Liverpool defiant after being stripped of world heritage status - Museums Association

Liverpool defiant after being stripped of world heritage status

City deleted from Unesco list due to developments around historic docklands
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Geraldine Kendall Adams
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Liverpool has been listed as a maritime mercantile city on the Unesco world heritage list since 2004
Liverpool has been listed as a maritime mercantile city on the Unesco world heritage list since 2004 Pixabay

Liverpool politicians and cultural leaders have hit back at Unesco’s decision to delete the city from its World Heritage List this week.

At its 44th session in Fuzhou, China, on Wednesday, the World Heritage Committee decided to strip Liverpool of its status on the list as a maritime mercantile city “due to the irreversible loss of attributes conveying the outstanding universal value of the property”.

It is the third property to lose Unesco world heritage status, after the Elbe Valley in Dresden and the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman.

Following the announcement, the mayor of Liverpool, Joanne Anderson, said she was “gutted” by the decision and thought Unesco had “got this completely wrong”.

“The chief error is the assertion our world heritage site has deteriorated,” said Anderson. “I’m sorry – that is patently untrue. It is quite the reverse. In fact, Liverpool’s site has never looked better.”

Anderson said the report drafted for the World Heritage Committee had been “littered with errors and unsubstantiated claims”.

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In a lengthy response, Liverpool’s World Heritage Taskforce rebutted some of the committee’s claims, saying Unesco’s judgement was “unbalanced, treated Liverpool unfairly in relation to other world heritage cities and failed to consider Liverpool’s unique urban history of development, its ethos, and characteristics”.  

Laura Pye, director of National Museums Liverpool, said the suggestion that the city's heritage is in a worse state than when Unesco last saw it is “simply untrue”.

Metro mayor for the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotherham, said in a further statement: “Today’s decision by Unesco is a retrograde step that does not reflect the reality of what is happening on the ground.

“Indeed, this was a decision taken on the other side of the world by people who do not appear to understand the renaissance that has taken place in recent years.”

Rotherham said that many of the sites mentioned by Unesco in its justification for the decision – including the Liverpool Waters development on the city’s north docks and the proposed new Everton stadium – are in deprived areas “sorely in need of investment”.

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He added: “Places like Liverpool should not be faced with the binary choice between maintaining heritage status or regenerating left-behind communities.”

Rotherham said the city was disappointed at losing its world heritage status but could not “allow it to preserve our region in aspic while the rest of the world evolves around us”.

Liverpool City Council tweeted that Liverpool was “a great city not defined by labels” and launched the hashtag #NoLabelsNeeded.

The decision has been met with a mixed reaction by heritage and planning experts in the UK.

The Guardian’s architecture and design critic, Oliver Wainwright, accused the city council of “wreaking civic vandalism on an epic scale” by “pursuing needless demolition and rubber-stamping numerous atrocious developments”.   

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He said the Labour-led council was “in thrall to developers” and accused it of breaching building regulations and planning agreements.

But Michael Parkinson, professor for public policy, practice and place at the University of Liverpool, criticised Unesco’s decision, writing that Liverpool had been “treated like a monument or a museum, not a living city”.

“A moratorium on new construction in an urban centre is unenforceable under UK planning law, not to mention unworkable in a living city,” said Parkinson.

He said the new developments would be “transformational” for communities in economic decline, and the city had invested heavily in protecting its heritage assets, leaving the site in better condition than when it was designated in 2004.

He said: “Liverpool may have lost world heritage site status. But I am confident it will grow and flourish as a world-class heritage city.”

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