“More Front than Blackpool”: Liverpool Risks Loss of World Heritage Status

It is reported that a UNESCO committee is to advise the removal of Liverpool’s World Heritage status, first bestowed in 2004. Whilst encompassing wider historic commercial districts, in general terms, this lines the City’s world-renowned waterfront.

Otherwise, its status rests upon the history of the City as a major international trading port in the C18 and C19, where it played a key role in not only the emergence of the British Empire and as a locus of migration, but also the transatlantic slave trade.

The World Heritage Committee has referred to “serious deterioration and irreversible loss of attributes”

Although its potential relegation is not news – where, due to modern redevelopment of the iconic waterfront, said demotion has been considered for over a decade – whether its status will remain intact, will be confirmed in July.

Despite the City Council claiming an investment of 1.5 billion into one hundred and fifty-seven heritage assets (the Albert Dock area hosts more Grade I listed buildings than any other place in the UK), a report from the World Heritage Committee has expressed “deep regret” at what has been termed the “serious deterioration and irreversible loss of attributes”.

Liverpool Waters and the new Everton FC stadium at Bramley Moore Dock were among those developments specifically referred to in the report.

The City has failed to take notice of repeated warnings

Heritage campaigner Wayne Colquhoun said that the City has ignored continual warnings concerning new development, and that “If you’re going to fill [that] dock in – as a mercantile and maritime city on top of already filling the other docks in – you’re displaying that over your universal value. They’ve pushed the boundaries and pushed it and pushed it.”

The Government has stated “We are disappointed in this recommendation and will continue to work with UNESCO, Historic England and Liverpool City Council to ensure the World Heritage Committee can make an informed decision when its meets next month.”

Are decisions being made remotely in light of Covid-19 fair?

Joanne Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool, has requested the deferment of any decision for twelve months, where any such demotion would in her view be “hugely unfair”.

“We need [them] to see Bramley Moore Dock with their own eyes – physically or virtually,” she went on, where the removal of World Heritage status would prove a “missed opportunity in demonstrating to the world that heritage and regeneration are not mutually exclusive.”

Steve Rotherham, mayor of Liverpool City Region, also finds the proposal “deeply disappointing” and has called on the committee to reconsider. He writes “We are proud of our history but our heritage is a vital part of our regeneration. I’d urge them to take up our invitation to visit rather than taking their decision sat around a table on the other side of the world.”

They have a point. Principally due to the pandemic, but also the perpetual claim of under- resourcing, many important decisions – planning or otherwise – are now being made remotely, and by fundamentally detached bodies. As such, decisions will often be insufficiently informed, and therefore deeply flawed.

A balance between heritage and successful new development must always be sought

For obvious reasons, drawings or CGIs rarely reflect reality on the ground. And, for better or worse, Liverpool is not London and must be canny with its economy, for not merely the sake of its heritage, but also its community; for without one, there is not the other.

That being said – as suggested by both Anderson and Rotherham – the correlation between heritage and successful new development is a key factor in not only regeneration, but conservation, and, whilst admittedly fine, a degree of balance must be sought.

Concerning Liverpool Waters, Lindsey Asworth of Peel Developments has stated:

“Its simply not right to expect derelict parts of cities with such a rich history to stand still and be fossilised. This consent will open up opportunities and new prospects to link our UK businesses with other international businesses. Liverpool is now well placed to be alongside the best of the best.” It is not merely desirable that new and old exist cheek by jowl – resulting in environments that are authentic, rich, buoyant, dynamic and full of vigour – but essential.

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