MAIN POINTS IN BRIEF
It is no small task to sum up a four-week public inquiry - the inquiry had to consider a huge amount of written material as well as the verbal evidence given by some 20 main witnesses many of whom were cross-examined at considerable length.
So the following is quite a long 'brief note' but even so it only sums up a handful of key points from the inquiry where the arguments about the proposed scheme seemed to crystalise most decisively.
THE FUTURE OF PLANNING POLICY
1. In its original statement of case the campaign had argued that the Festival Gardens were a protected 'green wedge' area in the city's development plans and should be kept that way.
But the inquiry heard a variety of evidence from the developer and council linked to the argument that government policy was now for planning to be more flexible about 'green belts' - especially where the land was of marginal consideration such as the 'derelict' Festival Garden site.
However the campaign argued that the purpose of this greater flexibility was to provide more affordable housing for the south-east faced with a housing crisis; it was not to provide a loophole for developers to build luxury apartments on key landscapes and areas of ecological significance in the north west.
The campaign heard powerful evidence that the city was already awash with such luxury apartments and a 30% rate of unlet and unsold 'vacancies' in this sector was already recognised as a major problem for the housing market.
A KEY COASTAL SITE
2. In addition the campaign maintained that the Festival Gardens were far from being 'derelict' or of 'marginal' benefit - in fact:
they provide a thriving wild life reserve unmatched in Liverpool;
they offer a rare area of undeveloped coast when so much of Liverpool's riverside (the next six miles for example) is highly-urban dockland development;
and they are a vital part of the prom which is a central element of how most people experience the maritime character of their city.
In particular the campaign argued for the importance of the woods and the wildlife at the Festival Gardens. Nowhere else on the coast do the woods come down to the riverside as they do at the Festival Gardens - and nowhere else in the city has such a range of wildlife with over 100 species of birds using the area over the course of the year.
WOODLANDS AT HEART OF DISAGREEMENT
3. On the value of these woodlands the inspector was faced with two unreconcilable and diametrically opposed views.
In effect the developer claimed that their ecological surveys showed the woods were 'derelict' and 'unsustainable'.
In contrast the campaign produced a detailed survey of the waterfront woodlands carried out by a tree specialist saying that the woods were in fact doing very well.
A similarily optimistic general ecological survey of the site was provided by Paul Slater - a noted wildlife expert who had been keeping detailed records on the Festival Gardens for more than twenty years.
ERRORS IN DEVELOPER'S EVIDENCE
Mr Slater was able to point to many errors and omissions in the developer's evidence - such as the fact that several hundreds of mature trees had simply not been counted in their surveys.
The campaign was also able to call expert witnesses to point out equally major errors in the way that the developer had carried out woodland management. Perhaps the worst of these errors was the irresponsible dumping of wood chipping in the waterways on the Festival Gardens after the developer's controversial tree clearance which had caused its own mini-ecological disaster on the site.
On this point latter point Mr Sauvain, the QC for the developer, said that this dumping had been a regrettable mistake which nobody was defending - and the developer was committed to maintaining the ecology of a considerable portion of the site which was to be redeveloped as a regional park.
The import of this evidence was in a large measure to reinforce the campaign's argument that the Festival Gardens (especially the waterfront woodlands) were an important ecological resource for Liverpool which should not be lightly sacrificed - nor should the developers' avowed ecological aspirations be taken as actual achievements - their track record was already greatly compromised.
IMPORTANCE OF PROM
4 The inspector also heard a range of evidence from ordinary Liverpudlians testifying to the importance of the prom walk in front of the waterfront woodlands to local residents and visitors of all ages as a local beauty spot and a place of easily accessible peace and tranquility.
This was important for the inquiry as the developer had almost entirely ignored the destructive impact of the proposed scheme on this part of the prom walk.
Indeed in a telling relevation in cross-examination Mr. Gordon Carey the scheme's master architect seemed to reveala barely concealed contempt for the area ("a blight on the river") saying that it was his belief that the prom was a dangerous place which he would 'not allow his wife and daughter to walk along'.
Cross-examination of other witnesses for the developer revealed how the prom aspect of the Festival Gardens had been repeatedly overlooked or ignored in the development of the scheme - not least the visual impact on the prom of losing the woodlands and gaining a lengthy curtain of eight-storey concrete apartment blocks.
FLAWED PUBLIC CONSULTATION
In particular cross-examination of David Rollinson, the scheme's project manager, revealed that consultation material had 'unfortunately missed out' this element of the scheme except for a single centimetre squared photo-montage of the blocks which showed their height but not their great length when seen from the prom.
Cross-examination of the architect had already showed that even in the detailed design volumes that had been produced for the inquiry there seemed to be just one set of architectural plans showing how the blocks would overhang and lead onto the prom.
Interestingly it emerged from letters to the inquiry that the police had severe reservations about the design of these blocks on the prom as being likely to create a risk of criminal activity.
Doubts on the the design were also raised by David Backhouse, a noted Liverpool architect, whose buildings elsewhere on the waterfront are praised in the Pevsner guide to the architecture of the city.
Speaking from direct experience Mr. Backhouse wondered about the severe problems that might be caused by the buildings 'funneling' the strong winds that blow across the estuary.
In cross-examination the architect Gordon Carey dismissed the letter of police concerns and with regard to any possible wind-funneling effect said that he 'did not think it necessary to have the designs tested in a wind-tunnel' but that he was sure that any problems that might emerge could be 'mitigated with an appropriate technical solution'.
This level of confidence - which perhaps came across rather unfortunately as arrogance - quite floored Mr Morton who was attempting to conduct the cross-examination on behalf of the campaign.
It was one of many occasions on which the campaign could have well done with the skills of a Mr. Sauvain QC to pick apart quite the untested and unsympathetic nature of the proposed scheme for this key Liverpool location.
Certainly the import of this evidence was to indicate that the scheme was rather less well considered and planned than both the developer and the council had been claiming.
STRONG EVIDENCE FOR CAMPAIGN
5. Further questions about the disastrous impact on the prom and the suspect soundness of the proposed scheme in terms of the day-to-day reality were then directly raised by 'first-hand witnesses' called by the campaign.
The photo-montage evidence provided by John Davies and the reports from the 'front-line of housing policy in practice' as reported by Clr. Steven Munby and Gerry Proctor were particularly striking.
This evidence went straight to the heart of the grounds on which the Secretary of State had called the Inquiry - and it was given close attention by the Inspector and fierce and lengthy cross-examination by Mr. Sauvain the QC for the developers.
It seems likely that a key part of the decision to accept or refuse the development will be based in the inspector's evaluation of this evidence: from the campaign's point of view we could scarcely have hoped to produce more expert, responsible and articulate witnesses than we did for these vital topics.
WRITTEN SUBMISSIONS KEY
6. Other key areas of the campaign's case were undoubtedly more problematic as on these topics we lacked experts who could appear in person at the inquiry either as witnesses or to conduct forensic cross-examination on highly technical aspects.
As a result the campaign really depends on the strength of the written submissions in such areas as traffic modeling for the proposed development and the adequacy of the risk management measures being proposed to handle contaminated land.
Nevertheless determined cross-examination by local residents whose lives could be ruined by an oversight or error in these technical areas resulted in revelations which couldn't help but be alarming.
GRIDLOCK PART OF THE SCHEME?
7. In particular for all detailed statistical tables the scheme's traffic management actually seemed to come down to little more than traffic gridlock for residents trying to drive away from the development - with no provision for access or escape by emergency vehicles.
And while it seemed that the developer had met the legal requirements of 'nil detriment' to the existing road system this achievement was made rather pointless by the fact that the road system was clearly running at full capacity.
Indeed the campaign was able to point to the decision of an earlier planning inspector turning down a nearby planning request who had been specifically concerned about traffic overload.
LACK OF COUNCIL PLAN
TO SOLVE TRAFFIC PROBLEMS
Looking back on the evidence the campaign acknowledged the manful efforts made by the developer's expert witness Dr Goktug Tenekeci and thanked him in particular for co-operating so patiently and with such good grace and humour in a cross-examination which lasted over two days.
However the campaign could only wonder at the apparent irresponsibility of the council adding a significant volume of traffic to an already congested system - without a plan to alleviate the subsequent problems.
COUNCIL'S COMPETENCE SUSPECT
OVER CONTAMINATION ISSUE
8. In a similar fashion the council emerged as the real worry when it came to the issue of contaminated land.
Apparently because of work overload the city was behind hand on even such simple tasks as registering the Festival Gardens on its statutory contaminated land registry.
The city's incompetence in keeping track of existing surveys of the contaminated landfill underlying the site also made it more difficult for the campaign to prepare its case on this topic.
In particular despite requests by the campaign for the full version of specific survey documents these couldn't be located by the city before the inquiry - although some of the survey material did in fact turn up in the mass of 'core documents' provided to the inquiry on the opening day.
COUNCIL OFFERED NO EXPERT WITNESS
In the light of this lacklustre performance it was all the more worrying that the Council had chosen not to offer any expert witnesses on the issue of contaminated land. The unfortunate impression this gave was that the city didn't have anybody who was competent to be questioned in this area.
Perhaps a professional advocate - such as Mr. Sauvain - would have made more of this surprising omission.
Lacking such a forensic expert the campaign rather missed its chance during the inquiry and Mr Morton could only wonder in his summing up at the apparent irresponsibility of the council in undertaking to monitor the safety of a complex project for which it seemed so ill-prepared.
In particular the campaign questioned whether a north-west local authority whose previous experience had rather understandably been focussed on turning landfill into landscapes could really be compared to the experience of the local authorities in the south-east with the pressing problem of land shortages and an extensive track-record of landfill into housing projects.
In the south east housing pressures had meant that local authorities had developed the expertise, the personnel and the competence to manage the risks inherent on redeveloping contaminated landfill sites for housing.
In Liverpool we had seen no evidence of such competence - and as one of the campaign's members had pointed out that this was an area where incompetence or error could mean not just the loss of property, but the loss of health and in the worst case the loss of life.
ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS IGNORED
9. As a last point the campaign specifically challenged the claims made by both the developer and the council that this was a' last chance' for the Festival Gardens and that there were no alternatives to the scheme.
In fact early cross-examination of Mr. John Downey, the developer's managing director and of the council's witnesses had showed that neither party had even considered simple alternatives such as swapping the 10 acres of the waterfront woodland for the similar area of council-owned utility grassland which adjoins the Festival Gardens on the landside of Riverside Drive.
Apartment blocks built on such a land swap would actually still have a river view - but the waterfront woodlands and the quiet of the prom would be saved. But as both parties agreed 'such an idea had never been considered or explored'.
To sum up the campaign's case the proposed scheme would mean the needless sacrifice of the waterside woods for a series of luxury apartment blocks which could be best described as surplus to the city's housing requirements and might actually be destructive of the current regeneration of the housing market in the city.
Such a scheme runs quite contrary to the intent of Government housing policy.
And there is an even greater cause for concern that in a few short years the inadequate design of the flats, the unbalanced demographics of the housing it offers and the inadequate funding for the maintenance of the riverside park will all come together to create a perfect riverside slum for the city.
Faced with such a definite immediate loss, and such inadequately managed risks for the future, the campaign submits to the inspector that this scheme should be refused permission.
Far from being a set back for the Festival Gardens the campaign believes that such a refusal would force the developer and the council to look more seriously at less destructive and less risky ways of securing the future of this important part of Liverpool's ecology and landscape for the people of the city.
THREE KEY WITNESSES
The best headlines for the campaign came in the last week of proceedings following the written evidence from Professor Tony Bradshaw, who made a last-minute critical intervention with an open letter to the Inquiry.
Professor Bradshaw is a world authority in restoring derelict and contaminated land; - indeed he has been recognised by the Department of the Environment as one of just two of the country's 'ecological heroes' the other being Richard Attenburgh.
It was the professor's intervention which finally put the campaign's arguments on the front page of the local press - all the more ironic given that he actually isn't a member of the campaign and that although the campaign had approached him before the inquiry he initially felt it would be inappropriate for him to comment.
However having heard of the evidence which had been given to the Inquiry - especially that regarding the finger blocks along the river front - Professor Bradshaw unleashed a categorical condemnation of the Langtree McLean plans.
Interviewed by the Daily Post he said that the area should be left wild and he said the plans to build 1,300 flats would "wreck the carefully designed and unique qualities of the crucial coast range adjacent to the river".
"This is unique in the Merseyside context, situated adjacent to the river and to the existing area of Otterspool.
"The original area was a wilderness before being landscaped, meaning that it was home to a unique range of wildlife adapted to living in waste land.
"Some of this has returned; more can be expected with the passage of time.
'Unique and Special' Site
"As a result, it provides a major contribution to the heritage of wildlife and biodiversity of Merseyside.
"Without going into further detail, it will be clear that the site is a unique and special addition to Merseyside, the character of which should not under any circumstances be lost or degraded."
He said it was "equal to, or better than, any of the best coastal parks existing in Britain" and that, although it might appear derelict, it was not and was best described as "unkempt".
"The seven 'finger' blocks, in particular, will wreck the carefully designed and unique qualities of the crucial 'coast range' area adjacent to the river, originally constructed at considerable expense.
"Their size will be such as to dwarf the details of the whole of the rest of the area in an insensitive fashion."
He also argued that, because of maintenance costs, the site would be best left as semi-wild.
"The scheme proposed will extinguish all the unique qualities of the area, originally so carefully created when the site was chosen for the first Garden Festival.
"It would be an inconceivably narrow-minded decision."
Prof Bradshaw worked in the university's Botany department for 20 years, and has published extensively on the restoration of derelict and contaminated land.
He has acted on behalf of national governments and councils across the world in public inquiries on the subject.
Involved in the initial establishment of the International Garden Festival site in 1984, Prof Bradshaw has been monitoring the site since.
These forthright comments caused the Daily Post to ask: "Surely it would be possible for some compromise to be reached to bring the site back into use while preserving and nurturing the unique qualities which Prof Bradshaw has identified in his evidence to the Inquiry?"
Fragile Housing Market
Two other non-campaign members Councilor Steven Munby and Gerry Proctor provided expert first-hand evidence against the proposed development which made an equal stir within the inquiry with the Inspector making rapid notes for some six hours as they were examined and cross-examined.
Firstly Councilor Steven Munby provided first-hand evidence on the fragile condition of regeneration in the local urban housing market - and the damage which the proposed Langtree McLean apartment project would do housing policy and regeneration in Liverpool.
Clr Munby spoke with the experience of being both a local councilor and the Labour spokesman on housing and communities in the city. And far from being 'anti-development' he pointed out that he had been closely and enthusiastically involved in the City's partnership with the £1 billion 'Paradise Project' redevelopment of Liverpool's shopping district.
Danger to Regeneration
But he said that he was seriously concerned by the proposed Langtree McLean development at the Festival Gardens. He explained that he feared the current regeneration in the disadvantaged Liverpool 8 area would be seriously threatened by the 'next door' development of such a large development on what was previously a protected woodland waterfront location.
Clr Munby explained that the financing of 'urban regeneration' projects depended on a mix of 'luxury apartments' alongside affordable social housing. But the market for such apartments would be entirely sucked away by such a large development (nearly 1400 apartments) which had the marketing advantage of its own 'green belt' coastal parkland location which was actually going to be part-financed by local government and development agency funding.
It was a further irony that the planning department was backing this damaging development just when Liverpool 8 was finally beginning to emerge from some 40 years of blight and dereliction caused by the previous miscalculations of planning officials in the 1960's.
Clr Munby added that the proposed parkland itself looked set to be be a costly mistake for the City in the longer-term. He gave evidence indicating that the developer was offering an insufficient 'dowry' to ensure its effective maintenance and the proposed design was itself a wrong-headed invitation to vandalism.
Clr Munby said that in contrast to the risks of the proposed development the existing woodlands had proved a highly-resilient and low-maintenance landscape which had become a local beauty spot.
Under a very lengthy and a very cross cross-examination from Mr. Sauvain QC (it lasted some 3 hours) Clr Munby went on to refute still further the arguments which were being made to justify the proposed development .
In particular he pointed out that while there was existing anti-social activity connected with the site when looked at in comparison with many other 'green areas' the current Festival Gardens actually had rather less anti-social behaviour than the average.
Clr Munby added that many of the supposed 'green spaces' in Liverpool which were created in the 1980's had been provided with insufficient maintenance and they had had now become hot-spots of crime and anti-social behaviour.
He said that he feared that the Langtree McLean plans for an insufficiently-funded and ill-designed riverside park would mean the same unhappy fate for the Festival Gardens.
"Crisis Conditions" at City Quay
The long-term sustainability of the Langtree MacLean plans was also the concern of
Gerry Proctor - the head of the residents association at the neighbouring City Quay development. Mr. Proctor gave a first-hand description about the 'crisis' conditions on the City Quay estate which indicated the practical problems that faced any development that was heavily concentrated on non-family size luxury apartments to create an ongoing sustainable community.
Mr. Proctor gave a stark portrait of how such a development faced rapid decline as the initial residents were forced to move on as they set up families - for which there was no provision. In a difficult housing market these properties often proved difficult to sell and they became vacancies (attracting dereliction) or ended up being 'let' to sub-tenants - often multi-occupancy student lets - which had its own problems in terms of noisy music and parties.
Spiral of Decline
Mr. Proctor outlined a vicious spiral of decline as anti-social conditions led to more people moving out - and fewer people wanting to buy in - with still more vacant properties and unsuitable sub-letting. He said there was a real danger of creating the setting for new slums in what was being promised as a premium development.
Mr. Proctor's evidence was all the more telling because the unresolved and long-outstanding problems (and "lamentable property management") he was describing actually came from a David McLean development - one half of the Langtree McLean development team - right next door to the proposed Festival Gardens development.
There seemed to be a very uneasy squirming from the Langtree McLean executives who were attending the inquiry at these revelations.
Again Mr. Sauvain, the highly paid QC for the developers, was sent in to earn his money with a forceful cross-examination - apparently with the intent of calling into question the integrity and validity of Mr Proctor's evidence.
There was considerable rejoicing in the campaign camp when Mr Proctor proved to be an eminently friendly, polite and unflappable witness - who stuck to his points with yet more telling examples of quite how bad things could be in the real world outside the promises of a property developer's prospectus.
After some time Mr. Sauvain - who for a while had been doing excellent work for the campaign - seemed finally to realise he was in a hole, decided to stop digging and called a halt to the cross-examination.
If only the campaign had been able to afford Mr.Sauvain working so effectively on our side full-time - then there would surely be no doubt of the finding of the inquiry.
Every Little Helps
Nevertheless every little helps and the campaign had a sufficient number of such successes to give some room for hope that even without the benefit of professional advocacy arguing the the campaign's case the inspector will still recommend that the secretary of state refuses planning permission for this scheme.