Tall buildings policy to protect Liverpool’s historic views

Posted by Derek Mason

16th January 2024

Picture credit: Marcus Cramer on Unsplash

After being brutally stripped of its UNESCO World Heritage status in July 2021, Liverpool’s planners have now put in place a tall buildings policy to protect their skyline. Not everyone is in favour of the new policy, but it aims to ensure that existing historic views are preserved and that tall buildings are limited to specific areas.

The new policy – the Tall Buildings Supplementary Planning Document – divides the city into five clusters and outlines height limits for each area. Out of the five clusters, the tallest buildings will be allowed around Gibraltar Row in the City Centre South cluster, although these are limited to 50 storeys.

The policy isn’t welcomed by all in the city. In an opinion piece about Liverpool’s “crushing sense of meekness” dragging down the city’s regeneration, Liverpolitan magazine columnist Michael McDonough attacks “NIMBYs throwing shade on the very idea of planning big, going tall, and growing our economy”.

But the reality is that Liverpool’s historic buildings and views will benefit from some protection. Liverpool is one of only three sites to have been deleted from the World Heritage List, with the Elbe Valley in Dresden, Germany and the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman being the other sites to have suffered this loss.

The World Heritage Committee voted to delete Liverpool due to “the irreversible loss of attributes conveying the outstanding universal value of the property”. After achieving heritage status in 2004, Liverpool had gone onto the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2012, over concerns about the proposed Liverpool Waters development, which spans 2.3km along the waterfront and will eventually include Everton Football club’s new stadium, which is currently under construction.

The waterfront has changed a lot over the last two decades, with modern buildings springing up, and changing the look and feel of the skyline.

Despite losing its world heritage status, the city is still famous for being a major trading centre in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well for being the birthplace of The Beatles. So tourism is likely to continue as before, but there are fears the UNESCO deletion will impact investment in the city.

Back in 2021, when the city lost its heritage status, Dr David Jeffrey, a lecturer in British politics at the University of Liverpool, told the BBC that he didn’t believe the decision would have a “serious impact” on the city’s tourism, but he did add, “I do hope this serves as a warning to the council to stop approving ugly buildings”.

Although the new planning policy offers some protections, I’m not convinced it will prevent ugly buildings being added to the city. It states that, “tall buildings are highly visible and are a key part of the skyline and image of Liverpool. Therefore they must be of the highest quality of architectural design”. However, design is subjective, so it will still be down to town planners to prevent the addition of inappropriate building designs.

I don’t think any of us want UK cities to become like Dubai, with tall buildings that look completely out of proportion to the rest of the city. But does this policy go far enough? There’s always a balance to be had between retaining historic views and facilitating investment and growth, so it will be interesting to see whether this policy helps or hinders Liverpool in getting the balance right.

Liverpool is not the only city going down this road. Glasgow City Council has also announced it will consult on a new policy for tall buildings. It seems likely that more and more cities will need similar policies to deal with the pressure to build upwards. What do you think? Do you agree that the UK’s cities need to limit tall buildings?

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