By Ian Latta, Daily Post
A ROW of cottages more than 200 years old could stand in the way of Liverpool's first five star hotel. The listed Georgian canal cottages in Old Hall Street are due to be demolished as part of the 200-room Radisson SAS hotel. It will form the biggest waterfront scheme since the Royal Liver Building was built and will also include a 110-metre high apartment block with Liverpool's first £1m penthouse. But campaigners say the cottages are an historic link with Liverpool's commercial past and should be saved.
Mike Chitty, a freelance Liverpool tourist guide, said: "They are the only relic of the time before railways when Liverpool relied on canals, a reminder of what life was like in Old Hall Street in the 1800s. It seems there is no need to demolish them. Nothing is proposed to be built on the site, just a paved area alongside the main hotel entrance. Why does this historic building have to go? Why cannot it be kept as a feature of the hotel entrance area? People only miss old buildings when they are gone."
The cottages were built as offices at the entrance to Clarke's Basin, the western terminal of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. One of the features was an unusually shaped southern end which allowed the movement of horse-drawn wagons The main cargo was coal and the site was occupied for many years by the Wigan Coal and Iron Company. The basin closed in 1886 when the Liverpool Exchange railway station was enlarged. The wharves were severed from the canal and new terminal facilities were built further north. For most of the 20th century, the building formed part of St Paul's Eye Hospital but the hospital was demolished in the 1990s.
The cottages are Grade II listed buildings but their owners, the Beetham Organisation, claim the row is "generally out of keeping with the nature of the scale of buildings in the area" and has submitted a listed building consent application to Liverpool city council for its demolition. The planned hotel will include an all-day restaurant and a pub with street access, as well as a large fitness club. Further facilities will include a range of meeting rooms. As part of the building, Beetham will construct a 26-storey tower complex, offering 110 luxury apartments. They will have an average price of almost £200,000 and the penthouse will have commanding views over Wirral and the mouth of the Mersey.
Beetham's managing director Stephen Beetham said: "These old buildings are not in keeping with what is around them now. "The hotel's main entrance is planned for that site and it would be difficult to work around them. "There are other Georgian buildings in Duke Street, it's not as if once they're gone there will be no other examples left. "If the run-down buildings have to stay, we'd have to go back to Radisson and alter our agreement which would be costly and add delays. "We are confident the planners will see the bigger benefits of the scheme."
The scheme also includes a 142,000 sq ft office block, provisionally called 101 Old Hall Street. If council planners give it the go-ahead, construction is scheduled for completion by the end of 2003. A spokeswoman for English Heritage said: "The decision for Grade II buildings lies with local authorities. We would not get involved unless we were approached by campaigners." Radisson SAS currently operates 107 hotels and has another 30 under development in 38 countries.