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?
Liverpool 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.
English 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 non‐compliance 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.
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.
Back 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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