‘Militant’ heritage lobby is holding back Liverpool’s growth, claims business leader McKenna

This week it was announced Liverpool would retain its World Heritage Status – but remain on the danger list – and the boss of lobby group Downtown says the status is just a ‘vanity badge’. Tony McDonough reports

Frank McKenna
Downtown in Business chief executive Frank McKenna


Many in Liverpool celebrated this week when it was confirmed the city would retain its World Heritage Status (WHS) – but one business leader claims it is a “barrier to growth”.

Frank McKenna, chief executive of private sector lobby group and business networking club Downtown in Business believes giving in to UNESCO’s demands could stifle development and investment in the city.

“At best World Heritage Status is a vanity badge… at worse, it is a barrier to regeneration, development, and investment,” said Mr McKenna, who counts some of Liverpool’s most high profile business among his membership.

Danger list

UNESCO had put Liverpool’s WHS on a ‘danger list’ amid concerns proposed new developments, in particular Peel’s £5bn Liverpool Waters scheme, were too high and would impact negatively on the the city’s world famous waterfront.

Liverpool Waters is not within the WHS zone itself but is within a designated ‘buffer zone’.

Joe Anderson, Liverpool’s elected Mayor, had initially taken a bullish stance with UNESCO insisting economic development must be the priority.

However, in recent months the Mayor has taken a more conciliatory approach and the city council had put forward a plan to ensure we keep WHS status. Peel also cooperated by redesigning its Liverpool Waters masterplan.

‘Obsessive interest’

But Mr McKenna, long a critic of UNESCO’s stance, added: “It seems to me that, as news of more interest, more innovative ideas, and a more entrepreneurial approach to development emerges in the city, the heritage Militants in the UK and abroad are more determined to rein Liverpool in.

“Downtown fought a successful campaign to prevent the introduction of a nonsensical ‘tall buildings policy’ a decade ago, proposed by a previous administration who thought it would be a good idea to limit the height of developments across the city.

“Looking at the comments from the WHO and the radical heritage lobby which seems to have an almost obsessive interest in our city, I can see us having to win that battle again in the not-too-distant-future.

Joe Anderson
Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson has taken steps to protect Liverpool’s World Heritage Status


“However, the immediate problem is that WHS adds a further layer of bureaucracy; more hurdles to jump through; makes a complicated planning process even more complex for investors and developers. Is that really what we mean when we say ‘Liverpool is open for business’?

No clue

Mr McKenna also rubbished suggestions that the status enhanced Liverpool’s Visitor economy. He explained: “I have had the pleasure of meeting many visitors who have come to our city in recent times. Not one of them evidenced World Heritage Status as the reason they were here for their visit.

“I really have no clue as to what genuine economic benefit this badge brings. And yet, we feel the need to ask, ‘how high’ every time the WHO says ‘jump’.

“Manchester doesn’t have World Heritage Status. Glasgow doesn’t have World Heritage Status. Both cities recognise the downside. Liverpool must decide if we want to be a dynamic, ambitious, unhindered twenty-first century city – or a relic, a reminder of times gone by. Do we want to be more like York, or New York?”

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