By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee voted Tuesday to strip Liverpool of its heritage status.
The reason? From the World Heritage Committee’s press release:
The World Heritage Committee, holding its 44th session in Fuzhou and online, decided to delete the property “Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City” (UK) from the World Heritage List, due to the irreversible loss of attributes conveying the outstanding universal value of the property.
Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2004 and on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2012 following concerns about the proposed development of Liverpool Waters. The project has since gone ahead along with other developments both inside the site and in its buffer zone. The Committee considers that these constructions are detrimental to the site’s authenticity and integrity.
Liverpool’s historic centre and docklands were inscribed for bearing witness to the development of one of the world’s major trading centres in the 18th and 19th centuries. The site also illustrated pioneering developments in modern dock technology, transport systems and port management.
Any deletion from the World Heritage List is a loss to the international community and to the internationally shared values and commitments under the World Heritage Convention.
After the Elbe Valley in Dresden (Germany) and the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary (Oman), Liverpool is the third property to lose its World Heritage status.
Although not unanimous, a two-third’s majority of the committee voted in favour of the decision, according to the BBC, Liverpool stripped of Unesco World Heritage status:
Announcing the decision, committee chairman Tian Xuejun said 20 votes had been cast – with 13 in favour of deleting the city, five against the proposal and two ballot papers being invalid.
The decision should not have come as a complete surprise, as the BBC noted the city had been warned of the potential delisting for quite some time:
Unesco director Dr Mechtild Rossler said the city had been warned of its potential deletion from the list for many years.
Does that mean that UNESCO is taking on a new role, policing the sites to which it’s previously granted heritage status and dethroning those that no longer fit the bill?</
Not by a long shot.
I can’t help think there is more here than meets the eye, beyond the committee’s announced nominal reason. But I have no idea what that might be. Readers?
First off, as the press release points out, this is only the third time UNESCO has stripped a site of heritage status.
Surely, whatever depredations have occurred, I’d warrant that they’re not nearly as serious as allowing six-story high cruise ships to enter the Venetian lagoon – or any of the other bad consequences that have flowed from the increase in mass tourism that often follows from heritage designation. I’ve visited many UNESCO world heritage sights, and while designation is supposed to ensure their preservation and revival, in many cases, those benefits are overwhelmed by the arrival of tourist hordes. (I am aware that by visiting, I too am just another one of those tourists and contribute, however marginally, to the problem.)
Liverpool To Fight Back
The decision – if it stands – will almost certainly affect tourism in the city. Per the BBC:
Liverpool’s Liberal Democrat leader Richard Kemp said it was a “day of shame” for the city, adding that it would “without a doubt, affect our tourism and inward investment”.
The city will not quietly accept the demotion and seeks to defer the delisting designation, which is scheduled for a final decision at a meeting in July.
According to the Liverpool Echo, ‘Disappointment’ over UNESCO’s move to strip Liverpool of World Heritage status:
The city will now have just a few weeks to intensely lobby for a decision to defer this move, with the argument being made that it is unfair to do this at a time when Liverpool is still battling against the pandemic.
In an official statement, the government Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which deals with UNESCO on behalf of Liverpool and other listed UK sites, said: “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 it meets next month.
“The UK is a world leader in cultural heritage protection and Liverpool’s World Heritage Status reflects the important role the city has played in our nation’s history.
“As a vibrant, working city, we recognise that there is always a balance to be found between protecting Liverpool’s heritage and its economic development.”
That department is overseen by Secretary of State Robert Jenrick and he took to Twitter to offer a similar view, stating: “Disappointing move by UNESCO. Liverpool demonstrably has world class heritage sites and UNESCO and should support imaginative urban regeneration, not fight against it.”
The key issues at play are the £5bn Liverpool Waters development in the historic north docks – and more recently the approved plans for Everton’s new stadium, which will involve the infilling of one of those docks.
This latter move was something Historic England, the government’s heritage heritage adviser, objected to in the planning process, before accepting that the move would go ahead.
But despite its reservations about this action, Historic England said Liverpool still very much deserves its World Heritage Status in response to UNESCO’s recommendation.
A spokesperson for Historic England said: “We are disappointed that UNESCO has recommended Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City World Heritage Site should be deleted from the List.
“We have been working closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Liverpool City Council and local organisations to address concerns raised by UNESCO over the past few years.
It’s been many years since I was last in Liverpool. But I remember marvelling then at some of its architecture (and this was at a time I lived in Oxford, where the architectural bar is set high). More recently, the last couple of seasons of Foyle’s War, in which Foyle is working as a senior MI-5 officer in what’s supposed to be London were filmed in Liverpool (see ITV Drama to be filmed in Liverpool.) Some of the featured buildings were simply amazing. The last of those episodes was broadcast in 2015 and at the time of shooting, at least some of the city’s architectural legacy was still intact.
In an Analysis sidebar to the BBC article, Claire Hamilton noted:
Today, there’s a sense of defiance in some quarters about Unesco’s decision that the city doesn’t need the title, especially if sits in the way of progress for an area which has lain neglected and semi derelict for decades.
Critics argue the benefits of being a World Heritage status were never properly spelled out and there wasn’t the political will in the city to address Unesco’s concerns until recently, when it was too late.
Many people argue that tourists visiting the Pier Head, St George’s Plateau or Penny Lane are not coming because Liverpool is a designated World Heritage site – they probably don’t even realise it is.
They’re coming for the Beatles, the football, food and the history but that history will remain.
Yet today’s announcement worries those who fear that the ability to protect heritage, architecture and history is now diminished, that there will be a free-for-all of unsuitable, careless development.
The argument for the last has been presented as a binary choice: heritage or progress? The feeling in Liverpool is, couldn’t we have had both?
Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram was quoted in the Liverpool Echo as picking up on that last theme:
But Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram said places like Liverpool should “not be not be faced with the binary choice between maintaining heritage status or regenerating left behind communities.”
He added: ““The Liverpool City Region is a place with a rich and storied history. We are proud of our history and do not shy away from it. But our heritage is also a vital part of our regeneration.
“It is therefore deeply disappointing that this recommendation to remove Liverpool’s World Heritage status has been made today, ahead of the meeting of the world heritage committee meeting next month.