30 years of Liverpool Festival Gardens

01 May 2014

30 years ago this Friday, 2nd May was the start of the celebratory International Garden Festival in Liverpool. It was the first of its kind in Britain, was a great success and attracted over 3 million visitors during the summer of 1984.

The Garden Festival was built on the old south docks - much of it was derelict and industrial waste needed to be cleared before any landscaping could commence. But the results were outstanding - over 60 individual ornamental gardens, a Festival Hall, public pavilions and floral displays. It formed a major part of the City's regeneration project, initiated by former 'Minister for Merseyside', Lord Michael Heseltine, in the wake of the Toxteth riots and was a real boost for Liverpool. Millions of pounds were spent transforming the derelict dock and the legacy of the Festival was for it to be a special riverside park for Liverpool and all to enjoy.  

But sadly, without adequate long-term funding arrangements in place to maintain the complex Gardens, the subsequent 20 years led to a slow decline; the site fell into disrepair and became a focal point for anti-social behaviour. It became a liability rather than an asset for the City.

In 2004, after many false starts and aborted plans, there was a beacon of hope for the Gardens. Merseyside based developers; Langtree acquired the site and with an agreement in place with Liverpool City Council, and funding from the Northwest Development Agency, were able to restore the site. The Land Trust; the national charity with expertise in long-term management and funding solutions for open spaces, was brought in to manage the park and it was given a bright new life. 

The park reopened in 2012 and nearly 2 years on, it is thriving. The Land Trust appointed The Conservation Volunteers to manage the Gardens on a daily basis and they provide a regular presence on site, run events, recruit volunteers and maintain the gardens.

In addition, The Land Trust has successfully secured Big Lottery funding to run the Green Angels programme at the Gardens – a unique scheme for the local community to learn new skills, attend training courses and contribute towards caring for this Liverpool landmark. This has generated great interest and the first two courses; 'Countryside Management & Parks Maintenance' and 'Horticulture' which have 15 participants on each are starting in May.

All these activities are having a positive impact on the local community.  The anti-social behaviour around the site has greatly reduced, making the area a much safer, pleasant place to live and visit. The creation of Ranger jobs and volunteer opportunities have helped to restore a sense of ownership and pride in the Gardens, and events such as 'Bird box building' and Tai Chi classes are bringing more and more people onto the site each week, with nearly 200,000 having visited since the re-opening in 2012.

Euan Hall, Chief Executive of the Land Trust comments “We are very proud to be involved with this iconic site. This site really demonstrates the importance of securing long-term funding at the outset of creating a green open space and what can happen to a site and the local community, if this is not managed. We have been able to bring a lot of benefits to the area in the time we have been managing the site and are working hard alongside our partners; Langtree, to secure a permanent source of funding for Liverpool Festival Gardens, so that it continues be a great place to be enjoyed by people and nature for many years to come.”

Lord Heseltine said “The Festival Gardens have been through quite a journey. 30 years ago, the International Garden Festival played a vital part in regenerating Liverpool and that summer in 1984 was fantastic. Although, sadly, the Gardens went through a difficult period in the 1990s, Liverpool has continued to prosper and it is wonderful that the Gardens are now restored and flourishing along with the City. The transformation of the Gardens has been realised through effective partnerships and community engagement and the new initiatives, such as the Green Angels programme, are very promising indeed. Liverpool is a very special place to me and I am thrilled to have been a part of its journey.”



Notes to Editors


We have a dedicated Facebook page for Liverpool Festival Gardens (www.facebook.com/liverpoolfestivalgardens) and we would love you to post old photos they may have of the Gardens from the last 30 years.

The Land Trust

The Land Trust is a not for profit organisation that provides a cost effective management solution for open space and green infrastructure. This land can deliver significant community benefits, improving health, social cohesion, providing an educational resource and uplifting the local economy.  

The aim of The Land Trust is to provide long-term sustainable management of open spaces across the country.  We have around 2,000 hectares of land in our portfolio and a strong balance sheet to provide financial stability.  Our open spaces are a crucial part of the social landscape, delivering a range of significant benefits for residents and businesses. Safe and accessible open space allows communities to come together and individuals to develop and relax through physical activity and recreation. Well designed and maintained open spaces are outdoor classrooms, gyms and theatres. They change lifestyles and improve health and well-being, so we take them seriously.  

For further information visit www.thelandtrust.org.uk 


Liverpool Festival Gardens

Festival Gardens is an iconic waterfront park situated on the site of the former Liverpool International Garden Festival. The Land Trust has taken on the management of the park, enabling the developer Langtree, a cost effective and sustainable exit, which ensures the park can be managed on a long term basis.  The site was originally reclaimed from the River Mersey in 1957 for oil storage / household waste disposal. The redevelopment cost £12.5 million to the public purse (est. £25 million today) resulting in the first hugely successful UK International Garden Festival, held in 1984, attracting 3.4 million visitors from the UK and overseas. 

However without adequate finance, plans for the future of the site proved unrealistic and after a number of failed ventures the site, already falling into disrepair, was closed to the public. The land was left derelict, neglected and unused but after many false starts and aborted plans, developers Langtree acquired the site and an agreement was reached with Liverpool City Council, with funding from the Northwest Development Agency, to restore the site as a mixed-use development. The City Council s role is as freeholder and was a vital part in setting up agreements with Langtree in restructuring the lease to allow the restoration of the gardens and the redevelopment of the remaining land to go ahead.

The Land Trust took over the management of the Festival Gardens in May 2012 and is currently funded to manage the site on a five year basis. The current long-term funding plan rests on a section 106 payment from Langtree, which will be paid once the adjacent land is developed. 

Further information about the Festival Gardens and the Green Angels programme: www.liverpoolfestivalgardens.com 


The Conservation Volunteers

The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) is a practical sustainability charity. 

The Conservation Volunteers have been reclaiming green places since 1959. Through our own environmental projects and our network of 2,000 community groups, we help hundreds of thousands of people across the UK to take responsibility for local green places.  Work includes:

  • Green Hubs:  Focal points for care for local green places
  • Chestnut Fund:  Helping community environmental projects get started
  • Community Network: 2,000 community organisations looking after the green places that matter to them
  • Training:  For skills and jobs
  • Big Green Weekend and Green Heroes:  The UK s biggest weekend of conservation action, celebrating the people who make the difference 

For more information about The Conservation Volunteers visit: www.tcv.org.uk