Back in 2004, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) awarded the maritime mercantile city of Liverpool its cherished “World Heritage List” status, concluding that the site was of “outstanding universal value“.
UNESCO is a specialised agency of the United Nations. Its aims are ambitious: World peace.
“Peace must be founded upon dialogue and mutual understanding. Peace must be built upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of humanity.”
In this spirit, UNESCO considers that: “World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.”
When it came to Liverpool, UNESCO noted the city’s role in the slave trade, its role in the growth of the British Empire, its importance as a bridge to the New World, and its significant commercial, civic and public buildings, including St George’s Plateau.
It also noted the three buildings at the centre of the port, called the “Three Graces“: the Royal Liver building, the Cunard building and the Port Authority building.
The last image of “home” that many emigrants would have seen.
Liverpool welcomed its status, one that placed it on a par with other World Heritage sites such as the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China.
In 2021, however, that status was taken away.
The reason, UNESCO said, was their concern over the city council’s plans for regenerating some areas of the dockland, specifically the sheer scale of the Liverpool Waters project.
While Liverpool Waters has yet to materialise, you don’t have to look far in Liverpool to see crimes against the built environment. Leave the railway station, turn down Lime Street, and you encounter a building site for student flats, a hotel and some shops. These will live where a row of Georgian buildings and the elegant ceramic facade of the 1912 Futurist cinema once stood. Save Britain’s Heritage called this a piece of “civic vandalism“.
Walk down to the Pier Head and you can marvel at what locals call the “three disgraces”: the Museum of Liverpool, the Mann Island Buildings and the Ferry Terminal.
That last one was the winner of the 2009 Carbuncle Cup: an architecture prize, given annually to “the ugliest building in the United Kingdom completed in the last 12 months”.
No, you can’t preserve a city in aspic. It will always change and develop. The removal of World Heritage status probably won’t affect the city too much. It was just a certificate on a wall, according the city’s former mayor, and certificates don’t create jobs or redevelop derelict areas. People will come to Liverpool for the reasons they always have: the history, the museums and galleries, the Beatles, the football.
Planners, however, should take note. The people of Liverpool don’t want tower after tower of shiny, sterile high-rises, where the apartments are snapped up by overseas investors and then stand empty. The ghost towers, they call them. The Towers of Greed.
The removal of World Heritage status shows that, somewhere, someone is watching. Disturbing, in fact, the peace.