Leading heritage body will fight for public access to landmark building.

Leading heritage body will fight for public access to landmark building.

MERSEYSIDE Civic Society (MSC) is asking political leaders to speak out about the prospect of retaining public access to the magnificent 1920s’ marble-panelled Holt’s Arcade in Liverpool city centre by asking for action from Historic England.

MSC is asking Liverpool Riverside MP Louise Ellman and the new Merseyside Metro-Mayor Steve Rotheram to write to Historic England, the government body protecting built heritage, to help save a Liverpool landmark.

Holt’s Arcade is threatened with closure on security grounds, following the HMRC signing a 25-year lease to move 3,500 staff members from Bootle, north Liverpool, and elsewhere, into India Buildings’ upper floors.

HMRC claim that the free movement of public access through Holt’s Arcade, which bisects India Buildings, will compromise the security of its work.

Holt’s Arcade, clad in Travertine marble, is the centrepiece of Liverpool’s landmark India Buildings, acclaimed as one of Britain’s greatest interwar buildings by renowned architectural historians.

It was designed in US Neo-classical ‘city block style’ by Herbert Rowse and Arnold Thornely in 1923 and completed in 1930 for Alfred Holt & Co, which owned the legendary Blue Funnel Line, trading to the Far East and Australasia.

Holt’s Arcade was devised when the city council insisted that if this giant building was to straddle two blocks then the C18th passageway, Chorley Street, must remain a public thoroughfare.

Even during WWII, Holt’s Arcade remained open, in spite of being adjacent to the crucial Western Approaches Combined Operations Command Centre directing the Battle of the Atlantic.

This is why the MCS believes public access to Holt’s Arcade, a nationally unique public thoroughfare of superlative design and execution, needs national protection and should not be closed due to security concerns that could be dealt with by instigation of basic security staffing and technology.

Jean Grant, MCS chair, said: “Our MPs, politicians, and the authorities at the highest national level safeguarding our historic architecture, must be alerted to the serious threat of banishing the public from Holt’s Arcade by the HMRC.

“There is simply nowhere like it in the UK and it is one of the premier components of why Liverpool received UNESCO World Heritage Site status as the prime example of a mercantile seaport city.

“This alone is good reason for Historic England to ensure the public is allowed continued access to this architectural interior tour-de-force. After all, the HMRC will occupy the upper levels of India Buildings, while Holt’s Arcade is on the ground floor.

“Also as high-end tourism plays an increasingly important role in Liverpool’s economic revival, the last thing that the city should be doing is deliberately putting one of its incredible architectural gems out of bounds to visitors.”

MCS is supporting the online petition set-up by photographer Dave Woods also calling for retaining public access to Holt’s Arcade.  

Joseph Sharples, Pevsner Liverpool Architectural Guide author, wrote: “India Buildings . . . in scale, combination of functions and architectural treatment, emulates the most ambitious early C20th American commercial buildings. Arched entrances to (Holt’s Arcade) in Water and Brunswick Streets open into spacious elevator halls, lined with Travertine marble, linked by a noble tunnel-vaulted arcade of shops through the centre.”

Prof. Charles Reilly, former Head of Liverpool University School of Architecture, said: “The building would not disgrace (New York’s) Fifth Avenue; indeed it would sit very happily there.”