..

Inappropriate Buildings on Quays

Buildings on the quays are wholly unsuited for a dockside waterways environment.  They offer no link with the docks historical past.

Below: Low density houses on the quays at Coburg dock.  Note the absence of any maritime or historical design in the anytown architecture. Cars are right on the quays.

Below: These anytown public housing looking flats are built on the in-filled Herculaneum Dock. Nothing in the design incorporated anything relating to the maritime history of the site - these bland anytown flats could be in any inland town. This development is a complete waste of a once magnificent waterspace, where Liberty ships of the World War Two convoys would muster to leave via the Herculaneum river locks. The blocks in view are built upon the graving docks.

                 Photo courtesy of Dave Wood at Liverpool Pictorial

"I used to go down to the docks a lot. I had very romantic feelings about them. I had a mate whose father was the dockmaster of Herculaneum Dock, and I stayed there one night. A Spanish boat came in and we wanted to practice our Spanish, since we'd just started learning it at school. The only phrase I practiced was 'non rapidamente,' because they kept talking too fast and we didn't know the word for 'slowly.' I remember one Spanish guy on deck having his hair cut."
- Paul McCartney

The last official lowering of the American Confederate flag was on the Mersey between Toxteth and Tranmere in November 1865 - Liverpool was the unofficial home port of the Confederate fleet. CSS Shenandoah surrendered to the Royal Navy after the North defeated the South in the American Civil War. She was berthed at the Herculaneum Dock after surrender.

Below: The Herculaneum Dock in 1903. The bridge of the overhead railway can be seen entering the Dingle Tunnel. This dock was in-filled in the 1980s, so the Dock Road could be extended through the dock making the Dock Road a needless urban motorway. Cars win out again over valuable historic waterspaces.


No Rapid-Transit Rail Not Serving The Dock Waters Adequately

Merseyside has Merseyrail, a rapid-transit rail metro. The dock waters are only accessed at one point, at Brunswick Dock in the south docks, The lack of rapid-transit rail access impedes the dock waters progress. Direct access is needed to all of Merseyside and John Lennon airport. Rapid-transit rail would create needed economic growth.  This in turn would lead to higher quality developments.in the dock waters.
Two disused tunnels access the north and south docks, the Waterloo Tunnel and the Wapping Tunnel. These tunnels would give excellent rail access to the docks creating a vibrant atmosphere. The use of tram-trains that leave the tunnels progressing into the dock spaces is ideal and has been proposed by Merseytravel. So far none have been implemented.
The use of light-rail trains, as used in London's Docklands, would greatly assist in developing a vibrant dock waters. The Docklands Light Railway is primarily an elevated railway. This sort of railway would be a historic link with the Liverpool Overhead Railway.

Light-rail trains can run on heavy rail tracks on the existing Merseyrail network, yet offer so much more versatility when implementing in a dock water environment.

Hamburg Builds New Buildings Suited to Quays

In Hamburg, buildings tend to be right up to, or overhang the quays, giving a full water perspective.  

Below: New overhanging buildings, giving pedestrian protection on the quays - similar to the Albert Dock model. The overhanging buildings take full advantage of the waterscape, giving residents a water view from apartments from many angles.

Below:  Victorian colonnades and attractive restaurants make full use of the quays being to the quay's edge, with terraces above. Modern buildings continue the theme.

Below: Modern buildings right up to the quaysides at Hamburg. The buildings make full use of the waterscape showing Liverpool how to do it.

Below: At Hamburg, full advantage of narrow waterways are taken, giving a pleasing tight waterscape atmosphere.

Dublin Develops Dock Areas

Below: Although most buildings are slightly off the quays, Dublin is making better use of its dock water spaces than Liverpool.

Hamburg photos by Till Eichenauer