The Victorian Society is urging the Government to better protect our World Heritage Sites (WHS) following UNESCO’s recommendation to remove Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City from the list of World Heritage Sites. The Government should urgently assure UNESCO of plans to better protect world heritage, and Liverpool in particular, before a final decision on the future of the world heritage site is made in the next few weeks.
Joe O’Donnell, Victorian Society Director, says ‘The Victorian Society has long campaigned for better protection for Liverpool’s heritage. An early success was saving Albert dock from destruction. A new Government commitment to strengthening protection for World Heritage Sites and their buffer zones is the last chance to save Liverpool’s World Heritage status by creating a stronger framework for decisions affecting it. Our world heritage is being harmed and our reputation for being world leaders on heritage protection undermined. Forthcoming planning reforms should increase heritage protection, yet instead risks weakening it. Heritage and regeneration should go hand in hand to create the interesting places in which people want to invest, work and live.’
UNESCO’s report states that the council ‘has not fulfilled its obligations defined in the convention with respect to protecting and conserving the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV)’. It notes the failure to ‘provide commitments to limitation on the quantity, location and size’ of proposed buildings. The report states that this has led to such ‘deterioration… that it has lost its characteristics which determined its inclusion in the World Heritage List’.
Successive Governments have also ‘not complied with the advice and repeated requests of the World Heritage Committee’. Further, the report highlights ‘inadequate governance process and regulations for new developments’ and a failure to ‘establish a moratorium for granting planning permissions which have a negative impact on the OUV of the property’.
Liverpool’s historic port was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2004. The largest and most complete system of historic docks anywhere in the world, it was considered the supreme example of a commercial port at the time of Britain's greatest global influence.
The Victorian Society opposed skyscraper proposals in the Liverpool Waters development (2012) and the erection of a new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock (2020) due, amongst other things, to their impact on the WHS’s Outstanding Universal Value. In March 2021 the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick decided, as his predecessor did with the Liverpool Waters development, not to call in the council’s decision to approve the Bramley-Moore Dock stadium proposal, which threatens three listed structures. The approved plans signal the infilling of the dock which will fundamentally change its historic character as a water-filled basin. The International Council on Monuments and Sites state that the development would ‘have a completely unacceptable major adverse impact on the authenticity and integrity of the property’. UNESCO had warned of the World Heritage site’s impending removal since 2017. In 2017 Liverpool City Council said it would ‘ensure the effective protection of the World Heritage Site for present and future generations’ but has failed to do so.
Liverpool City Council is now overseen by Government-appointed commissioners following the arrest of former Mayor, Joe Anderson, in December 2021. The Victorian Society urges the commissioners, who are expected to oversee planning until 2024, to take action to ensure real protection of Liverpool’s heritage, one of its greatest assets, regardless of whether it retains its world heritage status.