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?
Brilliant observation! All this talk that UNESCO should come here and see for themselves... How many of the people saying this, have even had a look at what the status meant or any of the other places designated?
The city and (more importantly the state) had years to turn this around and did nothing but bicker and campaign to shape the narrative of a victim inwardly, hoping all red tape would finally disappear.
As Britain turned its back on Europe, Liverpool gave the finger to the world. It's a shame.
UNESCO decision on Liverpool: A Wake Up Call?
‘In July 2021 the UNESCO World Heritage Committee will meet to consider the potential deletion of Liverpool from the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In our judgement its removal would be damaging for Liverpool…’
I agree. They met. Liverpool was struck through.
Liverpool has now joined the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman and Dresden Elbe Valley in Germany as the third site in the world to lose World Heritage Status. There are over a thousand World Heritage Sites globally and now 31 in the UK. Liverpool has been relegated whereas the city of Bath, the old and new towns of Edinburgh and the English Lake District continue to be listed alongside many other amazing locations.
I like the design of the proposed new Everton football stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock. I also think that the Museum of Liverpool compliments the Three Graces and Pier Head area, as did UNESCO – partly - back in 2006 when they wrote ‘the design had taken into account the sensitivity of its location, as set out in the architectural design brief’.
However, I think it is important to point out that although one of UNESCO’s concerns since 2012 has been the prospect of tall buildings in the Liverpool Waters (as pointed out in the Liverpool World Heritage Taskforce recent response), it has not been their only worry.
In 2008, in their ‘state of conservation report’, the factors affecting Liverpool’s World Heritage areas included ‘lack of strategic plans for future development that set out clear strategies for the overall townscape and for the skyline and river front taking into account the townscape characteristics and important views related to the property and its buffer zone’.
This quote from thirteen years ago seems familiar. Alongside other potentially negative factors, this exact concern was repeated in their reports of 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Furthermore, in 2016, the UNESCO state of conservation report for Liverpool includes the concern: ‘lack of adequate management system/management plan’. This is repeated in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
This reminded me of something I read quite recently. It wasn’t too long ago that the Caller Report was published (March 2021). Are similar failures in Liverpool City Council’s approaches and processes present in those pages?
In Max Caller’s Report, referring to the Regeneration Directorate, he writes ‘The Inspection Team heard from a number of sources that in the early part of the Review Period, corporate management and oversight was sketchy and in Regeneration itself, no divisional management or team meetings took place. Many individuals described the style in Regeneration as intimidating. Little instruction or direction was committed to writing. Instructions were given to undertake specific elements of a task to ensure that the total picture was not evident.’
In the summary of findings and actions already taken (March 2021), what was assessed as in need of addressing at Liverpool City Council included: ‘The Property Asset Management service lacked senior direction and support to use property assets strategically to deliver sustainable regeneration projects in support of the corporate objectives of the council, and played a low level role in property transactions. Property disposals followed a “depressingly familiar pattern” where the interests of the council were not always protected.’
Yet what was found to be good included ‘councillors of all parties who encapsulate the best traditions of local democracy, working for their residents and striving to deliver the best possible outcomes for people and place’. I am sure this dedication and focus will continue – both outside and inside Liverpool City Council - as we residents of Liverpool take an honest look at ourselves and see both what we do well and where we can do better.
I love many of the buildings and culture prevalent in Liverpool, but I do find the many boxes of glass and metal with little to encourage community activity at street level poorly thought through and lacking in humanity. Many aspects of our city that are not our prestigious historic buildings look messy and incoherent at the moment. Let's address this now that one of our positive labels is missing. Yes, Liverpool needs to develop and move forward, but a little reflection may not go amiss, particularly from those who have strategic influence, including us all.
The quote at the beginning was written by the Liverpool World Heritage Site Task Force in May 2021.
In July 2021 and tomorrow and tomorrow, let's repair and build on something to cherish.
Ali Harwood 22.7.21