Taken from Liverpool Echo

LIVERPOOL’S neglected festival gardens will only be restored if hundreds of homes are built alongside them, a public inquiry heard.

The company behind the controversial £250m scheme said the houses and apartments were “an essential and minimum requirement” to finally open the Otterspool site to the public again.

But environmental campaigners argued developer Langtree McLean and Liverpool council were using the gardens’ dereliction as “an excuse to force through a development which involves catastrophic loss”.

The two sides launched their arguments at the start of a three-week hearing at Liverpool’s Adelphi hotel.

Independent planning inspector Chris Turner will hear from Langtree McLean, the Save The Festival Gardens campaign, the council, community leaders and residents. He will report to government minister Hazel Blears MP, who will approve or reject the proposal.

At yesterday’s hearing, Stephen Sauvain QC, representing Langtree McLean, said: “The built element is an essential and minimum requirement, both to enable the construction of the park and secure its future maintenance.

“If permitted, the proposals will achieve the final regeneration and restoration of the former International Garden Festival site.

“They will bring into active, beneficial public use an area adjoining the riverside which has been blighted by past neglect and lack of vision.”

But David Morton, representing the Save The Festival Gardens campaign, said: “Both the council and property developer share responsibility for having allowed the festival gardens to languish in a state of neglect and dereliction.”

The hearing was ordered by the government, which has concerns the scheme – which includes almost 1,400 new homes – might conflict with national housing policy.

Councillors approved the plans, which would first concentrate on restoring the 67 acres of parkland and Oriental gardens, in May.

nick.coligan@liverpool.com