A champion of Liverpool since the 1980s, Lord Michael Heseltine is one of a number of high-profile figures making a last-ditch bid to retain the city’s World Heritage Status. Tony McDonough reports
Former ‘Minister for Merseyside’ Lord Heseltine has given his heavyweight backing to a last-ditch appeal to UNESCO not to take away Liverpool’s World Heritage Status.
On Thursday LBN exclusively revealed that, after more than a decade of threats, UNESCO was ready to strip Liverpool of its World Heritage Status (WHS) in an ongoing row over development of the city’s northern docklands.
WHS covers Liverpool’s world famous waterfront vista, including the Pier Head and its Three Graces and much of the city centre. It doesn’t technically cover the northern docklands, owned by Peel Group, but the area is part of a so-called buffer zone.
However, UNESCO, which oversees 1,121 World Heritage Sites around the globe, regards this distinction as semantic and seeks to preserve the integrity of the buffer zone with the same zeal as the principle WHS site.
Major sticking point has been Peel L&P’s £5bn Liverpool Waters scheme. This is a 30-year project proposing a mix of residential and commercial developments. UNESCO felt the height of some of the proposed buildings had a detrimental impact on the WHS.
Both Peel L&P and Liverpool City Council attempted to placate the United Nations body by modifying the Liverpool Waters project. But the stand-off has come to a head following approval of Everton’s FC’s £500m stadium at Bramley Moore Dock, a development UNESCO considers “completely unacceptable”.
Next month, senior UNESCO officials will meet in China, their first summit since 2019, where they are expected to recommended Liverpool’s deletion from the list of World Heritage sites, which also includes the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China. Liverpool was awarded the accolade in 2004.
Now, key figures in the city are writing to UNESCO to urge it to reconsider. They are asking for officials to visit Liverpool to see for themselves the efforts that have been made to preserve the city’s heritage assets.
The letter has been signed by Lord Heseltine, one of the main driving forces behind Liverpool’s economic renaissance, as well as Liverpool Mayor Joanne Anderson, city region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, Lord Storey, the Bishop of Liverpool, the chief executives of Liverpool and Everton football clubs and other high-profile individuals.
The letter, sent to The Times and also given to the Liverpool Echo, reads: “On the issue of Liverpool’s World Heritage Site, we would like to make it absolutely clear – that the city does not want to lose this status.
“In advance of the World Heritage Committee meeting in July, we are asking the committee members to defer any decision on the city’s status and, instead, accept an invitation to visit Liverpool at some point during the next 12 months.
“Liverpool, like the rest of the world, has had to focus all efforts on dealing with COVID-19 and is currently planning its comeback. Deletion of World Heritage status would be a setback to those plans. And a very unfair one.
“Liverpool, which is under new political leadership, has made huge strides to invest in – and improve – its World Heritage site. It is in a far superior state than when the status was granted in 2004 – and this work demands a fresh appraisal.
“Indeed, more than £710m of public and private monies has been invested in upgrading 119 heritage assets within the site and its buffer zone, including 59 listed buildings. A further £350m is currently being invested to upgrade a further 38 assets.
“In addition, there is the £500m Everton FC investment in Bramley Moore Dock. This includes £50m to upgrade heritage assets in a derelict dock, which has been closed to the public for more than 40 years and sits within the poorest ward in Liverpool.”
In a separate statement, Peel L&P’s director of development Chris Capes, added: “We recognise the importance of protecting key heritage assets and we have listened and responded to concerns raised, with key buildings removed from the plans and heights of proposed developments reduced.
“Our collaborative work over the last two years on the city’s North Shore Vision also shows how committed we are to Liverpool’s World Heritage fabric and the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders in continuing that conversation and debate.
“Like many others in the city, we believe regeneration and the protection of our history and heritage are not mutually exclusive.
“We hope that the World Heritage Committee members accept the Mayor of Liverpool’s invitation to visit the city before making any decision on the removal of Liverpool from the list of World Heritage sites.”
However, there is less enthusiasm among many in the city for WHS which they believe is holding back Liverpool’s growth. Frank McKenna, chief executive of local private sector lobby group, Downtown in Business believes it is time for Liverpool to “hand back this useless vanity badge”.
Sean Seosamh Robertson, an Ambassador at Liverpool Cruise Terminal, tweeted: “WHS has become a millstone around Liverpool’s neck. Hopefully free of their interference we can get some truly world class architecture built, which enhances our waterfront, not keeps in decay.”
And Liverpool retail entrepreneur Mark Blankstone, founder of Blankstone Opticians, also said on Twitter: “Stuff UNESCO!! Cities have always changed over the centuries and developed over time. UNESCO want this city to remain in the past, derelict and decrepit. We want a city of 21st century not one of the 19th!”