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Skyscraper city v World Heritage Status

Room on the block for both or is Liverpool facing its biggest dilemma?

Written by . Published on May 18th 2011.

Skyscraper city v World Heritage Status

LIVERPOOL could be on a collision course with the nation’s heritage watchdogs over its prized World Heritage Site.

It raises a critical question for the city: should it protect and guard its coveted World Heritage Status, described by Council Leader Joe Anderson today as “a certificate on the wall”  or risk a head-to-head with the culture police by allowing Manhattan-style developments along the waterfront?

Pyramids.jpgLiverpool signed on the dotted line to protect its mercantile heritage when it was added to the list of World Heritage Sites, in the knowledge that developments harming the WHS could be vetoed. The city’s striking waterfront joined a club that boasts the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal as members.

But while the city continues to bask in this title, waiting in the wings is Peel Holdings, the family-owned business wanting to develop the city’s north docks with a vast scheme that will see it lined with skyscrapers, steel and glass.

Around 25,000 jobs, 14,000 flats and a regeneration project worth around £5.5 billion are at stake with the Liverpool Waters project.

We are right and they are
completely wrong' - Lindsey Ashworth, Peel Holdings

Now, just as is gaining momentum, English Heritage has come along with a report warning that Liverpool Waters, as planned, threatens to ruin the World Heritage Site.

For Liverpool it is a huge dilemma: does the city turn its back on its biggest ever building project, which even dwarfs the £1bn Liverpool One development, or risk losing its WHS status?

The strongly worded 375-page document sends a clear signal to the city that it is make-your-mind-up time.

Cllr Jeff Green %28Wirral leader%29, Cllr Joe Anderson and Lindsey Ashworth from Peel.jpgEnglish Heritage is a government-backed body that acts as agents for UNESCO, which awards WHS status.

Theoretically, a scheme deemed to spoil a WHS could result in the coveted status being removed from the list – the ultimate sanction, rarely used by UNESCO.

But Councillor Anderson, while stopping short of saying we should not be worried about forgoing it, said today that he thought the balance was right and the in the Peel plans the waterfront remains untouched: 

“I do not believe that a certificate on the wall enhances the beauty of the Three Graces – they speak for themselves," he said.

He added that English Heritage is asking too much and has called for talks between all parties involved.

If Liverpool Waters is approved by the city council planning committee, it doesn’t stop there. It would have to be referred to the Communities Secretary, currently Eric Pickles, who would be advised, on behalf of UNESCO, by English Heritage.  If there are objections, and it seems there will be, it is feared a costly public inquiry will result.

There is a middle route of compromise, but early indications from Peel indicate they are in no mood for scaling down the ambitious project.

Consultant Stephen Bond, who compiled a 375-page report for English Heritage says in his conclusion: “Our finding is that, cumulatively, the (Peel) application will have a significantly damaging negative impact on the Liverpool Maritime Mercantile World Heritage Site and its Outstanding Universal Value. Although many potential public and regenerative benefits can be identified, the application will result in an array of negative impacts on OUV (a number of which will be of major magnitude).”

Furthermore: “Objective 5.2 of the WHS Management Plan states the Council will ‘Ensure new development respects the significance of the Site’....

“It has been shown in this assessment the application fails to protect, respect and transmit the WHS’s OUV.  The grant of planning permission for the application as it stands would constitute noncompliance on the part of Liverpool City Council with this objective of the WHS Management Plan and place it in non‐compliance with the spirit of paragraph 108 of the ‘Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention’ (2008).”

Peel Holdings has described the assessment as flawed and is refusing demands to take out any of the skyscrapers in the scheme.

Peel’s Development Director Lindsey Ashworth (pictured above, right) warns scaling down ambitious Liverpool Waters will lose, for 150 years, an opportunity for the proposed regeneration.

“We are right and they are completely wrong,” he says.

 'Jeopardised by the intensive scale and density of the development'

STEPHEN Bond, of Heritage Places, is  a highly respected heritage consultant who has worked as a WHS site management specialist. He has carried out work in Sri Lanka, Bali, India and Georgia. For seven years he was seconded to the Board of the Historic Royal Palaces.

Away from his day job, he and his wife raise rare-breed pigs and hens on Exmoor.

0002-2.jpgBack at the coal-face, these are some of the conclusions in his 375-page assessment.

“This impact assessment reveals repeatedly that the protection of the WHS and its Outstanding Universal Value is jeopardised by the intensive scale and density of the development, which threatens to smother many of the key attributes of the OUV...

 “One of the reports observes ‘the relationship between [the] WHS and the River Mersey is fundamental to the Site’s history and Outstanding Universal Value, and it is clear that the view of Liverpool’s waterfront, in particular the Pier Head complex, from the River Mersey, played a part in the decision to inscribe it on the WH List. The Mersey was the main trading artery in and out of the city and formed the gateway to the transatlantic trade route.

 “In our view, respect for and enhancement of (various) views in the new development is not an option, it is a necessity and, indeed, a responsibility of development within the WHS and its Buffer Zone.

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

Liver BirdMay 18th 2011.

Yeh, this is all very well, if we take the leap of faith that this is actually going to happen.

AnonymousMay 18th 2011.

"We are right and they are completely wrong". How arrogant can you be?

Michael CarpeyMay 19th 2011.

In the 1960s, on the basis beggars couldn't be choosers, Liverpool was forced to accept city centre developments that were dull and imaginative. Many still survive today as a constant reminder of skint-Britannia. We look at the buildings destroyed in the Blitz, buildings full of charm and character, only to be replaced by p*** pot poor sheds. I can imagine councillors and officials were bullied by developers half a century ago to grab what was being offered, and who can blame them. Now Liverpool does not have to go cap in hand to developers. We have a World Heritage Site and it means far more, as Joe Anderson suggests, than a certificate on the wall. The city signed up to look after and care for, and not ruin the World Heritage Site - that was the deal. If Peel's proposals as they stand threaten the integrity of WHS then Mr Peel should modify the scheme until it does not cause any problems. Either that or Joe Anderson should rip up that certificate off the wall and allow Peel to do exactly what it wants. It's about time Liverpool grew up and had the guts to read out the riot act, or least insist on any development meeting the obligations of WHS.

AnonymousMay 19th 2011.

It's a bit bloody late now, the Pier Head is ruined for the next sixty years until the cheap and tacky rubbish built recently is taken down. Black glass? Looks like a 1980's wine bar/shopping centre.

Notagain.May 20th 2011.

Joe Anderson is a here today gone tomorrow councillor. Peel are in it for what they can make, just look at what has happened at "our" airport, that is run by Peel. What if this pipe dream does not happen and we end up with more empty apartments to add to the 11.000 we already have. They always say how many jobs these schemes will create. what if they don't. We allowed Lady Doreen Jones to build those black glass eye sores and ruin the best view in Liverpool and as for the new museum, did we need it, NO, does it look out of place, YES. We have allowed politicians to make too many mistakes with Liverpool. Do not allow more to happen, send Peel packing and get a sensible scheme in place, we are not Shanghai we are Liverpool, we are in danger of becoming another clone city with no identity.

Absinthe & TurksMay 26th 2011.

I can't understand why so much credence is commanded by the speculative fantasies of Peel Holdings from politicians and the press. Peel Holdings has been promising redevelopment, economic growth, mass employment, upmarket hotels, a “Shanghai skyline” etc. for many years now.

Peel’s actual achievements in that time? They built a tabletop model and - er - repainted a 1920s road bridge by the Stanley Dock.

Yet they are cast as munificent saviours of both sides of the Mersey!

I think it is high time that politicians and the press ignored Peel Holdings until the developer starts to put its money where its mouth is.

Pierre HeadSeptember 26th 2011.

Why must they continue to vandalise the Pier Head? There are plenty of brown-field sites nearby, and it's not as if anyone can afford to park in the city centre any more.

AnonymousSeptember 26th 2011.

The Pier Head is a tourist attraction and a popular gathering place for many locals. These very high buildings cause vortices and dangerous gusts of wind that can knock people off their feet and cause serious injury, particularly when these buildings are grouped closely together.

Is it really wise to allow developers to throw up these ridiculous, jostling phallic symbols at a riverfront location already exposed to strong winds off the sea?

These dangers were established many decades ago but apparently they do not apply to valuable development land bought from the gullible local authority with a handful of 'magic' beans...

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