IT’S “the shelter in the middle of a roundabout” immortalised in the Beatles’ Penny Lane. And it’s at the centre of a row over its future.
Owner Ray Maatook has hit back at criticisms that he has left the famous landmark to rot beneath the blue suburban skies. He insists that within months it will emerge as a stunning new restaurant and bar run by a well known Liverpool operator.
The former tram shed and bus terminus on Smithdown Place, which for years housed the Sergeant Pepper’s bistro, has been unoccupied for more than 10 years.
In 2013, planning permission was granted for a first floor circular glass extension. But work has been on-off ever since and the original architects are no longer involved.
Lib Dem councillor Richard Kemp has described it as a blight. The Church Ward councillor, whose patch includes Penny Lane, says developers and building owners of who don’t act on planning permissions should have them stripped away.
“In the meantime, an important building, and Beatles heritage, goes to ruin.”
But according to Mr Maatook, who once owned the Caesar’s Palace restaurant in Renshaw Street, Cllr Kemp doesn’t know what he is talking about. The project is well on the way to completion, he says, and red tape is the only hold-up.
“We are in the process of getting a certificate of completion, but are awaiting a structural engineer’s report on the glass work to be completed. The council cannot issue the certificate until that job is done,” he told Liverpool Confidential.
“Having invested more than £130,000 without a penny of public funding on Sgt Pepper’s Bistro in Penny Lane, I was most surprised to read the building is being left to rot.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. I and my architect have been working, and continue to work very closely with the city council planning department who are being most helpful.”
He added: “We have identified an occupier for the building, once this certificate is issued, hopefully in the next week or so. We had more than 140 expressions of interest in the building and believe we have found the perfect match as an operator.
“The occupiers will be revealed as soon as possible. They are a highly successful and respected family-owned restaurant business in Liverpool.
“They plan to invest a further £150,000 fitting out the building to create a venue the Penny Lane area of the city will be proud of.
“I am as frustrated as anybody at the time this project is taking, but I realise it is a most unique and special building and everything has to be done correctly."
Mr Maatook, who apologised to the people of Liverpool for the delays when redevelopment plans were first submitted in 2009, went on: “This building has been my life for some years. I can imagine some of the members of the building hanging out around here when they were young. One of my dreams was to have a stunning sculpture reflecting that image. I even had plans drawn for the sculpture work, but that would be a longer term project.”
Liverpool architect Kevin Loughrey of The Hogan Drawing Shop said: “We were surprised to hear about the concerns raised. I have been working with Mr Matook for some time to complete this project. It is a special and unique building and everything has to be done correctly.
“We are aware of its importance by the number of tourists who stop outside to photograph the building.”