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Stop planning blight or lose Liverpool’s World Heritage Site status, says UNESCO

Liverpool waters 5
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UNESCO has threatened to strip Liverpool of its coveted World Heritage status by 2018 unless the government and city radically improve their supervision of the city’s historic waterfront

The cultural arm of the United Nations has called on the Department for Culture Media and Sport to ‘reverse course and stop the granting of planning permissions which have a negative impact on the outstanding universal value’ of the 136ha district.

The declaration comes a year after city mayor Joe Anderson rejected UNESCO’s proposal for a two-year moratorium on new development at the city’s World Heritage Site, saying it would stifle growth.

The city received World Heritage Site status in 2004, but for the last five years has been on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger amid a major waterfront redevelopment programme led by Peel Holdings. Kosovo and Georgia are the only two other European sites featured on the ‘In Danger’ list and Dresden is the only area to have ever been stripped of its protected status.

Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, which has campaigned to protect historic buildings in the area, said: ‘This is a final warning shot for Liverpool and the British Government. International heritage status doesn’t just put Liverpool on the world stage, it brings cultural tourism, urban regeneration, and sustainable visitor attractions. Losing it because of crass planning decisions would be an international embarrassment as well as a hugely costly mistake.’

Liverpool has been on the UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s ‘in danger’ list since 2012 because of fears about the impact of Peel Holding’s development plans on the city’s world-famous waterfront.

Peel’s proposals (pictured) include several skyscrapers – the tallest at 55 storeys – along the iconic waterfront. Last month Liverpool City Council also appointed a team featuring Stride Treglown for a new £50 million cruise liner terminal on Princes Parade in the heart of Liverpool’s UNESCO World Heritage zone.

In papers prepared for the July 2017 UNESCO World Heritage Committee, the organisation voiced ‘deep concern’ over the potential for several approved and upcoming schemes to risk ‘actual and potential highly adverse and irreversible impacts’ to the district.

The document recommended that the committee ‘retain the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger but consider its deletion from the World Heritage List at its 42nd session in 2018, if the state party does not reverse course and stop the granting of planning permissions which have a negative impact on the outstanding universal value of the property [and] provide substantive commitments to limitation on the quantity, location and size of allowable built form’.

Directly addressing the secretary of state for culture, Jonathan Brown – director of Liverpool-based planning and tourism consultancy Share the City – said: ‘Karen Bradley needs to get a grip on her advisers before this little local difficultly becomes an international incident.

UNESCO has clearly run out of patience with government assurances

‘The UK usually honours her international treaty obligations, but UNESCO has clearly run out of patience with government assurances backed only by inaction. The United Nations expects the world’s cultural treasures to be safe in our hands, and a breach of the treaty would be noted with sadness around the world.’

John Belchem, emeritus professor of history at the University of Liverpool, who was closely involved in securing Liverpool’s World Heritage Site status, said: ‘Having led the way in regeneration through conservation and the cultural path to urban renewal and wellbeing, Liverpool has sadly lapsed into polarised and counterproductive opposition between redevelopment and heritage to the understandable concern of UNESCO.’

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