The owners of Birmingham's Bullring shopping centre are digging their heels in over an order to replace the railings around the statue of Admiral Lord Nelson.

Hammerson's have submitted an application to the city council for permission to leave the statue as it is - open to the public and free of its original 19th century railings.

The move has sparked a major row, with English Heritage, the Birmingham Civic Society and the Georgian Group demanding that the statue be restored to its original state.

Both the railings and the statue were removed during construction of the Bullring. When the £530 million centre opened in September 2003, Nelson took pride of place overlooking St Martin's Church.

But requests by the council to replace the railings in time for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar in October have been refused by Hammerson's.

The company has told the council it considers the sharp railings, which are in storage, to contravene health and safety policies.

Civic Society spokesman Stephen Hartland said: "This statue and its railings belong to the people of Birmingham, not Hammerson's. We have lost the original plinth with the cartouche on. We have lost the upturn canon lamp-posts and we still have the railings - the only statue left to be so endowed."

No one at Hammerson's was available to comment.