Liverpool’s World Heritage Site status – Worth Fighting For?

Liverpool’s World Heritage Site status – Worth Fighting For?

Liverpool’s position as a World Heritage Site (WHS) has never been more precarious with its removal from UNESCO’s prestigious list a very real possibility in 2018.

But what does the status really mean for the city? Is it a great benefit we can’t afford to lose or a superfluous label stifling much-needed development? We ask experts from both sides of the argument.

Words by Lawrence Saunders

“An outstanding example of a world mercantile port city” – words once used by UNESCO to describe Liverpool, which is now on the brink of becoming just the third location to lose its WHS status since 1978.

First inscribed in 2004, Liverpool’s WHS covers six areas of the city centre and the docks; Albert Dock, Pier Head, Ropewalks and Castle Street, William Brown Street and Stanley Dock conservation areas.

Alongside medieval monuments in Kosovo, Liverpool is the only other European site on UNESCO’s ‘in danger’ list. It’s a list it was added to in 2012, with the granting of planning permission for the £5.5 billion Liverpool Waters project cited as the main reason.

At the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee in Krakow earlier this month, the commission expressed its “deep concern” that a number of projects have been approved which could have “potentially highly adverse and irreversible impacts” on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of Liverpool’s WHS.

The committee concluded that Liverpool’s status on the WHS list will be considered for deletion at its 42nd session next year unless the offending planning approvals are reversed and the scale and design of Liverpool Waters radically altered.

When approached by Your Move, Peel, the company behind the controversial scheme, declined to comment.

We spoke to heritage and development experts to get their views on whether Liverpool’s WHS status is something worth fighting for:


Professor Lin Foxhall

head of the University of Liverpool’s School of Histories, Languages and Cultures, and organiser of the city’s recent ‘Heritage, Curation and Regeneration’ symposium.

The city hasn’t made as much of the WHS as it could have done in its promotional literature and its work around tourism.

We can celebrate Liverpool’s heritage without it but it’s really important and we should be working to keep it if we possibly can – it doesn’t have to stifle development.

The city is a living, breathing organism. I don’t think any heritage expert would say you have to preserve everything and never get rid of anything – it doesn’t work like that.

You have to allow change and where buildings can be repurposed like the Titanic Hotel and Harcourt Development’s plans for the Tobacco Warehouse, that’s great.

Heritage ought to be part of regeneration – it’s one of the things that sells the place and makes it more prosperous.

John Belchem

key member of the team which brought WHS status to Liverpool in 2004.

Liverpool has never realised what a glittering prize it was to be inscribed as a WHS in 2004.

I shall be devastated if we lose it. I think the loss of the WHS would be more significant than its actual acquisition.

“I shall be devastated if we lose it. I think the loss of the WHS would be more significant than its actual acquisition.”

In the long term it’s far more significant than being Capital of Culture in 2008 which was just a one-off, one-year party whereas the WHS is meant to be something permanent and something upon which you can really build and develop your city.

People have just lived off the fact that if you’ve got The Beatles, the football and Scouse then that’s enough to bring people here.

To a certain extent that’s true, but once they get here what they really like about Liverpool is its sense of place and that sense of place comes from its incredible built environment.

What I can’t understand about Liverpool is why there is this polarised opposition between heritage and development – they’re not in conflict.

I couldn’t think of a better selling line if I was developing property than to say ‘look, this property is right next to a WHS’ – it should be a win-win.

Liverpool City Council should be working with the government to make sure we don’t get the stigma and shame of being only the third WHS to lose that status.

Steve Parry

managing director of ION Developments, which is behind the mixed-use regeneration of Lime Street.

Liverpool is unique in that the WHS includes many undeveloped sites and a city-wide buffer zone.

The test of what is acceptable within the WHS is whether a development “adversely affects the OUV” of the site. This is subjective, but in practice the WHS Management Plan sets out the parameters.

Now we are being judged against this document, and there are certainly conflicts between the plan and what the city wishes to do in the future.

This shouldn’t be insurmountable, but the World Heritage Committee does seem more capable of being judgmental than engaging in constructive dialogue on how the city should develop.

Experts have confirmed that other locations have far greater issues but are not under threat.

Ironically, if Liverpool does lose its status, heritage groups which have regularly complained to the World Heritage Committee about schemes they dislike will have damaged what they sought to preserve.

Henrietta Billings

director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage.

Liverpool applied for and was awarded WHS status in 2004 for its globally significant history and outstanding historic buildings – from Pier Head and Albert Dock to Lime Street station and St George’s Hall.

These buildings and places bring tourism and visitors from across the UK and the world. It’s an international prize and an honour that puts Liverpool on the world stage and the city and the government rightly signed up to the responsibilities that go with it.

The successful and widely acclaimed regeneration of Albert Dock, the Titanic Hotel and the current work at the Tobacco Warehouse is testament to the potential of these vast historic buildings.

WHS status does not mean preservation in aspic. It simply asks that the design and height of new buildings is sympathetic to their surroundings.

Heritage and regeneration go hand in hand – Liverpool should continue to lead by example and show the world we care about our history and our architecture.

Councillor Ann O’Byrne

Deputy Mayor of Liverpool.

Look at the Lime Street scheme, delayed by 12 months at an extra cost of £4 million, all because a certain lobby group wanted the city to retain a certain building that was in ruins and attempted to use the WHS policy as a means to challenge.

I hear regular debate about Liverpool Waters and skyscrapers but remember we still have an employment rate of 64%. It should be 74%. Kirkdale has within it both the Ten Streets regeneration project and Liverpool Waters scheme – this the most deprived area in the country.

This needs to change and that’s why the council and its partners need development.

We have made good progress, approving a new WHS Management Plan, securing European Heritage role model status and having an excellent relationship with Historic England, DCMS (Department for Digital Culture, Media & Sport) and many local partners via a reinvigorated WHS Steering Group currently chaired by one of the council’s senior regeneration officers.

It’s that direct link between regeneration, heritage and its curation that is so vital if we are to grow the city’s economy and celebrate its heritage moving forward.

About Author: Lawrence Saunders

Lawrence is a journalist at Move Publishing. He can be contacted via email at or by phone on 0151 709 3871.