City-approved zip line through historic Liverpool city center draws legal challenge

Will It Still Fly?

City-approved zip line through historic Liverpool city center draws legal challenge

Looking up at St. John’s Beacon, also known as Radio City Tower, in Liverpool. (Brian Dooley/Public Domain/Flickr)

In late June, city council members in Liverpool, England, granted planning permission to a highly contentious $6.7 million planned attraction that would involve tourists—of the potentially screaming and sloshed variety—sailing hundreds of feet above the historic city center along a 1,312-foot-long zip wire. The white-knuckle aerial entertainment, due to be first permanent urban zip line in the United Kingdom, would send riders careening from the top of the iconic St. John’s Beacon radio and observation tower to the roof of the Central Library building, which is within the Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Along their way, zip-liners would pass near or directly above a number of historic Liverpudlian landmarks as well as, per The Independent, “numerous memorials, including those to Hillsborough victims and the war dead.”

Naturally, there was pushback from some members of Liverpool City Council during the approval process, including from one member who said the planned zip line is poised to “represent the Disneyfication of one of the city’s most cultural areas, making it appear tacky.” Another member, as reported by The Independent, claimed it to be “completely wrong for the area,” adding: “I think it would end up closing after a few years. I’m not convinced that level of demand would be sustained.” The final council vote was five to three.

Welsh aerial adventure company Zip World has claimed that the Liverpool zip line, its first outside of Wales and the fastest of its kind in the world, would create new jobs and bring an influx of tourist dollars to the northwest England port city. As of now—with planning permission still in place—it’s slated to open in the summer of 2021.

As reported by the BBC, the most recent form of formal opposition to the zip line comes from U.K. heritage conservation nonprofit the Victorian Society, which has applied to the High Court for leave for a judicial review into the city’s council decision to green-light the project.

The legal maneuver is the latest—and perhaps most major—gesture of outrage in the ongoing furor around the project, which has rallied together historians, architects, conservationists, politicians, and everyday residents. The Victorian Society specifically opposes the use of the Central Library, a grand 1860 landmark facing William Brown Street, as a library user-disrupting landing pad of sorts along with the potential larger impact the attraction could have on the rest of the World Heritage Site.

“In our view, Liverpool Council should have required the applicant to apply for listed building consent, given the visual impact of the zipwire on the Central Library, and their officer’s report for the planning permission application failed to give correct guidance on the appropriate weight that should have been given to heritage factors when considering the decision, reads a statement from the Victorian Society.

“Liverpool City Council has given consent for far too many harmful developments in recent years, from the Welsh Streets to the Futurist Cinema, said Tom Taylor, conservation adviser for the Victorian Society, in the same statement. “The proposed zip wire could not be in a more sensitive or inappropriate position, right in the heart of Liverpool’s great historic civic buildings and monuments. The noise and movement, as well as the physical infrastructure required, would harm this important historic area.”

Zip World has repeatedly stressed that the planned zip line would not have a detrimental effect on the historic heart of Liverpool and that no major buildings along the ride’s trajectory would be “compromised.”

“People have expressed their genuine excitement about the new attraction and others have commented on the huge economic contribution those visiting the zip line will make to city centre businesses,” Zip World president Sean Taylor said in a statement shared by the BBC in July. “We understand there has been some concern about heritage assets and so we would like to reiterate how hard we have worked to not compromise their setting.”

In reaction to the ongoing row over the project, one major aspect of the attraction has already been altered: the “Adventure Terminal” check-in area will be relocated from the Central Library to a shopping mall at the base of St. John’s Beacon.

As recently noted by Dezeen, Liverpool-based DK Architects is the designer of the attraction.

Heritage threats aside, the planned attraction is one of the latest thrill-based diversions to involve a midcentury telecommunications tower. (St. John’s Beacon, which is also known as Radio City Tower, is outside of Liverpool’s World Heritage-listed area.) While rotating restaurants and observation decks were, once upon a time, enough to garner large crowds, numerous towers across Europe including Rotterdam’s Euromast and the Tallinn TV Tower, now offer abseiling and other daredevil-y activities to adrenaline-addicted visitors.