Guiding lights…

The old Hoylake ‘lower’ lighthouse, built in 1764, helped ships navigate the Hoylake anchorage, which served both as a stopping point for ‘Steam Packets’ traveling between Liverpool and North Wales, as well as safe harbour for vessels prevented from entering the Port of Liverpool by severe weather conditions; that year alone eighteen ships were stranded and 75 lives lost. Little wonder that the Old Lifeboat Station was established adjacent to the lighthouse in 1803.

The Hoylake lighthouses and anchorage played an important role in the development of the Liverpool Pilotage Service and the subsequent rapid economic growth of the region as safer passage for ever larger vessels, saw the global shipping trade boom.

As well as being home to pilots, lighthouse keepers, lifeboatmen and their families, many of the commercial vessels and goods were owned, operated, and traded by merchants and businessmen who lived in Hoylake: a quiet, elegant place to rest after a hard day in the Liverpool office; or for city dwellers to enjoy a bit of R&R, for ‘the waters’, or, perhaps, a bit of light entertainment at the Pavilion Theatre over 100 years later…

The lighthouse has gone now, of course, but Liverpool’s part in global trade is still hugely important, and increasingly so.

Plans to make a deeper channel for a ‘Superport’ are underway, allowing much larger commercial vessels to dock. Liverpool is now an international cruise liner terminal. Here are two more significant aspects of the city’s bid to re-assert its position on the world stage after decades of economic stagnation.

And, in the last twelve months, we have seen the birth, albeit a difficult one, of the new Liverpool City Region, of which Hoylake is a part; with a consensus among the five council leaders for the principle of an elected regional Mayor (although the jury is out on whether there needs to be a public referendum first).

There’s talk of HS2 improving North-South links. There’s also talk of much improved trans-pennine connections between Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds, each city needing, and providing complimentary strengths to, each other.

All of this is part of a much bigger concept of a new northern ‘Powerhouse’ emerging…

And within the Liverpool City Region, just as Wirral needs Liverpool, Liverpool needs Wirral.

Both Phil Davies (Wirral) and Jo Anderson (Liverpool) know it’s about more than Liverpool city centre. Sure, there’s a lot more to be done there, but they and the other leaders also recognise the pulling power of the ample coastline and countryside for tourism and quality of life for residents, just as it was when the lighthouse stood, over a century ago.

Whatever the merits or otherwise of Peel Holding’s ambitious Liverpool and Wirral Waters plans, there’s a string of pearls on the periphery of the city region just waiting to be enhanced, each requiring investment, development, creativity, marketing and promotion; each a potential revenue driver, more easily achievable and in a much shorter timeframe.

And Hoylake is most definitely one of those pearls. If there’s going to be an extra £2bn of central government funding if the region gets its act together, Hoylake surely deserves some of that.

Our built heritage is pretty intact; the environment excellent; the historical precedent unarguable.

Our ‘beacon’ project belongs in this new landscape, both physically and culturally; indeed it could be one of the first projects to remind us all that Liverpool City Region is so much more than Liverpool One or Albert Dock or Ropewalks; so much more than New Brighton or Southport.

The best things come in small packages.

But perhaps we Wirralians may need to embrace the Liverpool city region mantle a bit more enthusiastically and with less trepidation? Our historical links are undeniable.

We’re separated from the world famous Liverpool skyline by the Mersey in the same way Paris enjoys the Seine, or London has the Thames.

Parisians and Londoners don’t all live in the city centre. Suburban and semi-rural enclaves have very distinct personalities. They can be hubs of culture, food, art, sport and business, that enhance the city regions, attracting people to live and visit because they are within easy reach of their city centres, and they make a city so much more vibrant, diverse and exciting.

They are places where people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy ‘the best of both worlds’, places with a broad social demographic and strong economies.

It’s big village life in the city. Camden, Marylebone, Clapham, Richmond, Hoxton: all carry the ‘Village’ label; all have butchers, bakers, fishmongers; great cultural and arts facilities; trees and parks; all thriving with local economies driven by, and serving, local people.

And, hey, Hoylake has a beach, mountain views, big skies and very fine sunsets to boot!

A sustainable future for Hoylake lies in being a willing and productive part of the City Region, by both protecting and making the most of its assets.

The Beacon project could be a guiding light again, sitting on a site drenched in heritage, although this time playing a rather different role in the wider economic development of the region.

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