Aerial Of River Mersey And Liverpool

Liverpool’s World Heritage Site: ‘Governance needs to change’

Charlie Schouten

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.

Liverpool Waters View 01 (Stadium South) Issue 04b PNW

Liverpool Waters is one of the areas where heritage has fallen under the spotlight

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.

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.

Your Comments

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This is definitely a poisoned chalice, good to see areas of heritage protected, but it will have a detrimental effect on them and the buffer zone surrounding them. What are the council thinking, do they have a “cunning plan” or just trying to appease the WHS groupies. Haven’t we endured enough flack over the current WHS?

By Liverpolitis

Hardly Venice is it?

By Heswall

There’s no point in WHS if buildings are not protected from the sort of abomination which now sits on the roof of Millennium House ( The Shankly Hotel),or the new Ion Lime Street development, in full view of the William Brown Street WHS. If WHS is used to block good quality developments, but permits awful ones then what exactly is the point?

Is the planning department not able to make appropriate decisions about what to pass and what not to pass otherwise? Surely this must be the function of an effective planning department?

Also, cannot understand the rapid about turn on this. Who has suggested this, and why? No-one seems to have explained what is hoped it would achieve.


Oh dear Troll alert, ah it’s the school holidays again!

By Just saying

@Heswall, your’e correct, the Mersey is much wider and important than the Grand canal. I love Venice great buildings and history and a fortune built on maritime adventures…I wonder where that reminds me of?

By Marco Polo

I agree that WHS governance needs to change however expanding its borders to cover the whole of the city centre is not the way forward. As for including Hamilton Square let’s not poison this area with restrictions before regeneration as even begun.

By Birkenhead

@Marco Polo, “fortune built on maritime adventurers”. I’d maybe check the history books on that one, I think the source of a lot of Liverpool’s historical wealth isn’t quite as jolly as you make it sound…..

By Anonymous

Marco Polo, only one of the two is still relevant.

By Anon

An utterly retrograde idea. Who elected UNESCO? When did they put their manifesto forward to the Liverpool electorate? I can think of several great schemes quietly being worked up that would be dead in the water if this daft idea gains traction.

And whoever asked for proof that WH status has secured a single extra tourist or piece of inward investment, bravo to them! Show me the credible, in-depth data that proves this is more than just a heritage w*nk-fest for the tweed-wearing classes. It doesn’t exist, does it? Otherwise it would have been published by now.

By Sceptical

@Anonymous, It’s all out in the open, we have an International slavery museum and other acknowledgements. You are right though Liverpool invented Slavery, from the begining of time, in ancient Greece, to the Roman Empire and modern day slavery in the developing world and beyond. Venice would have benefitted from it too like so many western economies and not forgetting the arab and african slavers who sold their own into the worst type of life, in fact the whole of the UK benefitted from Slavery from manufactured goods to cotton spinners and custom and excise etc, we held our hand up, how about you?

By Marco Polo

Liverpool should not be proud of its heritage it is a wicked one

By Stanhope

I dont know if Venice was built off the back of slavery like liverpool was though and nothing to be proud of. lots of streets in liverpool are named after those that dealt in slavery

By Sandgrounder

Nobody is proud of the Slavery trade conducted by Liverpool ships. But at least we have acknowledged how wrong it was and our part in it. With regard to Venice and other European ports etc a little simple research shows this awful trade went on there too! As stated in my posts above most of Europe benefited from this abysmal trade. But certain posters seem intent on singling out Liverpool for their own agenda. My original post has been misinterpreted by certain posters and not all ships from LIverpool were involved in this trade. Its unfortunate that so many people want to carry on blaming Liverpool for everything, perhaps they should look at the history of their own little paradise where they live?


The Civic Society have discussed this several times over the years. It is right that the boundary should be reviewed. It was drawn up over 15 years ago and partly to encourage the development of the Waterfront as a destination. There were always equally significant areas beyond that boundary. There is plenty of data on the massive increase in visitors brought from WHS designation. Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in Wales has gone from being a backwater to welcoming coachloads if Chinese every week in just a few short years.
Talking about the movement of people, and the dreadful slave trade which is well documented but there is scope for further honesty about where slave merchants lived; as well as abolitionists! And the MP for Liverpool at the time of abolition was one of the leading figures with Wilberforce. In terms of the Chinese presence in Britain, the offices of the Blue Funnel Line who brought the first Chinese here still stand in modern Chinatown. All this is worth protection and interpretation for the future.

By Roscoe

They’re right. The fundamental misunderstanding is that conservation legislation doesn’t allow development. It just tries to encourage good development. The only ones getting arsey are poor architects who can’t plonk their spreadsheet-maximised boxes anywhere they like.

By Du Be Ous