PLANS to build luxury apartments inside the Port of Liverpool Building have been given backing from the country's top heritage agency.

The decision by English Heritage to support the £20m project at the Pier Head landmark paves the way for the plan to be approved by the city council's planning committee next Tuesday.

Owner Downing Developments withdrew an earlier proposal that would have seen 18 luxury apartments created in a modern glass-style construction on the roof of the building, one of the Three Graces.

Planners said that scheme was considered too bold and at odds with the highly-sculptured Edwardian baroque building.

The new plan will restore the original design of the building and its roof level extension, which was heavily damaged during bombing raids in World War II.

This included a slated mansard roof with dormer windows set behind, with ornamental stone balustrades in front. In the post-war repair programme, the roof area was re-modelled and replaced by a flat roofed attic storey in Portland stone.

Experts from English Heritage have been involved in detailed discussions about the design because of the sensitivity of the building, which is at the heart of the World Heritage site.

Planning officers in a report to councillors admit that the roof-top extension is the most controversial element of the scheme.

They say what is a major intervention can only be justified provided it does not cause adverse impact to the significance of the building.

English Heritage, said the report, believes that the current scheme offers an acceptable solution.

Downing insists that the two-bedroom apartments are necessary as a means of funding other improvements within the historic building, built in 1907 on the site of Georges Dock.

There are plans for a two-level underground car park, a new public precinct and a public viewing platform within the huge dome that crowns the building.

The aim is to enhance the building to encourage greater access.

The scheme envisages two ground-floor retail uses, possibly a restaurant, and what is described as a public precinct.

The side of the building fronting the Pier Head will be brought back into public use by removing the current car parking area.

The planning managers conclude that the project will give the Port of Liverpool Building a new prominent role in the city beyond the commercial operation it has performed to date.

"The building will form part of the developing cultural portfolio of the city, encouraging activity complementary to the canal link and other developments around the Pier Head," they say.