HERITAGE campaign group SAVE has launched an urgent public bid to raise £12,500 to challenge, in the COurt of Appeal, last week’s High Court ruling that paves the way for the Futurist to be demolished and the controversial Lime Street redevelopment to go ahead.
So why has a London-based charity intervened in a municipal battle, 200 miles away where the focus is the future of a crumbling cinema?
For SAVE, it is largely about Liverpool’s World Heritage Status. The city is already officially ‘At Risk” of being kicked off the United Nations register and unlike other sites, which have ended up on the endangered step owning to conflict or disaster, Liverpool is only there, it says, because of bad planning decisions.
The perceived pressure was illusory. This contributes to the sense that the proceedings have been hurried through and the correct design solution has not been sought, rather just a way of turning a profit without exploring options
In a worst case scenario, if Liverpool is removed from the register - and that's only ever happened to a World Heritage Site on three occasions - it will be a major international embarrassment for the UK.
SAVE said it wants to bring the case to the Court of Appeal partly on the grounds that legal proceedings in Manchester's High Court had been hurried through owing to "illusory" pressure by developers Neptune. It added that profit had got in the way of the best design for the site being sought.
In a lengthy statement, Director Clem Cecil and SAVE explained why the fight must go on.
“We challenged Liverpool City Council’s decision on the grounds that it was clear that they had failed to inform the Department for Culture Media and Sport (who would then decide whether to notify the World Heritage Committee) about the application, before permission was granted, even though the development may have impacted upon the Outstanding Universal Value of (Liverpool’s) World Heritage Site.
“Richard Harwood (SAVE’s QC in the first round of the legal challenge) said in his closing statement ‘World Heritage Sites are usually placed on the At Risk list following war or natural disaster. Liverpool is on the list due to a series of bad planning decisions’.”
SAVE objected along with the Victorian Society, the Merseyside Civic Society and many others, against the Lime Street proposal. The heritage charity says it offered mediation, but Liverpool Council refused, after which SAVE served Judicial Review proceedings.
SAVE describes the Futurist as a much loved Liverpool landmark, the city’s first purpose built cinema and one of a diminishing number of pre-WWI movie theatres in the UK. It was constructed in 1912 by renowned theatre architects Chadwick and Watson. It has a highly decorative façade of faience tiles.
It went on: “SAVE believes that the impact runs against World Heritage Site policy as enshrined in Liverpool’s WHS UDP, and it places Liverpool’s already officially ‘endangered’ WHS at further risk.
“If Liverpool is deleted from the list of WHSs by UNESCO, it would be only the third ever WHS to be deleted from the list, and would be of great embarrassment to the UK Government for failing to uphold its treaty obligations to protect an asset of ‘Outstanding Universal Human Value.”
SAVE has challenged Liverpool Council’s claim that the proposed demolition of a large part of Lime Street, between the Crown and Vines public houses, and the subsequent development of student flats and retail units, will not affect the ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ of the WHS.
“Despite being mostly in city council freehold, and despite the fact that the council has a repairing lease on the Futurist, this historic gateway street has been left under-repaired and decaying for over two decades. SAVE recognises the need to improve the area, but strongly condemns these plans to demolish rather than repair, and the deliberate neglect over many years of publicly owned heritage assets that should have been maintained.”
It added: “We consider that we have strong grounds of appeal. Liverpool City Council and the developer, Neptune Developments, demanded an expedited hearing, arguing that they would lose their investor for the student accommodation development if it was not guaranteed to be completed by the autumn.
“Subsequently it became clear that they can deliver the following year and that the perceived pressure was illusory. This contributes to the sense that the proceedings have been hurried through and the correct design solution has not been sought, rather just a way of turning a profit, without exploring options, whatever the sacrifice.”
Clem Cecil commented: “This is Liverpool’s gateway street. It is imperative that proper consultation takes place in order to secure the best possible design solution for the site. In this case it has not taken place.
“SAVE has been campaigning for historic buildings in Liverpool for 40 years and knows how important it is to take the long term view. The suggested replacement proposals are poor and, crucially, unnecessary. “
They replace a coherent streetscape that has evolved over centuries, with a monolithic student block and bland shopping centre. The fact that the street is in poor repair is not an excuse to tear it down. SAVE is staggered that John Whittingdale (Culture Secretary) is happy for this kind of crude destruction to take place in a UK WHS that is already on the At Risk list. This development may lead to it being deleted. Does he want this on his watch? We need to wake up before it’s too late.”
The Just Giving appeal can be accessed here.