Meeting in China on Monday, UNESCO delegates debated whether Liverpool should retain its World Heritage Status and agreed to hold a secret ballot later this week. Tony McDonough reports
UNESCO delegates will hold a secret ballot on Wednesday to decide whether or not Liverpool gets to retail its World Heritage Status (WHS).
It will be the final reckoning in a row that has dragged on since 2012 when UNESCO first raised concerns about development along Liverpool’s world famous waterfront. Approval for Everton’s £500m stadium in the north docks has brought the matter to a head.
In June, UNESCO published a report which recommended Liverpool should be stripped of its WHS. And in China on Monday morning, delegates from countries across the world debated whether they should grant Liverpool a last-minute reprieve. City leaders have asked UNESCO to visit Liverpool to get more up-to-date information.
At the meeting in China a number of countries spoke in favour of deferring the decision. Hungary, Nigeria and Mali all spoke in favour of a reprieve. But other countries took a harder line including China, Bahrain and Guatemala.
Perhaps the most surprising intervention came from Norway, a country with strong historic links to Liverpool. Its delegates said postponing the decision would compromise the committee and its integrity. They believe there has been too much development on the waterfront and are in favour of deletion.
They said: “It is our responsibility to take difficult decisions when outstanding universal value is threatened.”
Norway moved that a secret ballot be held to make a final decision and this was seconded by Guatemala. The ballot will be held on Wednesday and deletion will require a two-thirds majority.
Last month Liverpool City Council published a report outlining how £700m has been invested in upgrading 119 heritage assets in the past few years with a further £800m to be invested in 40 assets over the next five years.
Liverpool received its World Heritage Status (WHS) in 2004 in recognition of its status as a ‘Maritime Mercantile City’ and how it became one of the world major hubs of trade in the 18th and 19 centuries.
However, in 2012 Liverpool was placed on the danger list due to new developments on the city’s waterfront. In particular, UNESCO was unhappy with the height of some of the proposed residential and commercial buildings included in Peel L&P’s 30-year £5bn Liverpool Waters project.
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.
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”.
The UNESCO report says it “regrets that the process for the implementation of the Liverpool Waters project and other large-scale infrastructure projects in the waterfront and northern dock area of the property and its buffer zone has resulted in serious deterioration and irreversible loss of attributes”.
It goes on to says that “further projects, such as the approved new football stadium in Bramley Moore Dock within the property, add to the ascertained threat of further deterioration”.
In a letter to The Times newspaper, a number of high profile Liverpool figures issued a plea to UNESCO to reconsider its proposal to take away WHS and instead visit the city and see the work that has been done.
Signatories included former Minister for Merseyside, Lord Heseltine, Liverpool Mayor Joanne Anderson, city region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, Liverpool Chamber of Commerce chief executive Paul Cherpeau, the Bishop of Liverpool and the chief executives of Liverpool and Everton football clubs.
Lord Heseltine would like to see Liverpool retain WHS but, at an event in the city earlier this month, he said: “Liverpool is one of the world’s great heritage cities. English history is right there. On the Everton FC stadium development the heritage will be largely enhanced and restored by the project.
“But if UNESCO does take the decision to take WHS away then the momentum of the recovery and regeneration of Liverpool will not stop. Men and women here with pride, energy and commitment will ensure it will continue.”