Liverpool defends its status as a city of sensitive regeneration – but Unesco begs to differ

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A badge of honour or a certificate not worth the trouble? Liverpool’s loss of its world heritage status has opened a debate about the purpose and value of the designation

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Source: Shutterstock

The Liverpool waterfront featuring the Liver Building and, on the right, the controversial Pier Head ferry terminal

In November 2011, a group of Unesco inspectors was dispatched from Paris on a three-day visit to Liverpool. They had been tasked with weighing up the future of the city’s World Heritage Site status after proposals were unveiled to build the country’s tallest skyscrapers outside London on Liverpool’s deprived, but listed, north docks.

The £5.5bn planning application by Peel Group was the largest in the UK at the time and would stretch for 2km along the historic waterfront, which once harboured 40% of the world’s trade but had, by the 21st century, become a largely abandoned wasteland. The three inspectors left with a clear message: Liverpool would be stripped of its World Heritage Site status unless the plans were radically changed. Four months later, the council approved them.

The inspectors’ trip was the start of a 10-year battle between Unesco and Liverpool which culminated last month with the city being deleted from the world heritage list – a decision that the council must have known was coming. A report in June by Unesco’s world heritage committee had recommended the move, saying “with deep regret” that new developments on the city’s waterfront had caused a “significant loss to its authenticity and integrity” and that the process of further deterioration was “irreversible”.

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