Why did Liverpool lose its UNESCO World Heritage status?

A view of Liverpool’s stunning waterfrontA view of Liverpool’s stunning waterfront
A view of Liverpool’s stunning waterfront | Liverpool City Council
The city was deleted from the illustrious list in July 2021, becoming only the third site to lose status since the accolade began in 1978.

The United Nations heritage body UNESCO decided to strip Liverpool of its coveted status following a World Heritage Committee meeting in China in July.

The decision came following the publication of a document by the committee that cited an ‘irreversible loss of attributes’ due to a series of developments to the docks and surrounding area.

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Liverpool was finally ‘deleted’ from the list following a vote by the UNESCO committee.

Why Liverpool was on the list

In 2004, UNESCO acknowledged the city’s historical impact as a major global trading centre during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.

It also cited Liverpool’s architectural importance, including significant buildings on the waterfront such as the ‘Three Graces’ of the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building.

As a result, the city was awarded Maritime Mercantile City status, which encompassed six areas across the docklands and city centre buffer zone.

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Liverpool was ranked alongside other historic sites such as Venice, the Taj Mahal and the Egyptian pyramids.

It was a coup for the city and European City of Culture status followed in 2008.

Visitor numbers increased by 34%, generating £753.8 million for the economy, according to Liverpool City Council.

What went wrong

In 2012 Liverpool was on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger following concerns about the proposed development of Liverpool Waters, a £5 billion, 30-year vision by Peel Land and Property Group, to transform the city’s northern docks.

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Fast forward to 2017 and UNESCO recommended that it needed to look at whether to delete Liverpool from its World Heritage list.

Liverpool reacted to the threat with then Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson and Liverpool City Council setting up a task force, which included former chair of English Heritage Sir Neil Cossons, to examine how the city could maintain its heritage status.

The council revealed that almost £750m had been invested ‘into historic assets within the UNESCO approved site’ including the upgrade of 37 listed buildings since 2012.

Liverpool City Council published a document in June 2021 setting out why Liverpool is a World Heritage site in a bid to engage UNESCO and demonstrate the ‘substantial investment in the social, economic, cultural and physical historic environment the city has made in recent years’.

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It included information about plans to revamp The National Museums Liverpool collective on the waterfront, including the International Slavery Museum, the Maritime Museum and the Museum of Liverpool.

The council’s efforts to sway UNESCO were in vain and the decision to remove Liverpool went ahead, with the heritage body citing implementation of the Liverpool Waters project and Everton Football Club’s new stadium project in the Bramley-Moore Dock.

Liverpool’s Bramley Moore Dock as it currently stands (Getty Images)Liverpool’s Bramley Moore Dock as it currently stands (Getty Images)
Liverpool’s Bramley Moore Dock as it currently stands (Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

The expert view

Michael Parkinson CBE, honorary professor at the University of Liverpool and a member of the Liverpool World Heritage Site Task Force previously said that Everton’s £500 million new stadium project could eventually be compared with iconic structures like the Guggenheim Museums.

Speaking about the Bramley-Moore Dock development he told LiverpoolWorld: “The position of the task force was that Liverpool has always filled in the docks, including where the Three Graces sit on the Pier Head. Even if the Everton site was to be filled, it is something that has always been done.

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“At the Bramley-Moore site you would still see the water and the docks have been derelict a wasteland for 60 years.

“The Victorian hydraulic tower and clock tower on site is an important asset and Everton want to restore both these towers and have a museum, so rather than destroying the heritage of the area it would be conserving it.

“UNESCO only had a real problem with this area of the docks, but the point is the city still needs to develop and create jobs. North Liverpool has a lot of socio-economic problems. Investment in Liverpool from Europe in the mid-90s and 2000s gave the city its first economic boost and that has continued.

Professor Michael Parkinson, of the University of Liverpool and member of the Liverpool World Heritage Site Task Force. (mocha.tv)Professor Michael Parkinson, of the University of Liverpool and member of the Liverpool World Heritage Site Task Force. (mocha.tv)
Professor Michael Parkinson, of the University of Liverpool and member of the Liverpool World Heritage Site Task Force. (mocha.tv) | mocha.tv

“The retail centre of Liverpool One has connected the city with the waterfront and Everton’s stadium at Bramley-Moore will be another piece of the jigsaw and is the next area of growth in a post-pandemic era.

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“We regret UNESCO’s decision, but we need to put it behind us. The task now is to keep Liverpool’s heritage and stakeholders like the council, universities, churches and the private sector will need to work together to see how that can happen over the next ten years.”

What the city’s leaders said

Mayor of Liverpool Joanne Anderson: “I’m hugely disappointed and concerned by this decision to delete Liverpool’s World Heritage status, which comes a decade after UNESCO last visited the city to see it with their own eyes.

“Our World Heritage site has never been in better condition having benefited from hundreds of millions of pounds of investment across dozens of listed buildings and the public realm.

“We will be working with Government, Historic England and other stakeholders to examine our next steps. We have a stunning waterfront and incredible built heritage that is the envy of other cities.’

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Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram: “Places like Liverpool should not be faced with the binary choice between maintaining heritage status or regenerating left-behind communities and the wealth of jobs and opportunities that come with it.”

Peel Land and Property Group, Director of Development for Liverpool Waters, Chris Capes: “UNESCO’s decision to remove Liverpool from its list of World Heritage Sites is very disappointing, particularly given the considerable investment that the city has put into protecting and improving its heritage sites in recent years.

“Without the World Heritage Site status, however, Liverpool’s rich history remains and Pier Head, the ‘Three Graces’ and the city’s many other fantastic historical assets will continue to attract visitors in their millions.”

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