Liverpool hires planning experts to write new ‘tall buildings policy’

Following a stand-off with UNESCO over the threat to its World Heritage Status, the city council is looking to ensure future schemes do not negatively impact on the waterfront. Tony McDonough reports

Liverpool waterfront
Liverpool waterfront is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Picture by Tony McDonough


A team of planning experts is to formulate a new ‘tall buildings policy’ for Liverpool following the city council’s stand-off with UNESCO over the threat to the city’s World Heritage Status (WHS).

UNESCO, which oversees famous WHS locations across the globe, had warned that proposed high-rise developments, in particular the £5bn Liverpool Water project, threatened the aesthetic of Liverpool’s world famous waterfront.

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson, along with other local business leaders, initially took a bullish approach saying he was not prepared to allow UNESCO to hamper the city’s regeneration and investment ambitions.

However, early in 2018 the council adopted a more conciliatory approach. Property giant Peel, the developer behind Liverpool Waters, has also revised its plans by cutting the height of the proposed buildings. Liverpool Waters is not within the WHS zone but is seen as close enough to have a significant impact.

Design consortium

Now, after an extensive tendering exercise, the city council has appointed a world-leading design consortium, led by by Urban Initiatives Studio (UIS) and supported by heritage specialists from Chris Blandford Associates (CBA).

Urban Initiatives Studio have carried out similar studies in London, Belfast and Bath and will be aided by environment consultants from Arup on microclimate issues. The council is seeking to adopt the policy as a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) by the end of 2019, following a public consultation exercise. Once adopted it will be used to guide three key issues:

  • The height of tall buildings – the policy will assess appropriate height in relation to existing buildings and the environment.
  • The location of tall buildings – the policy will identify appropriate locations and the potential for “tall building clusters” in the city centre.
  • The design of tall buildings – the policy will encourage best practice in building design.

UIS will undertake initial research before a draft policy is discussed with key stakeholders including Historic England. Public feedback will be sought in the summer. The final draft will then be put to Liverpool City Council’s cabinet for formal adoption.

Once adopted, the SPD would then sit alongside other key planning policies for the city such as the Local Plan and World Heritage Site Management Plan.

Liverpool Waters
Computer-generated image of three residential towers planned for Princes Dock in Liverpool


Regeneration boom

The city is currently undergoing an unprecedented regeneration boom with £14bn of investment in the pipeline over the coming decade. On Princes Dock, part of Liverpool Waters, a trio of high-rise apartment buildings are under construction – one 34 storeys high.

Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said: “Liverpool is undergoing a huge transformation and a new tall buildings policy is going to be crucial not only in helping to shape the city’s landscape but also to set the highest expectations for architectural design.

Liverpool has a unique set of characteristics, most notably our historic buildings and we need to define where tall buildings will be best situated.

“We want to achieve that delicate balance between encouraging development and complementing the quality of Liverpool’s existing architecture and we are very fortunate to have a 3D model of the city to assist these planners and engineers in this regard.”

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