UNESCO's Binned Us Off. What Next For Liverpool?

Our World Heritage status has gone, floating out of sight like a chippy wrapper from the Lobster Pot. But it's not about them anymore. It's about us.

by David Lloyd

History will not look kindly on former mayor Joe Anderson. The man who had it all to lose. And lost it. The man who presided over a “toxic culture” that wanted development at all costs, and gave us shit cladding and retrospective planning approval that led to tumorous growths on elegant buildings. 

Of course, there are some who’ll say “who needs UNESCO”? Well, maybe some places don’t. Venice doesn’t need UNESCO - I’d say its tourist future is pretty well secured, but it recognises the value of paying things forward. Of development that enhances and preserves, rather than removing and replacing. So when it was threatened with its delisting from UNESCO’s World Heritage list, it set to work, and banned all cruise ships from squeezing through its Grand Canal. It didn’t need to. The tourists would have come either way. 

Us? We green-lighted another “bold and ambitious” residential tower block that’s currently being delisted too, as the property developer fights insolvency claims, and investors struggle to recoup the millions sunk into yet another ailing scheme. We put our trust in shiny new castles in the air, we remove public realm open spaces at the waterfront to make way for new car parking bays for Merseytravel staff, all while pretending to support a greener city (what’s that all about anyway?).

How many tourists will come to see these? How many guide books will rave about the Hilton Liverpool ONE? What happens when we wake up and realise we had something special, and we sold it down the river for a handful of schemes that make us look like Leeds, or Swansea or anywhere?

The stripping of our UNESCO status - blamed on years of development causing an “irreversible loss” of our historic Victorian docks and mercantile heart - was anything but inevitable. New buildings don’t have to be anathema to heritage. This is not about us “preserving in aspic”, as Steve Rotherham suggests. The Copper House for example, newly completed along The Strand, shows how a confident, elegant new arrival can enhance the city’s kerb appeal, with its garden courtyard entrance and cool white window reliefs. 

It’s a painful truth - but a history worth remembering - that it was a Tory, Michael Hestletine, who’s done more for our waterfront since Jesse Hartley. The Merseyside Development Committee could have bulldozered the docks and built something akin to the Crowne Plaza hotel, but they didn’t.

Will Everton’s stadium, taking over Bramley Moore Dock, suck the life out of the North Docks area, or give it the vital shot in the arm it needs? 

Well, let’s go and visit Anfield. Stroll along any of the well-worn streets around Oakfield Road and let’s talk about regeneration, or of how a super-stadium seeds life in its community. Rafa was wrong to call the Blues a “small club”, yet there’s no doubt Anfield will continue to be the real tourist Mecca. But how many of the thousands of fans shuttled in and out spend any money in Booze and News? 

Not a fair comparison? Anfield not very touristy? Not very well connected to the city? It’s the same distance from the Pier Head as Bramley Moore Dock is, the new home of Everton. So why not? It could be. Instead, we tin-up the terraced streets and let the bins go uncollected.

Look at the London Stadium, aka West Ham’s home ground, in East London. Hermetically sealed, like an implanted cell, sucking life out of its host, giving nothing back. A monument to social cleansing. All compulsory purchase orders and displaced housing

Close your eyes and imagine the vendors bidding for business around the new Everton stadium. A Costa, perhaps? A cheeky Nandos and a KFC drive-through, perchance?

Go take a look at what’s happening there now, or at least within its orbit. The Ten Streets area is bubbling up with incredible energy. Enjoy a zingy espresso at Cafe Riccado’s, browse in the market, hear about what creators and inventors are doing at MAKE’s workshops, enjoy jazz and grub at the Social, and feel the sense that something special is happening here. 

The irony is that the Council got behind Ten Streets. But they got behind the Baltic Triangle - another regenerated warehouse area - too. And hands up who thinks that narrative is progressing the way we wanted it to? With venue Constellations dying, giving way to another identikit residential block, and 24 Kitchen Street - probably the city’s most progressive dance music club right now - in a seemingly endless stand-off with looming developments.

The use of stadiums as regenerative catalysts has been investigated by numerous academic studies. They’ve all found that five, ten or even 20 years on they’ve contributed little or no economic uplift for their local areas. Clubs will argue the opposite, of course. Everton-supporting ex-Mayors too. But it’s the clubs that really benefit. In the ten years since they moved to the Emirates Stadium in 2006, Arsenal’s annual match-day revenue almost tripled, from £33.8m in 2004 to £100.2m in 2014.

One thing that’s undeniable though is a super-stadium’s effect on local property and land values. So if driving up land and property prices is called ‘regeneration’, then we’re home and dry. But what will the start ups of Ten Streets think about that?

For us, the idea that inserting a massive stadium into any area in need of regeneration is automatically going to be a salve for all its problems is naïve beyond words. It takes collaboration, creativity, integration and deeply-connected planning to make a place work and bring it to life again. 

So this isn’t really about UNESCO after all. It’s about us. Our future. What is it we’re fighting for, anyway? What are we good at (hint: take a look at Ten Streets)? And how do we - all of us - protect our past while encouraging the new?

Liverpool is an old city. So why have we forgotten the art of playing the long game?