Context 170 - December 2021

40 C O N T E X T 1 7 0 : D E C E M B E R 2 0 2 1 Long disused, this former watch factory in Ropewalks, within the former world heritage site, has been restored and houses the Wreckfish restaurant on three floors. (Photo: Peter de Figueiredo) Dave Chetwyn is managing director of UrbanVision Enterprise CIC, chair of the board of the National Planning Forum, and IHBC consultations and outreach secretary. Thanks to Liverpool City Council, Merseyside Civic Society, IanWray of the Heseltine Institute and Gerry Proctor of Engage Liverpool. led to inconsistency of approach. It is clear that the Liverpool site still merits world heritage designation on the basis of its universal value, despite Unesco’s concerns over its management. A narrow cultural ethos is not sensible in com- plex urban centres, and can actually undermine conservation of the historic environment. It is necessary to consider the wider social, economic and environmental context of heritage. Heritage bodies that fail to consider the wider context and impacts of their decisions, or to engage with those affected, are not acting sustainably. There are also questions of how realistic world heritage sites are in complex urban areas with viability challenges. If the focus of world heritage designation is now on management, understand- ing of economic context is fundamental, yet it appears not to have been a factor in Unesco’s decision. The greatest threat to Liverpool’s heritage arises from challenges relating to viabil- ity. In cities like Liverpool, an uncompromising approach to heritage is not likely to result in effective conservation, just as an indiscriminate acceptance of development of any quality will not lead to the best economic outcomes. World Heritage UK, which describes itself as ‘the only organisation exclusively focused on world heritage in the UK, and the only one that is led by the sites themselves, reflecting a community-driven approach that has proven effective at many sites and which is favoured by Unesco’, regretted the loss of world heritage status. ‘This action will be damaging to the cred- ibility of the world heritage sector in the UK and elsewhere,’ it wrote. World Heritage UK had suggested amending the boundary of the world heritage site as a potential way forward, but to no avail. There are many who have the view that the boundary was drawn too widely. It is unclear why amendment of the boundary was not considered by Unesco. In terms of protecting Liverpool’s heritage, world heritage status is a material consideration in planning decisions, so this has been lost. However, much of the protection has always been from national and local designations, including listing, conservation area designa- tion and scheduling. These designations remain. The more serious implication of loss of world heritage status is perhaps the loss of marketing potential, possible access to funding, and harm to business and investor confidence. Conclusions The false dichotomy between heritage and growth needs to be challenged. For the city’s new leadership, heritage can provide part of the solution to making the city more competitive and attractive to investment. For the UK govern- ment, the reluctance to intervene needs to be questioned. It is down to government to ensure that heritage protection for world heritage sites is sufficient.That is not to say that current provi- sions are necessarily insufficient. There are fundamental questions over Unesco’s decision, and over the organisation’s legitimacy and democratic deficit. The purpose of world heritage designation has become blurred. It is unclear whether designation is based on herit- age value or management, or whether heritage management is considered in narrow cultural or real-world terms. Was Unesco right to be concerned over tall buildings? Yes, but over the quality and location of tall buildings, rather than opposing them in principle. Were there problems with Liverpool’s planning and regeneration functions? We now know that there were, and that these resulted in complete change in political leadership. Was Liverpool City Council right to approve the Everton scheme? There will never be consensus over this, but the decision was taken by elected representatives, following consultation, and tak- ing account of a range of social, economic and environmental factors. Was Unesco right to be concerned over the infilling of the historic dock? Of course; anyone with an interest in heritage would share that concern, even some of the people who supported the scheme on balance. Was Unesco’s response appropriate, constructive and proportionate? Clearly not. It raises fundamental questions over Unesco’s legitimacy, and whether it is fit for purpose in a world facing complex and fast-changing challenges. Does Unesco have the in-house skills to consider management of world heritage sites? The Liverpool decision does little to provide reassurance.