Liverpool stripped of Unesco status: could this ‘logical conclusion’ turn out to be a good thing?
Last week, a committee in China voted to strip the city of its World Heritage status, citing ‘irreversible’ damage
For 17 years, the waterfront of my home city of Liverpool has been ranked alongside the likes of the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China as a site of “outstanding value to humanity”, said Imogen Cooper in the Daily Mail. “But no more.”
Why? Because at a meeting 4,894 miles away in China last week, a Unesco committee voted to strip it of its status as a World Heritage Site, citing “irreversible” damage caused by new developments.
Never mind that the site includes the Albert Dock, home to more Grade I listed buildings than anywhere else in Britain, and the monumental “Three Graces” – the Royal Liver, the Cunard and the Port of Liverpool Buildings – on the Mersey. And never mind the 54 million tourists who flock here annually for our rich culture and history. Unesco has made up its mind – making Liverpool only the third site ever to be kicked off its list, after Dresden’s Elbe Valley and Oman’s Arabian Oryx Sanctuary.
I’m shocked it took them this long, said Oliver Wainwright in The Guardian. Liverpool council has been trampling on the city’s architectural heritage for years to make way for “atrocious” new developments.
Perhaps the worst are a trio of huge black blocks built in 2013, which ruined the waterfront view of the Three Graces. They joined a Carbuncle Cup-winning ferry terminal; and the “colossal mess” that is the Museum of Liverpool.
But the biggest concerns were over the two planned developments: Liverpool Waters project, a £5bn “60-hectare jamboree of half-baked towers”, which put the city on Unesco’s “danger list” in 2012; and Everton’s new £500m stadium, a “great silver slug” at Bramley-Moore Dock. Now the “unbridled contempt” with which Liverpool’s leaders have treated their city’s architectural heritage has “come to its logical conclusion”.
Actually, Unesco’s decision says more about the “wrong-headed priorities of the cultural cognoscenti” than anything else, said The Times. Sure, not all of Liverpool’s recent developments are beautiful. But it’s hard to disagree with the city’s mayor, Joanne Anderson, who asked whether Unesco would prefer the docks to “remain a derelict wasteland, rather than making a positive contribution to the city’s future”.
Unesco’s designation – of the entire “Maritime Mercantile City” – was always too broad anyway, said Edwin Heathcote in the FT, rendering it difficult to redevelop swathes of empty land. So the Unesco decision, while “a knock to its dignity”, may turn out to be good for Liverpool, if it can focus on architectural quality in future. After all, it is “a terrific city” and “it deserves the best new buildings”.