Liverpool has set itself on a collision course with UNESCO, the international heritage body in charge of the most important cultural assets in the world.
The decision on a majority vote by the city council’s planning committee to give the go-ahead for a 22-storey development of student flats alongside Lime Street Station, flies in the face of a plea by UNESCO to hold fire for a couple of months.
This move, and the go-ahead last month for another skyscraper development at Princes Dock, could jeopardise Liverpool’s coveted status as a World Heritage Site.
The council’s decision to ignore UNESCO’s request and approve the scheme is needlessly hasty - SAVE
But Mayor Joe Anderson has defended the decision, saying: "We cannot put the development of our city on hold to protect an empty plot of land".
And he hit back at UNESCO saying it was treating the city as if it had no future, like a dead, greying monument.
The city’s WHS status is teetering, for a fifth year, on UNESCO’s In Danger list, standing alongside 54 others around the world, mainly in war zones or trouble spots. All, including six in worn-torn Syria, the birthplace of Jesus and Liverpool, face being stripped of the coveted WHS badge of honour.
SAVE Britain’s Heritage, the London-based campaign group which opposed the Lime Street scheme, said the council’s approval for a scheme in the buffer zone of the city’s WHS came despite specific requests from UNESCO not to grant planning approval for the application, as well as objections from the Victorian Society.
ICOMOS-UK, Britain’s special advisor to UNESCO,: "ICOMOS-UK regrets that Liverpool City Council have pushed ahead with a decision on this planning application at this time. Such a move ignores the UNESCO World Heritage Committee's request not to approve the project until a Desired State of Conservation for the Liverpool - Maritime Mercantile City World Heritage Site as a whole is defined and adopted. It is the responsibility of all key stakeholders to work together to ensure that Liverpool's World Heritage status can be assured for the future."
Ahead of the planning committee meeting, SAVE wrote to each member of the planning committee to highlight its serious concerns and those of UNESCO, requesting that the decision be deferred until a Desired State of Conservation Report is submitted in December.
The report is expected to outline corrective measures in order to remove Liverpool from the Danger List.
A spokesman for Liverpool City Council told Liverpool Confidential: “While the DsoC will be submitted by December, UNESCO will not make a decision on it until July 2017. It is not reasonable or in accordance with UK planning laws for no planning decisions to be made during that time.”
Mayor Joe Anderson said: “Liverpool has a legacy to protect and I have always said that we will do everything that we can to protect it. The World Heritage Site remains protected, but what is being protested now is what is called the ‘buffer zone’. This is NOT the area that is the World Heritage Site – but is the surrounding area. And for a city our size, also unfortunately it covers almost the entire size of our city centre.
“Historic England said the proposals, which were discussed at planning this week, do not threaten our Outstanding Universal Value – which is the key measure of whether a site is worthy of world recognition. We are prepared to listen to the experts, which is why our progress at preserving our heritage, despite extremely difficult financial constraints, should be celebrated.
“Our economy is growing, investors want to come to our city and we welcome the jobs and opportunities that come with this. But we cannot put the development of our city on hold to protect an empty plot of land.
“Global recognition for our city’s architecture that captures forever our place in a part of the world’s history is very important to us, but at the moment UNESCO are trying to treat our city as if our city has no future – like a dead, graying monument. But we are a living, breathing, growing and vibrant city.”
A spokeswoman for SAVE said: “The council’s decision to ignore UNESCO’s request and approve the scheme is needlessly hasty.
“SAVE considers that the proposal will cause great harm to the setting of the WHS and surrounding listed buildings, and as a result of its height its impact will be far reaching.”
“At the World Heritage Committee in July, UNESCO took the decision to retain the Liverpool WHS on the at risk list and also singled out two projects – towers at Skelhorne Street and the 34-storey Princes Reach scheme on the waterfront - advising against the granting of planning permission.”
SAVE said in its statement: “Both schemes referred to have now been approved and the council’s decisions flagrantly ignores UNESCO’s request. These approvals further increase the risk that the city will be stripped of its WHS Status, something being seriously considered by UNESCO.”