Heritage campaigners are using Liverpool waterfront's World Heritage Site (WHS) application as an excuse to 'drop a cloak of conservation' over the city, local groups have warned.
The business community is furious that English Heritage has used the UNESCO submission to force planners to refuse a proposed building over a mile from the riverside.
Both local developers and architects believe the move sets a precedent that gives Liverpool's conservationists unrestrained power over the entire city centre.
The controversy centres on a planning application submitted 18 months ago by local practice Falconer Chester for a nine-storey mixeduse scheme on the city's Colquitt Street. Following lengthy negotiations, the planning authority agreed to recommend approval.
However, one month before the project was scheduled to go before the city's planning and development committee, English Heritage officer Rob Burns wrote to the council demanding the scheme be thrown out.
He warned that giving the project the go-ahead would jeopardise the success of the city's WHS application. Planners immediately performed a U-turn, reversing their recommendation.
However, this turnaround has caused local outrage. Business group Downtown Liverpool - a long-term opponent of the WHS - attacked the move, warning that it sets 'an extremely dangerous precedent'.
'English Heritage told everyone that the WHS would not impact on the ability of developers to build in Liverpool and help regeneration, ' director Frank McKenna said. 'But the genie is now out of the bottle, we know what they really think.
'We already have many derelict sites in the area but it seems likely that none will be redeveloped, ' he added.
'People around here now realise that we need to know what becoming a WHS might mean before it's too late.'
Falconer Chester's Paul Falconer agreed: 'I do not understand what gives EH the latitude to say this. The authority they have seems to stretch as far as they want it. They are about to pickle the city centre in aspic.
'It seems that all conservationists have to do is say the magic word fiWHSfl and planners will do whatever they say. Their agenda is really about to be cranked up, ' he added.
But English Heritage dismissed the criticism. 'It is vital that the right development is found for this crucial site to unlock its long-term regeneration potential, ' the quango said in a statement.
'EH has no objection to the principle of demolition and redevelopment as the existing building does little to complement the conservation area or adjacent listed buildings, ' it added.