While Liverpool City Council has said there are “compelling arguments” for expanding the World Heritage Site to areas including Rodney Street and Chinatown, reaction from the property community has been mixed, with broad agreement that changes are needed to its governance.
The city’s current World Heritage Site incorporates Liverpool’s core historic docks, including Old Dock and Stanley Dock, and stretches to Bramley-Moore Dock, the proposed site of Everton’s new stadium, to the north.
The council is now looking to put together a feasibility study which could see the WHS extended to incorporate a number of new areas. These include docks to the south of the city centre: Queens Dock, opened in 1785; Coburg, opened as Brunswick Basin in 1816; and Brunswick Dock, built between 1827 and 1832.
Other areas to be looked at for inclusion are Chinatown and the areas around Rodney Street, Canning Street, and Hope Street; here, the council said there were “compelling arguments” for inclusion in the WHS.
However, the proposals have come in for criticism from some developers contacted by Place North West who have argued “preserving the city in aspic” is not the right approach, arguing against further restrictions being placed on new projects within the city centre.
Others have said the WHS status could be brought further into question, including Adam Hall of architect Falconer Chester Hall, who told Place North West’s Merseyside Development Update event last year that upcoming developments including Everton’s stadium could lead to the WHS’s status being put under pressure.
However, Pete Swift of landscape architect Planit-IE, who has worked closely with heritage bodies, the city council, and Peel at Liverpool Waters, argued the case for preserving and improving the WHS, although some elements of the proposed extension were called into question.
“Everyone thinks you have to be on one side or the other, either for it or against it, but the truth is that it’s the people in the middle that matter: the city council needs to be better and more confident with what they have to sell it to the man in the street,” he told Place.
“The city needs to embrace the Heritage Site to get its own citizens on board and to move away from that image of it being the domain of old cravat-wearing historians. It should be something that every scouser loves; you ask the average person what makes Liverpool special and most would just shrug their shoulders if you asked them about the WHS.
“There’s a fundamental misunderstanding that being part of a WHS doesn’t let you develop, and that needs to be challenged. UNESCO have put together a document that advocates development and how to do it in a WHS, but different development is appropriate in different places.
“Liverpool has the most complex World Heritage Site prescription in the world given it’s very spread out and interspersed with the buffer zone. If you look at somewhere like the Tower of London, that has a buffer zone of a metre. You could argue the city was too ambitious in the beginning.
“But the question to be asked is, does expanding the boundaries help the city tell its unique story? Or is it a case of admitting they’ll have to take some of it out to put more in?”
The reaction on social media
Place asked for views on the potential extension via Twitter – here are some readers’ reactions.
You have to ask yourself, what is the benefit to Liverpool… if this leads to more dereliction or stops world class and impressive scale development in these ‘WHS’ areas then the effect is 100% negative for the city. China Town is very rundown, needs huge enabling developments
— AdiSneakerFreak (@AdiSneakerFreak) February 19, 2019
A bad thing. This status will continue to strangle Liverpool with unnecessary restrictions on building heights and a general over emphasis on ‘historical context’ that is more likely to keep deter development. Any facts to support UNESCO and WHS as a benefit to Liverpool?
— Michael McDonough (@mmcdstudio) February 19, 2019
Bad as too many restrictions on future developments !
— Lucy O’Connor (@oconnorlucy) February 19, 2019
Certain areas of the proposed extension were welcomed, although Swift said he was “less sure” about the possible inclusion of Ten Streets and the Baltic Triangle, which have both been cited as two areas of interest by the city council.
One area that has not fallen under the council’s remit but should be looked at seriously, Swift argued, is Hamilton Square in Birkenhead, to make the WHS “a city-region asset”.
Developers have also suggested the governance and management of the WHS needs to be changed with the council coming in for criticism for failing to quantify its impact: “We’re told it’s a good thing that helps bring in the tourists, and enables development, but they’ve never published any statistics to prove it”, argued one.
Swift conceded that changes were needed and suggested following Edinburgh’s model, where the WHS is run by a trust, would be the right approach.
“Irrespective of the boundary changes, the governance needs to change. There are fantastically passionate people within the council, but it doesn’t do any monitoring, vetting, and there’s no real understanding of who and what it brings in,” he said.
Since 2004, the WHS has been managed by a partnership-based steering group, which is provided on a voluntary basis, and is not a legal entity. This produces a management plan for the WHS voluntarily, at a cost of around £10k to the council; the most recent plan was published in May 2017.
On setting up a trust, the council said: “The Edinburgh WHS Trust effectively takes on the role of managing the ‘soft’ elements of the WHS, such as interpretation and visitor management. However, there is a significant cost to run it, and it has needed to diversify to try to attract new funding.
“In a similar way the Liverpool WHS Steering Group also manages the ‘soft’ elements relying upon constituent members of the group such as the Council and land and property owners to collaborate on interpretation and visitor management.
“Liverpool’s steering group does not provide financial assistance nor is it an exemplar in conservation management as this is the role of the Council through the work of its development management team.There is clearly a balance to the role and responsibilities of partners, their purpose, function, cost, outcomes and benefits that needs establishing in progressing a Trust or alternative model.”
A feasibility study for the expansion will now be drawn up, subject to approval by the council’s cabinet this Friday, ahead of the World Heritage Committee in July this year. The report is expected to complete prior to the WHC’s meeting in July 2020.
There is precedent for boundary changes within World Heritage Sites, with a site in Georgia being altered last year.
The council will also look at setting up a trust to manage the WHS, much the same as Edinburgh’s model.
Last summer, the World Heritage Committee approved Liverpool’s WHS status at its annual summit, but it remains on a list of “sites in danger”, a position it has held since Peel’s vast Liverpool Waters scheme was approved in 2012.
Since being put on the list, a series of measures are now in place to protect the status of the site.
These include regulatory planning documents which provide legal guidelines to protect the WHS properties; design guidelines in the city’s local plan; developing a “skyline policy” for tall buildings; along with the review into expanding or enhancing the WHS.