Image of the Graduation stage during the ceremony

Rodney Holmes

Oration

Presented by: Professor Robin Leatherbarrow

Honourable Pro-Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Rodney Holmes for the award of an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University. 

We are a truly civic university, firmly rooted in this extraordinary city, and our defining ethos comprises three deceptively simple yet very powerful words: dream, plan, achieve. 

Each year at Graduation, the University's highest honour – an Honorary Fellowship – is bestowed upon a select band of individuals outside the University, in recognition of their outstanding achievement in a given field or profession, and who personify and inspire others to 'dream, plan, and achieve.' 

As Retail Projects Director with Grosvenor, Rod led the £1 billion Liverpool One development from its inception in 1999 to its opening in 2008, and then as Chair of the inward investment-focused Mersey Partnership steered it through choppy financial and political waters to an outwardly-seamless merger with the Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership in 2012. 

We propose Rod today, in recognition of his services to the regeneration of the Liverpool City Region.  

Yorkshire-born, he started out as a student building apprentice with Bromborough-based Holland Hannen & Cubitts. His subsequent career in public- and private-sector construction and property development has spanned over 40 years, during which time he has worked in continental Europe, the Middle East, Far East, North America and South Africa. 

Prior to joining Grosvenor in 1999, he had spent 12 years with the Dutch commercial property developer MAB Groep b.v. as Director of Operations, responsible for the Netherlands, Germany, France and the UK. His specialism is the delivery of major projects as the representative of clients, developers and contractors, responsible for all aspects of the investment, finance, design, project and site management. 

He joined Grosvenor as Retail Projects Director to oversee the Liverpool One development, which was conceived as an antidote to the flamboyant out-of-town shopping centres such as the Trafford Centre and Cheshire Oaks that were attracting shoppers away from traditional city centres. 

Rod was Grosvenor's man on the ground for almost a decade. He arrived in the city in 1999, responsible for the concept and day-to-day direction, co-ordination and delivery of the Liverpool One project. 

This last sentence barely begins to convey the immensity and complexity of the task. 

Liverpool One was a huge undertaking even for Grosvenor. At £1 billion, in monetary terms it was the biggest retail-led city centre regeneration project in Europe and the biggest investment of any sort, ever, in Merseyside. It transformed 42 acres of rundown real estate in the heart of the city, by opening up old streets that had been closed off since the 1960s; embracing and renovating the kinks, set-backs and curving corners of historic buildings; complementing these with 30 new buildings from 26 different architects and reinventing Chavasse Park as "the city's living room". 

At the peak of the build, Rod headed a project team of 45 who worked with several major contractors, many more sub-contractors and over 1,500 consultants. When Grosvenor beat 46 other developers to be awarded the scheme in 1999, no-one knew that the city would enter and win the nomination as 2008 European Capital of Culture. 

This development added further challenge, and accelerated the timetable so that the scheme could be delivered within four years, with phase 1 opening to great acclaim locally, nationally and internationally in May 2008. It has received over 60 awards, including the International Council of Shopping Centres 'Best of the Best' award and the masterplan was shortlisted for the 2009 Stirling Prize, the Oscars of the architecture world. 

Despite opening just as a global credit crunch was about to bite, Liverpool One has created over 5,000 new jobs, acted as a catalyst for further regeneration projects in the city, has propelled Liverpool back up the retail rankings and resulted in increased footfall to the city centre's retail and leisure offering outside Liverpool One. Grosvenor colleagues credit Rod as the driver and inspiration behind the successful delivery of Liverpool One. 

During this time, he developed an extensive understanding of the city-region and strong links to many of its public- and private-sector organisations. He combines a no-nonsense, delivery-driven approach with considerable personal charm. He can be outspoken when it matters and has a reputation for getting things done. 

Following his retirement in late 2008, these qualities were called upon when the regional economic development body The Mersey Partnership was looking for a new Chair. He spent four years in this demanding role, and oversaw the successful merger of the organisation with the Local Enterprise Partnership, which was finalised in March 2012. 

His professional contribution has been recognised through several awards, including the Liverpool Post Regional Business Person of the Year in 2012, Contribution of the Year in the 2010 North West Property Awards and Royal Institute of British Architects Client of the Year in 2009. 

Despite his family home being in the East Yorkshire Wolds, he continues his involvement with regional bodies on the Lancashire west coast. He has been a trustee of the Liverpool and Merseyside Theatres Trust since 2006, is a Vice-President of the Merseyside Civic Society and serves on the Local Enterprise Partnership's Advisory Council, and on the boards of the Mersey Gateway Crossings Board and the North West Fund. 

He has an honorary doctorate from the University of Liverpool. Rod has worked at the very heart of the extraordinary transformation and regeneration that has happened to both the city and the city-region's fortunes over the last 15 years. Liverpool One was not the only element in the city's renaissance – the city's year as European Capital of Culture was a major driver for positive change, as were 'Big Dig' projects such as the Echo Arena and Conference Centre – but the renewal of Liverpool's retail offer has seen increased footfall and visitor numbers that has yielded much wider economic and social benefits. 

The City-Region's Local Enterprise Partnership is widely regarded amongst the most forward-thinking and organised in England, rooted as it is in the foundations of The Mersey Partnership. 

At last Liverpool's future is bigger than its past. 

Thus, it is with great pleasure that I present Rodney Holmes, this most distinguished adopted son of our city, for admission to our highest honour, as an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.