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Peel's Liverpool Waters faces strongest attack yet

English Heritage accuses council of ignoring advice

Written by . Published on September 11th 2012.

Peel's Liverpool Waters faces strongest attack yet

GOVERNMENT cultural watchdog English Heritage has launched is strongest attack so far against Peel's £5.5bn plan to create a Manhattan-style “mini city” in the heart of Liverpool's World Heritage Site. 

A seven-page, highly critical onslaught comes just days before the council's planning committee meets to decide whether the go-ahead it gave earlier this year to Liverpool Waters should be confirmed. 

Council planning officers are recommending, next Tuesday, that the controversial scheme be approved.

But so serious are the concerns raised by English Heritage, it potentially increases the chances of the Government ordering a public inquiry. 


Peel has already insisted that it has bent over backwards to take on board concerns raised by English Heritage, saying it won't make further concessions and will walk away if a public inquiry is called. 

In the letter to Liverpool City Council's planning and building control officer, Peter Jones, Henry Owen-John, English Heritage Planning and Conservation Director for the North West, pulls no punches. 

In the past few months talks have taken place about strengthening planning conditions to meet some of the concerns raised. 

Owen-John said in order to try to assist the production of a successful set of conditions and obligations, English Heritage had engaged planning lawyers Shoosmiths to work alongside the council and provide additional technical advice. 

Henry Owen JohnHenry Owen-JohnThis new round of consultations with council officers culminated with a set of draft conditions which would have alleviated some of the concerns. 

On August 10, council officers emailed the latest drafts of proposed planning conditions, though Owen-John said the new drafts were 'for information and not for for further consultation'.” 

In his letter to the council, Owen-John says: “The latest draft conditions now bear little resemblance to those which benefited from the support of Shoosmiths and ourselves earlier this year. 

“During the initial discussions we made suggestions as to how the archaeology of the site, some of it almost certainly of national importance, should be dealt with. 

“Our recommendations were in line with industry-wide standards for such a scheme. The suggestions have been ignored. We have been advised by Shoosmiths that generally the conditions are muddled, badly drafted and insufficiently precise. They doubt they are legally sustainable. 

“They comment that the conditions are based on flawed, diluted or inadequate supporting information, which impacts on the robustness and effectiveness of the conditions.” 

Owen-John said, in English Heritage's view, Liverpool World Heritage Site and the wider docks present an ideal opportunity for economic, social and environmental gains that could be achieved jointly and simultaneously. 

“Unfortunately, it is clear to us that Liverpool Waters has failed to take this opportunity,” he comments. 

He reminded the council that in February the agency warned the impact on the historic environment of these proposals was very serious. 

“In that assessment we assumed that detailed design could be appropriately controlled to mitigate, to some extent, the impact and that some heritage benefits would be properly secured. 

Liverpool WatersLiverpool Waters

“We regret to say that despite our efforts to assist in this regard, the conditions are not, in our view, appropriate to control a scheme of this size and nature in this sensitive location. If permission is granted on these terms, it will be a matter of chance as to whether the heritage benefits that could be achieved are realised. We simply do not know whether the detail design will mitigate the overall impact, be neutral or make it worse.” 


He urged the council to reconsider the conditions and obligations and enter into a meaningful dialogue with English Heritage and its advisers as soon as possible. 

“If you proceed to make a decision without further changes to the conditions then you will understand that this will only add weight to our objection to the application. We would accordingly request that you refer this matter to the Department for Communities and Local Government,” he wrote.

In July, Unesco's World Heritage Committee resolved to place the Liverpool WHS on the World Heritage In Danger list. If any buildings are constructed that, in Unesco's view, harm the WHS, it is likely Liverpool's World Heritage Site will be struck off. 

The Laz Word.... on conservation versus regeneration 

Unesco_Logo1To the World Heritage Committee, Liverpool's Central Docks present the largest complete Victorian dock development in the world - making it globally important for preservationists and conservationists. 

To Peel, Mayor Joe Anderson and others eager to see regeneration, it is a wasteland, vacated decades ago when shipping moved to Seaforth and Bootle. 

It is understandable for the Mayor and councillors to welcome, with open arms, the prospect of what would be the biggest regeneration project in Europe, creating thousands of desperately needed jobs. 

Joe AndersonJoe AndersonHowever, the status of a World Heritage Site is far more than a plaque on the wall. It takes years for Unesco's assessors to mull over whether a particular site is worthy of being included on its cultural roll of honour. Only a small handful of world heritage, out of 1,000 listed, have been struck off. It's the equivalent of being placed on a naughty step as high as the pyramids of Egypt. 

This has become a conservation-versus-regeneration battle and it seems both combatants have retreated to their respective corners. 

Liverpool City Council's Planning Committee has a quasi-judicial role in deciding whether planning applications should be approved or rejected. 

So large are the plans for Liverpool Waters that the scheme will have to be referred to the Government's Department for Communities and Local Government. If the Secretary of State decides not to intervene – as Peel and the Mayor hope – the plans will have their much needed approval. The question of being struck off will arise if and when something is constructed that compromises the WHS. 

Although planning committees are charged with standing aside from politics and judging applications merely on planning grounds, it must take guts and courage to ignore the wishes, if not the expectations, of political leaders. 

Whilst Downing Street and the Chancellor may see Liverpool Waters as a golden opportunity for private investment, others in high places may see things differently. Liverpool may be charged with managing its World Heritage Site, but the custodians of Liverpool's cultural accolade is the Government.


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8 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

PhilSeptember 11th 2012.

Let Peel walk away and give the site to Unesco to look after.....

Blimey O'ReillySeptember 11th 2012.

Let Peel clear off so someone else can build what is really needed, not lots of tower blocks full of empty offices and unsold flats that will become the slums of the future.

RobertSeptember 12th 2012.

Peel are bluffing - they don't have the money to invest and financial reliance on China is mistaken for the property bubble is all set to burst there as well.. Factor in there's no market for high-rise apartments nor willing mortgage lenders, competition from 1100 apartments by the more pleasant Garden Festival site (eventually), and the fact that we need affordable, practical yet dense family housing in this city, then Liverpool Waters will not get off the ground for a decade. Ever tried to get your kids into a decent school whilst living in the sky on Old Hall Street?

Blimey O'ReillySeptember 14th 2012.

Liverpool already has thousands of unlet offices (many on the waterfront itself) and huge numbers of decent-sized homes stand empty and boarded-up. Who wants to live in an overpriced cramped flat with the cooker in the living room?
There is simply no demand for Peel's projected buildings. They will be nothing but white elephants with no point or future. They only make sense from the developers' point of view to get a quick profit and then clear off leaving the buildings in the hands of a separate management company to sell the flats or find tenants.

Prof ChucklebuttySeptember 20th 2012.

On the off-chance, they ever build anything,I just want to take this opportunity to get my complaints about the noise in early, before any bars or hotels open.

Iain ScottOctober 12th 2012.

If they don't end up building it won't harm the site. If they do it is a project that could transform the regional economy. Canary wharf was empty for years after completion. Who knows where our eConomy might be in 20 years we might need more offices and flats and in the meantime we get a much needed capital project. I'd call peels bluff and say right there you are now get on with it.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Barry WilkinsonOctober 31st 2012.

Thats true Iain..very true.

Barry WilkinsonOctober 31st 2012.

It will develop slowly and mirror the economy no doubt...but the sooner it is started the better..too much talk and publicity attracts too many 'jokers' and this in turn does little for our local economy.

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