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The impact on Liverpool of losing UNESCO World Heritage Status

Museum of Liverpool: view looking north to the Three Graces with Liverpool Waters beyond (Ant Clausen)

Following the news this week that the City of Liverpool has had its UNESCO world heritage status withdrawn, Future Cities Forum interviewed Laura Pye, Director of National Museums Liverpool, on her reaction and whether the decision now alters her plans for development.

Laura said:

'It doesn't make any difference to our plans as we are committed to protecting our heritage in the city. We have just been told about our National Heritage Lottery Fund gift of 10 million pounds that we will be using to develop the International Slavery Museum, giving it its own front door and making an important entrance to the dock area. As well as this, our six design companies have been working on a public consultation on the waterfront and and will be submitting designs at the end of the month. So we are moving forward. We are disappointed not because we fell dependent on the UNESCO status but because we felt we deserve it, but we also feel it does not make a huge difference. The City Council has been running a campaign saying that no labels are needed and it is true that the city has invested huge money into our heritage - millions and millions - as well as moving so many buildings off the 'at risk' register. So I think we just feel that with all of that, Liverpool is still a city that is thriving.

' It is disappointing because among those that withdrew the heritage status from UNESCO, there hasn't been a delegation for ten years. I walked through the waterfront the other day and it was alive with people. It is a very different place from ten to twenty years ago and I think the Museum of Liverpool is definitely adding to it. But I ask myself, at what point do you freeze it? The complaint is that our developments are detrimental to the authenticity of the city and one of the biggest concerns has been around the development of the Bramley Moore Dock (for Everton FC) and the infilling of it. But the land that the Liver Building sits on is an infill of a dock, so I struggle with the logic.

Laura was asked what evidence was there that the heritage work and museum development was working in the city?

'There's no doubt that visitors want to come and see the history of the city with numbers increasing over 500% in a ten year period. The Museum of Liverpool was expected to attract 600,000 visitors but currently attracts 900,000. The Albert Dock will see 6 million throughout the year. Coming in for heritage is as important for visitors as for the football and shopping. They never say that they are coming because of our UNESCO world heritage status - they never tell us that. The images we use to sell the city are of the heritage. It is bad that they have taken this decision just as we come out of pandemic at a hard point.

Would losing UNESCO world heritage status have an effect on future funding, Laura was asked?

'I would like to think it will have the opposite effect for funding over the years. I was in a national government meeting this week and they insist the city will continue to thrive. I also think the people of this city will rally and we will decide to enjoy the city the way we like it. There is much resilience and good reaction on social media of that tone, saying that we really don't need that label.

'We will continue with our public realm plans for connecting the city and we are not nervous. We have been on the at risk register for years, so we need to do what is best for the city now. Constantly being on the naughty step is draining, so now we need to believe in what we have done. Our world heritage site focus is on the docks but also goes up to the Walker Art Gallery and we need to develop those spaces. There are good examples of heritage revival stuff in those parts that UNESCO is happy with like the restoration of Everyman Theatre which has won awards. We have made mistakes in last 20 years but that's the same in every city of the world. We are where we are. We are holding onto high architectural quality. Our combined authorities are supportive of our work on the marine area and William Brown Street which respects our heritage.

'We may put on an exhibition of our UNESCO story. The certification is being taken down and will come to the museum (of Liverpool) where we may put it in a small display which allows people to leave their views amidst the background of why we got it and why it was taken it away.

Laura concluded by saying:

'I understand UNESCO protecting their world heritage sites which number over 1,000 but there is only one Liverpool. But I am sad that they didn't engage with us because it is about having the voices and stories heard from the City of Liverpool which we have put so much effort into supporting and UNESCO didn't come to the city to see that.'

The creation of a new stadium for Everton Football Club at Bramley Moore Dock, has been a topic in several Future Cities Forum panel discussions on stadium-led regeneration. The board of Everton FC appointed Dan Meis Architects (MEIS) to design the new waterfront stadium, and has worked on planning in close consultation with the City Council and with Historic England. An important aspect of the 'People's Project' is the complementary investment of creating a built environment legacy for the North Liverpool community on and around the footprint of the club's stadium at Goodison Park which was built in 1892.

In March 2020, CBRE's Head of National Planning, Iain Jenkinson - who has been advising the Everton FC board - described the extent of the club's community consultations to Future Cities Forum:

'Everton FC is very keen on its cultural role. It's a football city. The club wanted to give something back to Liverpool and wider region regardless of which team is supported. We knew we had to reach out to non-football fans. This site belongs to the world so we had to capture as many views as possible. Historic England has been really helpful across 20 to 30 meetings as have the city council and we had to connect with the full fan network and the businesses of Liverpool. We have never really stopped talking and we achieved 60,000 unique responses with 10,000 from non-football fans. Over 96% of respondents wanted the new stadium to happen regardless of club affiliation. There have been a handful of objections, including one saying the stadium is 'not big enough'! Bramley Moore Dock is one of Liverpool City's largest ever projects and is important for the Northern Powerhouse.


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