Sit-in at India Buildings

Fight on to keep Holt Arcade open

Written by  The Confidentials | Follow @ | Thursday, 6 December 2012 17:41

IT’S one of the country’s most striking shopping thoroughfares, but the future of Holt’s Arcade in Liverpool’s India Building is under threat.

Dozens of supporters gathered for a sit in as part of a campaign to ensure the arcade survives.

There was a small glimmer of hope when one of the tenants received a phone call from the building’s owners saying the arcade is safe.

But veteran cultural campaigner Wayne Colquhoun is not convinced it’s time to bring out the champagne and the bunting to celebrate. He says he wants to meet directors of London based owners Green Group to seek assurances that the marble-lined arcade is secure.

The fate of the arcade was thrown into doubt when the owners of India Buildings said they wanted to close the Brunswick Street entrance and use the arcade shopping space as management offices. That move would effectively have closed the arcade as a pedestrian through route from Water Street, and seen all the shops closed.

India Buildings LiverpoolHolt Arcade could be hidden from public view forever

Wayne is best known for his campaign against developments along Liverpool’s historic waterfront, saying they threaten the city’s World Heritage Site status. Little could he ever realise the battle lines would stretch to his own front door.

His antique shop, Circa 1900, in the arcade would be one of the victims of the proposed changes.

Wayne says his heart sank when he received a letter from Greens stating: “We have spent a considerable amount of time, effort and money looking  at ways that we could improve India Buildings …. One of those exercises we undertook was to being in two retail experts to review the retail especially in terms of what we could do in the arcade. I’m afraid that as a result of that exercise, we didn’t have any positive feedback on the Arcade and its future as a retail destination, and in fact we were advised that the space would be better utilised as management offices to support the building.”

Wayne plans to send his petition, which has already gained more than 800 names,  to Mayor Joe Anderson in the hope he will intervened in the way Mayor Boris Johnson intervened to help save threatened Burlington Arcade in London.

Wayne told Liverpool Confidential: “There are a number of empty units in the arcade but I am aware of four potential occupiers who were told there were no shops available.

Burlingon Arcade - Saved By BojoBurlingon Arcade - Saved By Bojo“This beautiful arcade could be as famous as Burlington Arcade. The likes of this will never be built again and we need to save, protect and look after this. It is the eyes and the soul of India Building.”

Wayne is researching the history of the building believing a covenant prevents the arcade being closed.

He said: “When the building was being designed by Herbert Rowse the site was in two halves with a narrow road called Chorley Street. That street became the arcade, so people have been able to walk along it for decades.

“I believe it is a right of way because of the covenant. But even so this arcade needs to be celebrated and seen, not shut away from public view. I am eager to sit down and work with the owners to being this place alive again. Once, over 3,000 people worked here and there is no reason that could not happen again.”

Owners Green Group issued a statement today saying:  “We share much common ground with Wayne and we have worked with other retailers in the arcade to help them trade…it hasn’t succeeded because of some economic fundamentals outside our control, such as the shift in footfall patterns in Liverpool Business District, caused by Liverpool One moving the retail zone up to its boundaries.

“We can’t buck the market we can only react to it. Retailers do the same and the fact is they are not forming a queue to occupy Holt’s Arcade. We are pleased that Wayne continues to trade well but he is succeeding where others have failed.”

Editor's note: If you want to sign the petition, go into Circa 1900 in the Holt Arcade. As it's an antique shop, there is, as yet, no interweb version.

Vision of a contemporary classic 

Few buildings are as impressive as Liverpool’s India Buildings in Water Street, built in the 1920s as a statement to the city’s influence in the world. 

India Buildings was built at a cost of £1.25m between 1924 and 1932 as the headquarters of Alfred Holt’s Blue Funnel Line, then regarded as a globally important steamship company.


The architect was the renowned Herbert Rowse, responsible for a string of Liverpool’s best known buildings.

Rowse, inspired by his own global travels, had a vision of a contemporary classic in the heart of Liverpool.

It was designed to be converted into a warehouse if needed and replaced an earlier building of the same name. During the World War II blitz of Liverpool it was badly damaged.

It later achieved national significance as one of the UK's few regional passport offices, employing several hundred people.