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Ruth Kelly's decision to torpedo Ian Simpson's Brunswick Tower in Liverpool over claims it will threaten the city's World Heritage status has been branded a 'smokescreen' by local observers.

Critics have also claimed that Kelly's reasons for blocking the scheme mask a deeper political agenda and an antiLiverpool bias.

Plans for the 52-storey glass tower on Liverpool's waterfront were thrown out by the communities minister last week, despite it securing support from the planning inspector.

At the crux of Kelly's decision, according to a Department of Communities and Local Government statement, were fears the tower would obscure views of Liverpool's two cathedrals inside the World Heritage Site zone - even though the scheme is 3km outside the conservation area.

Former Liverpool lord mayor Jack Spriggs has rejected the heritage argument.

'That's a frivolous reason, ' he says. 'It is all part of a government attack on Liverpool. It follows on from the demolition of the Liverpool tram scheme.

'If you were an investor, would you want to come into Liverpool?' he adds.

The 166m-tall, £70 million Brunswick Quay scheme would have featured a boutique hotel, restaurants, shops and offices.

Liverpool City Council, led by chief executive David Henshaw, rejected initial plans, claiming local businesses would suffer. The scheme was blocked again last year - despite having the backing of planning committee head Doreen Jones - but won a crucial green light from the government inspector earlier this month.

Henshaw left the council under a cloud in January after a public bust-up with councillor Mike Storey, thought to be linked to the city's defunct tram scheme. Henshaw has since found his feet in central government - he recently spearheaded a Department for Work and Pensions review into the Child Support Agency.

Ian Simpson admits he was 'abbergasted'by Kelly's verdict.

'This development is well outside the World Heritage Site area. Despite an 18-month process, which went in our favour, this is another example of the government thinking it knows best, ' he says.

Simpson also told the AJ he would be prepared to reduce the height of Brunswick by up to a third to pacify the local heritage lobby.

Brunswick developer Maro Developments says it is 'disappointed' at the government's decision but remains committed to regenerating the gateway site.

A source close to the firm says Kelly's conclusion ew in the face of logic. 'It's bizarre.

Without private investment like this, there is no future for Liverpool.'

Despite Brunswick becoming something of a political football, Simpson has vowed to fight another day.

The question remains whether Kelly has scored a political home goal or kicked Brunswick into touch for good.

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