Europa Nostra UK responds to Liverpool World Heritage Site threat
Updated: Jan 10
Europa Nostra UK has submitted a formal response to the planning application (ref: 18F/3247) to redevelop Waterloo Dock. We have a series of concerns, which are set out in the our letter, copied below.
World Heritage Status
The reasons for the world heritage site and related policies have been set out in the heritage statement by the applicant. We do not see any reason to repeat these but would recommend that the comments are considered in light of this information. However of particular interest is HD1 (3) and the entirety of HD2. In effect these follow the guidance set out in the Framework paras 194 and 195. Although the emerging local plan cannot be given full weight the proposals are contrary to these policies which seek to resist proposals that cause harm to the world heritage site and its setting.
The framework states in para 11 that should the local plan be silent or the policies be out of date that permission should be granted unless specific policies in the Framework states that permission should be restricted. A key restriction is the impact on designated heritage assets. The tilted balance does not apply as the development harms heritage assets and should be restricted subject to the heritage balance as per the framework.
It is a most unfortunate oversight that the heritage statement from late 2019 does not include the information that at the UNESCO conference in Baku in July 2019 that the committee decided that this development, in conjunction with others, could cause substantial harm to the world heritage site. Therefore that it would be removed from the list in effect de-designation.
“UNESCO 43 Session Baku 30-10 July 2019 Decision 43 Com 7a.47. Decides to retain Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) on the List of World Heritage in Danger, with a view to considering its deletion from the World Heritage List at its 44th session in 2020, if the Committee Decisions related to the adoption of the DSOCR and the moratorium for new buildings are not met.”
This is a key consideration that it would have been thought that the officers and members should be fully aware of prior to making a decision. In effect the designating body are stating that should the proposal be approved it in conjunction with others would cause such substantial harm to the designated heritage asset that it would lose its significance. This would appear to raise the harm caused to the world heritage site to at least be at such a level it should be considered as substantial within considerations.
This lack of this information and assessment would indicate that the information submitted to be balanced against the benefits of the scheme should be substantially reassessed. It would indicate that the harm is not relatively minor as noted within the heritage assessment but must be considered to be much higher and given much greater weight in the decision making process.
The framework is clear in this regard that the loss of significance of the assets of highest significance can only be justified through being wholly exceptional. Paragraph 195 states that in these instances the Planning Authority should refuse the application unless the 4 tests outlined have been satisfied. The application has not addressed tests 1-3 within the proposal and therefore has not complied with the national government guidance.
The development of a site for housing and commercial activity is not wholly exceptional. The local plan is still to be adopted and it would be required to include a 5 year housing supply and additional buffer. Whilst the number of units would be useful they do not show that a sequential test has been undertaken and that the local authority could not accommodate the housing elsewhere within its boundaries. Therefore substantial harm would be caused to the designated heritage asset and that harm would not be for a reason noted as being wholly exceptional and therefore the proposal is contrary to policy and guidance and should be refused.
Impacts on the Setting of Listed Buildings
The heritage impact assessment suggests that the proposal will have an impact on a number of listed buildings. Section 66 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas ) Act 1990 states that the officer shall have a special regard to the desirability of preserving the building or its setting. We would agree with the impact assessment where it states that the proposal will have an impact on the settings of the grade I Royal Liver Building (RLB), grade II Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse (SDTW) and grade II Waterloo Warehouse (WW) and wall. The heritage assessment considers these to be less than substantial harm and it would appear to be at a low level to the RLB and SDTW and to a moderate level to the Waterloo Warehouse. Therefore the applicant has identified that the scheme will harm the setting of designated heritage assets including one of the highest significance.
When a development will harm a listed building or its setting the decision maker must give that harm considerable importance and weight. The harm also gives rise to a strong presumption against the granting of planning permission. The harm noted above must therefore be given considerable importance and weight. The Forest of Dean case establishes that the balancing exercise in the framework must be carried out and come out in favour of the application by the officer before any other matters are weighted in the planning balance. The harm to the setting of these buildings would be permanent and irreversible.
Whilst the scheme has improved with regards to the design, form and mass since the first set of plans we would be particularly concerned with regards to the height and this should be reduced. It would also be questioned if the design complies with the policy 4.2.12 of the Liverpool WHS SPD which states that the architectural quality of a proposal within the WHS and Buffer Zone must be of the highest quality of contemporary design but respect, respond to and enhance its highly sensitive and important historic context.
The proposed blocks are relatively bland and the crown top storey feature appears somewhat at odds and out of scale with the main body of the building. All the buildings are relatively similar and one would question if the buildings particularly reflect the character of Liverpool’s built environment rather than a relatively generic design proposed for the site. Therefore it would be most questionable that the proposals are of the highest quality of contemporary design rather than being tolerable.
The harm to the setting of the listed buildings must be given considerable importance and weight. The identified harm gives rise to a strong presumption against the granting of planning permission. There would be some benefits with regards to additional housing and landscaping of the area and this has been helped with the improved design. However these benefits in terms of housing numbers, funding and employment are not anything more than would be expected of any similar sized housing development on a city centre site. The permanent harm caused to the heritage assets has not been clearly and convincingly justified as required by the Framework. Consequently we conclude that the harm to these designated heritage assets is not outweighed by the schemes public benefits and therefore object and recommend refusal.
Harm to the setting of the conservation area
Section 72(1) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 places a statutory duty to pay special attention to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of the Conservation Area. We would not disagree with the heritage statement that the impact on the setting of the Stanley Dock Conservation area is less than substantial and at a low to moderate level. The proposal is therefore contrary to policy. The harm is less than substantial and should be weighed against the public benefits of the scheme.
Overall, whilst the proposals have improved in terms of the design and layout we would strongly object and recommend refusal. As shown above, the proposal is contrary to the plan, adopted design guidance and national guidance and will cause harm to designated heritage assets. The presumption is against such harm and the officer must give considerable importance and weight to this as per the act.
We would also add that we have particular concerns with regard to the potential impact upon the World Heritage Site status. UNESCO are clear that the site is at risk and have added it to their “in danger” list with the imminent threat of removal from the WHS list. Guidance is clear within the framework that the heritage asset of the WHS must be considered as being of the highest form of designation and that its loss (de-designation) should be wholly exceptional. The tests are clear (and have not been met) in the framework and it seems most improbable that this could be considered a wholly exceptional development as there is no evidence in the accompanying reports or supporting statements to suggest otherwise.