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Where to draw the line?

A zip wire connecting St John’s Beacon to the roof of Liverpool’s historic Central Library has divided the city — and Kirkdale’s own councillors — since it won council backing in June.

The attraction will be the UK’s first urban zip line and comes from North Wales adventure giant Zip World. It is expected to bring up to 40 jobs when it opens in 2021.

According to Sean Taylor, Zip World’s founder and president, the response to the recently approved plans has been “overwhelmingly positive”. 

But an army of local politicians, celebrities and heritage groups — plus two public petitions — make it clear that this is not the view of everyone.

In fact, significant pressure is mounting on Mayor Joe Anderson to reconsider the decision to approve the attraction, after an open letter, headed by Engage Liverpool, was signed by 181 prominent figures, including comedian Alexei Sayle and playwright Jimmy McGovern.

Their letter reads: ”We strongly disagree with the council’s view that the level of harm to these heritage assets ‘will be towards the lower end of the ‘Less than Substantial’ harm spectrum.

“We come from a range of backgrounds, from Liverpool and from far afield. But we are united in our love for this extraordinary and wonderful place, and we do not wish to see its significance compromised, if not mutilated.”

The Hillsborough Justice Group (HJG) has also appealed to Zip World to withdraw their proposals, because the zip line will pass just 50 metres from the Hillsborough monument in St John’s Gardens.

“Many people use the gardens to sit and pay their respects to those who died during the war,” said a spokesperson for HJG. “There is also a memorial to those killed in traffic accidents.

“And, of course, the major concern to us is the fact that this wire will cross the Hillsborough Monument. So many people stop and stand in quiet contemplation at this site to remember those that were killed in the disaster. Many who visit the monument are themselves survivors of that fateful day. How inappropriate to have someone whooping with delight as they fly over such a scene.”

“But I think, knowing the council and how they do certain things, that if they want to consult, they consult, if they don’t, then they don’t.”, says MP Kim Johnson

Riverside MP Kim Johnson spoke to Scottie Press to voice her concerns about the £5m project, questioning the council’s consultation process.

“The whole process has been quite flawed, in that, if Liverpool City Council wanted to, they could have got more information out to people, so there would have been more objections,” she said.

“But I think, knowing the council and how they do certain things, that if they want to consult, they consult, if they don’t, then they don’t.”

Along with Wavertree MP Paula Barker, Johnson has sent a letter to Mayor Anderson and city chief executive Tony Reeves to object to the zip line. They argue that the decision “demonstrates a disregard for our city’s heritage”. 

After reading through the planning application, Johnson says she is worried about the permanent harm that the attraction could cause to Central Library. She also feels that the predicted economic benefits from the zip wire will have changed “significantly” as a result of coronavirus.

“They insist there’s no substantial harm to the fabric of the building. But what do they mean by substantial? The fact is, they mention that there’s likely to be some harm and some disturbance. And this is a Grade II-listed building.

“The application was submitted and they did an economic impact assessment – but that was back in December. Things will have significantly changed. The money they projected would be earned as a result of the zip wire will not now be the same amount as they saw initially.”

Plan of the Roof Area

Johnson pointed out that there appears to be no application for Listed Building Consent included in the planning application, which is required for when alterations are made to a listed building. 

Although Johnson opposes Zip World’s current proposals, she is not against the idea of having a zip wire in an alternative location — such as Everton Brow. She accepts that they have done an “amazing” job of regenerating areas where their other projects are based.

Councillors on the planning committee voted five to three in favour of the zip wire on June 30. Labour Cllr Anthony Lavelle, who is on the planning committee and voted against the proposals, says that the close vote suggests how torn the city is.

He told Scottie Press: “I believe the plan to install a zip wire across the most historic and iconic parts of the city is a detrimental one. The decision passed narrowly on the day, which demonstrates the strength of feeling about the plan. 

“Liverpool has a strong cultural offer and I think there’s a place for the zip wire within the city more generally,” he adds. “But I felt on the day that the current plan wasn’t the right one — which is why I supported the views of the residents and businesses who had submitted numerous objections in advance of the planning committee.”

Kirkdale Cllr Malcolm Kennedy also voted against the zip line, but was unavailable for comment.

In a series of tweets posted on June 30, Kennedy explained his decision.

“I seldom vote against officers’ recommendations on planning but today’s zip wire decision was an exception,” he tweeted. “Ultimately I had to weigh up negative comments from Historic England, the War Memorials Trust and the Council’s own conservation officer against visitor attraction benefits.

“This was more than a mere planning decision. It was also a policy decision which needed more internal and external debate. This proposal had explicit support from LCC via the Library service. That support has not received the scrutiny it warranted.”

His comments will be a kick in the teeth for fellow Kirkdale councillor Joe Hanson, who also sits on the planning committee and voted in favour of the attraction.

When Scottie Press spoke to Hanson, he argued that objections raised over the zip wire’s threat to Liverpool’s heritage are similar to when the big wheel attraction was first placed in the Albert Dock.

Plan of the Ground Floor

“I would argue, with some conviction, that the wheel is now part of the city and if we were to remove it, I guess there would be an uproar,” he said.

“Liverpool is a city of firsts. We have always done things different. If people don’t want it, they won’t use it. And if they don’t use it, it will fail, and it will move away.”

Regarding the potential for noise disturbances, Hansen believes the argument is unfounded — even during the summer season.

“We would expect, certainly within the summer months, that the zip wire is extremely busy,” he said. “But any noise would be mitigated by the trees around St John’s.

“We don’t lose the leaves until November, then they are back in March. So the noise argument, I don’t believe, holds much water.”

Hansen believes the attraction’s impact on the city’s visitor economy would be appreciated, particularly after the impact of coronavirus.

“We are a tourist centre now and I think a lot of people forget that,” he said. “Lots of our people that live and work in the city rely on that sort of trade now, more so than ever before. 

“It’s a massive part of our income generation. Will this help it? I suspect it will. I hope it does. Hopefully it will bring more tourists in, which means more money for the city.”

It would appear that some in the retail and hospitality sector share Hansen’s concerns, after more than 130 city centre hotels, bars, shops and restaurants signed an open letter backing the zip wire.

“In recent years, in common with all major towns and cities, we’ve watched with alarm as retail and hospitality outlets close down because of reduced footfall,” the letter reads. “The recent Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem for us all. 

“The future is uncertain for many local businesses and so we welcome any credible plans to boost visitor numbers. That is why we are all supporting the forthcoming Liverpool zip line which is projected to bring hundreds of thousands of visitors to Liverpool every year.

“The economic boost this will provide to the retail and hospitality sectors will be significant. We need it now more than ever. 

“It will bring a new generation of visitors, particularly families, who will then all experience the brilliant independent shops, bars, hotels and restaurants that we have to offer. The Liverpool Zip Line will put the city on the international tourist map yet again.”