Bold new complex for Liverpool
by Joanna Moorhead PLANS for one of the most ambitious-ever developments mounted by the Catholic Church in this country were unveiled this week.
Liverpool Archdiocese hopes to get permission in the new year to turn a huge former seminary in Skelmersdale, Lancashire, into a multi-million pound lesiure, commercial, housing and pastoral complex.
The plan to revitalise St Joseph's College, which has a 300-acre site at Upholland, has been in the pipeline for more than two years, but at the end of this week Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool will be able to submit detailed proposals to the West Lancashire District Council for approval.
They will include plans for • An 18-hole championship standard golf course • A hotel, restaurant and bars • An indoor sports centre and tennis courts • 40,000 square feet of hightech office space • A pastoral centre, retreat centre and conference centre • Flats for retired priests and seminarians Fr Paul Thompson, press officer for the Liverpool Archdiocese, said the idea was to use the income generated by the leisure facilities and the sale of the homes to support the pastoral activities on the site. He said the project was self-financing in both its initial construction and future maintenance.
Archbishop Worlock said he was confident the plans were "theologically right, ethically correct, environmentally and architecturally excellent, and financially feasible".
The college, which finally closed as a junior seminary last year, was "in grave danger of becoming merely a sad and decaying memorial to a former method of religious training," the archbishop said.
"What is now proposed will enable our people, locally and nationally, to achieve the formation and training required if our Church, laity and clergy, is to respond to the spirit of renewal that has been called for."
Upholland would once again become a great resource to the archdiocese and be a notable asset to the local community, he said. But, although the plans include provision for hundreds of new jobs, there are signs that local residents are not wholeheartedly behind them. Mr Les Abernethy, director of planning at West Lancashire District Council, said the scheme would certainly be contentious, and would stimulate debate.
Objections are expected to be raised on the grounds that new buildings will be detrimental to the green-belt, beautiful countryside at Upholland. However, there is speculation that many objectors will change their minds when they see an exhibition at the college this weekend showing exactly what is proposed.
A public meeting will be held in early December to discuss the plans, and councillors are expected to reach a decision in February next year. If the proposal goes through, the college's current inhabitants — a CAFOD regional organiser and bookshop workers — will have to move into temporary accommodation for the two to three years the building work is likely to take.