Former Royal Insurance Building, Liverpool

The Royal Insurance Building is important to Liverpool’s maritime and mercantile history. It houses the very room where the Titanic Insurance papers were signed. Its resurgence has enhanced the special character of the World Heritage Site and its new use as a hotel provides local employment. It's a perfect example of why it’s important for local authorities to invest in an enforcement strategy and work in partnership with Historic England and the private sector.

Where: Liverpool

Years on register: 1998 - 2013

A pioneering approach to 'stop the rot'

In 1991 Liverpool City Council undertook a survey that identified 750 historic buildings at risk. Ten years later, with the support of Historic England and the Liverpool Echo’s influential ‘Stop the Rot’ campaign, the Council set up a pioneering Buildings at Risk project. Uniting conservation, regeneration and housing teams, the project targeted buildings for action.

By taking a consistent and ‘no-nonsense’ approach to employing Section 215 Notices, Urgent Works Notices, Housing Act powers, and in extreme cases Repairs Notices and Compulsory Purchase Orders, building owners took note. The results of this partnership have been staggering. 500 historic buildings have since been brought back into use. The proportion of listed buildings at risk has been reduced from 13% to 3%. The project has stimulated growth, with £4.5 million of private investment outstripping public funding by 5 to 1.

When City Council stepped in

The former Royal Insurance Building is an example of how this has been achieved. Thought to be the earliest load bearing steel building in the world, it was completed in 1903 to the designs of J Francis Doyle. However, by the late 1980s this huge neo-baroque style building had fallen into disuse. Its condition deteriorated and in 2007 the Council served an Urgent Works Notice on the owners.

See the Royal Insurance Building's entry on the National Heritage List

Exterior elevation of the Grade II* Liverpool Royal Insurance Building
The exterior of the Grade II* Liverpool Royal Insurance Building before conversion to a hotel © Historic England

The freehold was purchased by the City Council in 2012 to implement a hotel conversion in partnership with a private developer, Ashall Projects. The conversion was carried out in 2013-4 with the assistance of a £300,000 Historic England grant to repair the Westmoreland slate roof

How we made a difference

Historic England has helped Liverpool City Council bring a staggering 500 historic buildings back into use over the past 20 years. As well as grant aid, we provided expert technical repair advice, planning advice and guidance on the legal processes.

The Royal Insurance Building is a perfect example of why it’s important for local authorities to invest time and money in an enforcement strategy and work in partnership with Historic England and the private sector. A building that had been dormant for 30 years is now a thriving hotel. It’s created about 90 jobs in the heart of the business quarter. People choose to stay there because of its history.

Picture of the bar in the refurbished Royal Insurance Building, Liverpool now converted into a hotel
Royal Insurance Building, Liverpool main hall conversion © Historic England

Improved accommodation for visitors to Liverpool

The Grade II* Royal Insurance Building is now buzzing with life again as a four-star hotel in the heart of Liverpool’s business district. The re-use has involved very few alterations to the monumental exterior of the building. Conversion of the interior has included the careful repair of its historic features, including its dramatic spiral staircase, together with sensitive modern interventions.

Regeneration brings local jobs

The success of the development is stimulating further regeneration along Dale Street, which lies within a conservation area and Liverpool’s World Heritage Site boundary. The 116 room hotel makes a significant contribution to the city’s accommodation offer and provides local employment. The project is an exemplar of what can be achieved when agencies work in partnership to regenerate historic places.

Exterior elevation of Liverpool Royal Insurance Building after conversion to a hotel
The exterior of the Grade II* Liverpool Royal Insurance Building after conversion to a hotel © Historic England DP175961

Heritage is our unique selling point. It makes the Liverpool brand stand out worldwide. My advice to any city on delivering an enforcement strategy is to have a vision of how you want your city to look. That’s what we’ve done in Liverpool. As a result, we’ve reduced significantly the number of buildings at risk and are rightly proud of doing so.

Joe Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool

20 years of the Heritage at Risk Register

This year we are celebrating 20 years of the Heritage at Risk Register, Historic England’s tool for shining a light on the listed buildings and places in England that need the most help. Looking back over the last 20 years, huge progress has been made in saving our heritage and giving it new uses.

See more of our top 20 heritage rescues

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Related Publications

  • Stopping the Rot

    Published 15 April 2016

    A guide to enforcement action (3rd ed).