Unesco strips Liverpool of World Heritage status

UN committee delists city's waterfront over concerns about overdevelopment

Liverpool's waterfront has been removed from Unesco's list of World Heritage sites after concerns about overdevelopment including plans for a new football stadium.

The China-chaired committee of the UN cultural agency voted 13 to five in favour of removing the city from the global list.

The vote, held behind closed doors, is only one more than the two thirds majority required to strip a site of its status.

Liverpool had been on Unesco's "in danger" list since 2012 due to development in the city's north docks.

The committee's concerns centred around the £5 billion ($6.8bn) Liverpool Waters project and Everton FC's proposed new £500 million stadium.

Liverpool mayor Joanne Anderson said the decision was "incomprehensible" and she would try to appeal.

"We will always value our heritage in Liverpool and will continue to support and develop it as we have done," she said in a video posted on Twitter.

"We will try to appeal this decision but we understand and will try and work with other cities to try and get some sensible debate around maintaining heritage and developing and regenerating our communities.

"It's quite difficult for me to comprehend how Unesco would rather have us have an empty dock site rather than Everton Stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock."

Liverpool is only the third site to lose its World Heritage status since the list began in 1978.

The other two were Oman's Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in 2007 and the Dresden Elbe Valley in Germany in 2009.

The British government said it disagreed with Unesco's decision.

"We are extremely disappointed in this decision and believe Liverpool still deserves its World Heritage status given the significant role the historic docks and the wider city have played throughout history," a spokeswoman said.

Over two days of committee discussions, delegates heard that the redevelopment plans, including high-rise buildings, would "irreversibly damage" the heritage of the historic port in north-west England.

The International Council on Monuments and Sites, which advises Unesco on the heritage list, said the UK government had been "repeatedly requested" to come up with stronger assurances about the city's future.

The planned new stadium for Everton football club was approved by the government without any public inquiry, and "is the most recent example of a major project that is completely contrary" to Unesco goals, it said.

Several countries backed the UK, agreeing it would be a "radical" step in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and urging more time for a new city council elected in May.

A corruption scandal linked to regeneration funding had engulfed the former city leadership, prompting the national government to step in temporarily before the May local elections across Britain.

Those against delisting Liverpool included Australia, whose own listing for the Great Barrier Reef is in jeopardy in this year's Unesco deliberations.

Others opposing included Brazil, Hungary and Nigeria, who said any step should be deferred by a year to give the UK and Liverpool authorities more time.

Norway led those arguing in favour. Oslo said while it was "painfully aware" of conflicts between development and heritage conservation, a "delicate balance" was possible, which was lacking in Liverpool.

But UK Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage told the committee that her government was serious about preserving Liverpool's character, and that delisting "would be a huge loss".

Liverpool's original bid for World Heritage status emphasised the city's maritime influence as a major trading centre throughout the British Empire.

The city was awarded the much-coveted title in 2004 due to its historical and architectural richness, joining sites such as the Taj Mahal, Egypt's Pyramids and Canterbury Cathedral.

But since 2012 the agency has locked horns with UK officials over development that has seen extensive restorations but also new construction that Unesco inspectors say is overwhelming the district.

It had urged the city to limit building heights and reconsider the proposed new stadium for Everton, warning of "significant loss to its authenticity and integrity".

The waterfront is also the site of a statue honouring the four members of The Beatles, the most famous cultural export from a city rich in musical history.

Prof Michael Parkinson, from the University of Liverpool and member of the Mayors’ World Heritage Site Task Force, said the proposed developments affected only a small part of the city.

“So now you've got two visions of what Liverpool can be. A museum or a mausoleum where there's no development because Unesco says it doesn't want it,” he told The National before the vote.

“Or you try and have quality developments in this massive site, which has lain derelict for 60 years, which has huge potential … which is immediately adjacent to North Liverpool, which is the worst part of Liverpool and the worst part of the UK, and the worst part of some of Europe.”

Updated: July 21st 2021, 1:48 PM
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