What would World Heritage Site status mean for the future of Liverpool's riverfront? The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the watchdog for World Heritage sites in the UK, has made it clear that, if Liverpool were to win the accolade, the view from the river would be 'completely essential'. It is hardly surprising that there are those among Liverpool's business community who perceive a threat to the city's extensive development plans - many of which centre around rebuilding the waterfront.World Heritage Site values appear to be directly at odds with the fast-track development frenzy anticipated as part of Liverpool's status as European Capital of Culture 2008.
But could the twin accolades be harnessed and managed so they complement each other, combining to provide Liverpool with an intelligent model for regeneration? Even the most truly commercial interests are in agreement that the key to Liverpool's future lies in exploiting the past. Liverpool's boldest proposal, Will Alsop's 'Cloud', was explicitly designed as the Fourth Grace, a direct response to existing historic buildings. The planned BDP-designed retail centre, conceived as a link between the city centre and the riverfront, has rejected conventional retail typologies, drawing on the massing and 'atmosphere'of the original dockside fabric.
Neither project sits comfortably with preconceptions of what constitutes a World Heritage Site. But ICOMOS has made it clear that, while it is 'considerably harder' to build within the sites it oversees, new building projects are not rejected out of hand. And it must accept that 'protecting the character'of a part of a living, evolving city calls for a more imaginative approach than straightforward conservation. Stringent quality controls would make life a little harder but they could also be an effective means of safeguarding against the ad hoc and hurried decisionmaking so often the hallmark of festival-fuelled development projects. Conversely, the excitement and appetite for change prompted by the Capital of Culture award could act as an important counterbalance to the conservatism implied by being designated a World Heritage Site.