The State Party submitted a report on 30 January 2008. This stated that a new Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) for Liverpool is being prepared by a consultant commissioned by Liverpool City Council. A draft will be put out for consultation in April 2008. It is expected to be approved after the consultation ends in autumn 2008.
The State Party indicates that the Supplementary Planning Document is likely to:
a) Confirm that proposed buildings which are tall in relation to others in the immediate vicinity should not be allowed within the property. Within the setting of the property the emerging cluster of tall buildings in the new business district to the northeast of the Pier Head is likely to be regarded as an acceptable location for further tall buildings. The SPD will also define in which other parts of the setting tall buildings might be acceptable and where they will not.
b) Provide an analysis and description of townscape characteristics relevant to the outstanding universal value, important views and the need to adhere to these characteristics, wider values and sense of place.
c) Set out a policy framework which will allow this diversity of character to flourish, while being sufficiently robust to ensure that development which does not respond adequately to the historic context is not allowed. The SPD is likely to specify that design briefs must take account of outstanding universal value.
The State Party also provided an update on proposals considered by the joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS mission:
New Museum Building (on the waterfront inside the inscribed property); the cladding for this building is now being changed from travertine marble to jura limestone and a new planning application has been submitted. It is understood that the original architect has been replaced by a new local architect.
Prince’s Dock (to the north of the inscribed property); Planning permission for Alexandra Tower, a 24 storey building was given in 2004 just after inscription. This is now nearing completion. The granting of permission set a precedent for tall buildings in the Prince’s Dock complex, which resulted in Liverpool City Council approving a 34 storey building in June 2007. This does have some impact on the views of the property from the North.
Mann Island(in the south of the inscribed property);The three towers are now under construction. In addition, for the Mersey Ferry terminal building (in inscribed property front of the Three Graces) a four storey building has been given planning permission next to the river.
For the Kings Dock (to the south of the inscribed property in the setting), a large conference centre and arena are now nearing completion. Regarding the Central Docks (to the north of inscribed property and partly in setting)and Birkenhead Docks (on west side of river opposite inscribed property), a concept for the development of these areas has been put forward by developers. This includes a cluster of towers up to 50 storeys high. The State Party indicates that this scheme is expected to change significantly once the SPD is published.
The State Party included in its report the recommendations of the English Heritage/Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment Urban Panel on the Central Docks scheme. This stressed the need for a still more compelling vision and associated strategic framework for the whole sub-region, preferably one based on sustainability, such as an eco-city; and stated emphatically that World Heritage site status would be jeopardised by a sixty storey building.
In response to concern over the lack of understanding of the outstanding universal value of the property, the State Party reports on several initiatives. Liverpool City Council, with support from the Liverpool Culture Company and English Heritage, has updated the property’s web-site, commissioned consultants to produce a World Heritage Education and Interpretation Strategy, and has instructed the consultants for the emerging SPD to carry out pre-production consultation with selected developers and conservation groups. English Heritage and its partners have published five informed conservation books and improved education provision.
The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS welcome the progress that has been made in responding to the recommendations of the mission, but stress the urgency to approve the SPD in order that planning permission for tall buildings does not set more precedents as has happened at Prince’s Dock, where tall buildings have compromised the silhouette of the Three Graces. While the SPD will put in place an overall framework within which development can be assessed, there nevertheless remains the need for further work to address the lack of strategic plans for future development. These should set out clear strategies for the overall townscape and for the skyline and river front – as highlighted by the mission and reinforced by the comments of the Urban Panel. Such strategic plans could be pro-active in promoting high quality, sustainable, development in appropriate places.
Although some work has been done on raising the profile of the property, press reports suggest that there is still more work needed to ensure that development meets the highest aspirations and inspires confidence that the best has been achieved.