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UNESCO World Heritage threat to Alsop's Grace

Hopes of turning Liverpool's famous Mersey waterfront into a UNESCO World Heritage Site could damage Alsop Architects' plans for a Fourth Grace. The competition-winning scheme would come in for a more 'critical' assessment if UNESCO decides next year to award the city WHS status.

The International Council on Monuments and Sites' (ICOMOS) UK office, the watchdog of Britain's World Heritage Sites, said it is considerably harder to build within the borders of one of the designated areas.

Although World Heritage Sites do not have a legal status in planning law, 'once an area has been made a WHS, the local authorities tend to listen to our opinions because retaining the status is so important, ' said ICOMOS secretary Susan Denyer, and the watchdog would have to give the Fourth Grace serious consideration. 'Our appraisal would be very rigorous. We would have to consider very carefully whether this is the right scheme in the right place. The view from the river would be completely essential if the Liverpool site won the accolade, ' she added. 'We would have to look at how this will impact.'

UNESCO also retains the right to remove the status of recognised sites if they are developed inappropriately.

However, Denyer stressed that WHS status for the waterfront would not rule out the scheme altogether. 'We do not oppose all developments in the sites we oversee, ' she added.

A spokesman for Liverpool Vision, the local regeneration agency behind the Fourth Grace, said the organisation had failed to consider the issue but believed the scheme would go ahead nonetheless. Alsop Architects expects to take more than a year to develop the design, with a planning application expected in 2004.

And Liverpool City Council's WHS officer Andy Hinchcliffe dismissed the danger to the cherished Fourth Grace. 'I would hope that UNESCO will recognise that we have a great tradition in the city of innovative construction and give the project its support, ' he said.

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