This morning Liverpool City Council has given the go-ahead for a £25m redevelopment of the Littlewoods Building.
The 4.5 acre site will be transformed into film and television studios and a new home for the city’s creative and digital sector.
Prolific North has spoken to Liverpool Film Office manager, Lynn Saunders, who has been instrumental in making the project happen.
Over the last 3 years she has been putting forward the business case for investment, to show that additional studio space was required not just in the city, but in the North as a whole.
“Production is thriving in Liverpool, but it’s not just about our iconic locations, production companies also need facilities and studio space and that’s what we’ve had to turn down,” she explained.
“We have no studios available or any large empty spaces to build a set. These places don’t exist here at the moment. It was galling to turn that business away.”
The Film Office calculated that the film enquiries that they couldn’t fulfil were worth £20m to the local economy. While she wouldn’t be drawn on specifics, Tony Jordan’s 10 year BBC project, Dickensian, did look to Liverpool (as well as Manchester and Yorkshire), but ended up in Eastern Europe.
Filming is already up 20% on last year in Liverpool and with the new production tax credits now in force, the UK is becoming increasingly attractive to overseas studios, not least Hollywood. In fact Creed, the new spin-off from the Rocky franchise, substituted Philadelphia for Liverpool, due to Pennsylvania’s attractive 25% filming tax credits – Saunders believes it would have been a different conversation with its producers, had the current UK tax credits been in force then.
Saunders and others are hoping that Liverpool’s new studios will become a key piece in a Northern jigsaw of broadcast and film opportunities. With Screen Yorkshire continuing to invest, not least with a new studio space itself; Manchester’s Dock10, Space and Sharp Projects; now Liverpool, the belief is that the accessibility and amount of locations, skills and facilities along the M62 corridor could attract major names to head away from London.
“If you look across the North, the regions are playing to their strengths. Manchester has a growing reputation, which is fantastic, but we don’t want to replicate that, we want to complement it.
“Our studios are in a great location. They’re 5 minutes from the city centre, near hotels and near the M62, so it’s close for crew to get anywhere in the North. But also we work together, with Screen Yorkshire, they knew they couldn’t provide all the locations for ’71 or Peaky Blinders, so they shot some scenes in Liverpool.
“Manchester and Yorkshire benefit Liverpool and vice versa. If you take Captain America, we worked together to bring the production to the North, because we complemented each other.”
The North may also benefit from a sea-change in the commissioning process. Amazon and Netflix have led to a change in viewing habits, instead of drip-feeding episodes, they upload an entire series. That means the whole business of filming has had to adapt.
“The television sector is changing, we are having more and more inquiries about studio space, which is needed for longer periods of time. If you look at Game of Thrones and others, Hollywood productions are now filling studios up and in London, there are 5 or 10 year waiting lists. This is driving productions North,” she said.
Public Private Funding
As for the studio complex itself, the £25m is sourced through public private sector funding. Much like Peel at MediaCityUK, the developer, Capital and Centric, is putting up the majority of the cash – in return for a 250 year lease of the site.
“Their track record is breathing life into old buildings, but they really get the industry and the creative sector,” she said.
Of the building itself, there is a touch of Hollywood about it.
“Yes, it’s very iconic and there’s a definite nod in its architecture, but with its history from the Marconi days, the infrastructure is already in place, the cabling just has to be connected up,” she said.
As with the MediaCityUK development, there’s a public emphasis on the big names that could potentially work out of the studios, but is success more down to the impact it has on the creative sector across Liverpool?
“The whole drive has been about the film and television sector, but you’re right, the bigger picture is helping smaller businesses to succeed, plus companies like Lime, who are looking to expand. We want more integration in terms of skills and training.”
Sony Games is already on site, with creative SMEs being encouraged to take up office space. Plus it will become the new home for the Liverpool Theatre School.
“This really does herald a new phase in Liverpool and the timing couldn’t be any better,” she said.
“It means more production in the city, and more production, which will straddle both Liverpool and Manchester. It’s going to provide lots of opportunities for employment and skills training.
“I can’t wait.”