India Buildings: Re-establishing a Liverpool landmark for growth
Built from 1924-32, Liverpool’s India Buildings impacted on the city centre with its scale, architectural importance and significance as a commercial space.
As a £40 million refurbishment paves the way for HMRC’s arrival, Move Commercial looks at how the landmark’s prominence is being re-established, with expectations of wider business district growth.
Words by Natasha Young
A “shot in the arm” for the city’s ongoing renaissance was how Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson described the news that the India Buildings would become a ‘UK government hub’.
The Grade II*-listed landmark, edging close to a century old, had proven in 2017 that it was still capable of attracting a landmark letting – the largest in Liverpool for several decades.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) was to occupy the majority of the building for a northern ‘supercentre’, after the government agreed to let 270,000 sq ft comprising the upper floors, Regency Suite and Holts Arcade.
Effectively the whole site apart from its external retail units and Jubilee Suite (former Lloyds Bank) was included in the deal, which followed Green Property’s 2016 sale of the site to current owner Shelborn Asset Management Limited for £17 million.
“HMRC also wanted its move to serve as a catalyst for regeneration in its chosen area.”
“India Buildings absolutely ticks the boxes in terms of big floorplates and a central location, which were key to HMRC’s requirements,” explains Richard Wharton, director of offices at JLL which represented the government in securing the site. “HMRC also wanted its move to serve as a catalyst for regeneration in its chosen area.”
Such was the significance of the HMRC deal to the building, Liverpool’s wider commercial district and the city that it attracted awards recognition, picking up the 2018 NWPAs’ ‘Best Commercial Let’ accolade.
On collecting the prize Mark Worthington of Worthington Owen, which acted on behalf of Shelborn Asset Management, said the deal was “massively important” to the area “in terms of it being 3,500 jobs, right in the centre of Liverpool that will regenerate Castle Street and Water Street”.
Wharton points out that the building needed some “significant investment both internally and externally” and, with HMRC’s large workforce due to unite under one roof later in 2019, an extensive overhaul was ordered to ensure the heritage building, designed by Arnold Thornley and Herbert J. Rowse, meets the incoming tenant’s state-of-the-art needs.
Styles & Wood was appointed in February 2018 to deliver a Category A fit out and refurbishment scheme expected to span 72 weeks.
“To date we have completed various demolition and refurbishment packages to strip out eight floors of the building,” says Paul Lonsdale, executive director of project delivery at Styles & Wood.
“This has included the creation of open plan floorplates, replacing nearly 1,000 windows, refurbishing and installing new lifts, and development of a 17,000 sq ft food hall in the Regency Suite.
“Now that we have replaced all the roof coverings and stripped asbestos out of the building, we have a few milestones left before the project completes at the end of summer. Our next step will be to install the mechanical plant elements in February.”
Creating a modern workplace within India Buildings is challenging due to the need to retain its original character.
For instance, Historic England highlights “the elevator halls with their Travertine-lined walls and coffered saucer-domed ceilings” and “the central arcade with its coffered barrel-vaulted ceiling and decorative bronze shopfronts” among the asset’s marks of interior quality.
“I am hopeful this decision will influence future government relocations currently under review and Invest Liverpool will support in any way possible.”
Spanning a whole block, the ornate structure is considered one of the most significant works by architect Rowse, who was also behind the former Martin’s Bank and Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.
It was also one of numerous listed buildings Sir Thornley had to his name, with others including the Port of Liverpool Building.
“As is the case for many refurbishments of listed buildings, protecting the heritage is critical to the success of this project,” adds Lonsdale. “A lot of time and planning has been necessary throughout the refurbishment as a result.
“We’ve been working with the relevant agencies and architect Falconer Chester Hall (FCH) to ensure the original features are protected.”
Quentin Keohane, associate director at FCH, says the “challenging balancing act” to modernise the historic commercial building, dating back to Liverpool’s maritime and shipping heritage, aims to “secure India Buildings as the centrepiece of Liverpool’s business district for the 21st Century”.
Ellen Cutler, director of investment and business growth at Invest Liverpool, anticipates the supercentre’s presence could act as a magnet for further government tenants.
“I am hopeful this decision will influence future government relocations currently under review and Invest Liverpool will support in any way possible, as we do with all new investments in the city,” she says.