PRESS RELEASE: SAVE regrets loss of Liverpool World Heritage status

21st July 2021

SAVE Britain's Heritage regrets the loss of Liverpool's World Heritage site - 17 years after it was first inscribed as ‘the supreme example of a commercial port at the time of Britain's greatest global influence’. 

The timing of today's UNESCO decision is particularly sad given the recent election of Liverpool's new mayor, and the newly appointed government commissioners - brought in to oversee planning and conservation services at Liverpool City Council. 

We believe the UK government, as a signatory to the UN heritage treaty, could and should have done more to make the clear case for Liverpool's continued status - and given assurances to UNESCO that international heritage is safe in Britain's hands through tightening heritage and planning protections.

This would enable sympathetic new development to come forward hand in hand with the glory and revival of Liverpool's unique dock heritage - and bring much needed economic regeneration forward.

Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain's Heritage said: "UNESCO World heritage site status is a badge of honour which put Liverpool's unique history on the global stage. It is hugely regrettable that this fine city has lost its status due to weak planning and regulation of new development. It's an embarrassment for the UK government as signatories of the UN treaty on heritage protection.

Regeneration and economic development goes hand in hand with sustainable re-use of historic buildings and places. There's no question that the docks need development and investment- and the historic buildings and docks should be the heart of that development with a robust masterplan and vision - not sidelined and overwhelmed with towers and unsympathetic new development. From Hamburg, Bordeaux, Barcelona and Genoa to Boston and Baltimore there are examples of cities across the world which have made a feature of reviving their waterfronts in a sympathetic way."

Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain's Heritage said: "We lament the failure of British ministers to speak out strongly to emphasise the welcome change of direction in Liverpool in favour of reviving historic buildings and areas. Despite the losses, the Albert Dock, St George's Hall and Ropewalks are outstanding examples of urban revival and preservation enterprise at a global scale. This disaster of striking off Liverpool should never have been allowed to happen."

The stripping of World Heritage status follows years of warnings from UNESCO about the impact of new development on the docks - in particular, the recently consented Everton Football Stadium in Bramley Dock, and the  £5.5bn 'Liverpool Waters' scheme, a highly controversial outline planning permission granted in 2013 for a 60-hectare site with buildings up to 50-storeys in height. Put forward by the Peel Group, it was granted an unusually long planning permission until 2042.

This is the third time ever that a city has been deleted from the world heritage list. The UN agency said that piecemeal development already built out under the Liverpool Waters scheme, had resulted in “serious deterioration and irreversible loss” to the area’s outstanding universal value along with “significant loss to its authenticity and integrity”. 

SAVE remains committed to saving monuments and reviving historic buildings across Liverpool and the UK, and we will be doubly vigilant. It is essential that this decision is not seen as an open sesame for unsympathetic development.

For over 40 years we have been involved in championing the rescue and reuse of numerous Liverpool landmarks, including the Albert docks, the North Western Hotel on Lime Street (now a Wetherspoons pub), the churches of St Francis Xavier, St Mary of the Angels (Everton) and St Andrew’s Rodney Street, the Littlewoods building, the Granby Four Streets and the Welsh StreetsAndrew Gibson House and most recently the Abbey Cinema, Wavertree.


Notes to editors:

1. For more information contact Henrietta Billings, Director, SAVE Britain’s Heritage – / 07388 181 181.

2. See here for SAVE's previous press release from 16th July 2021.

3. The Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City World Heritage Site was inscribed in 2004, and joined a very select list of just 32 sites in the UK.

4. Management of UNESCO World Heritage Sites is the responsibility of each respective national government.

5. SAVE Britain’s Heritage has been campaigning for historic buildings since its formation in 1975 by a group of architectural historians, writers, journalists and planners. It is a strong, independent voice in conservation, free to respond rapidly to emergencies and to speak out loud for the historic built environment.