PRESS RELEASE: UNESCO rebukes UK Government and recommends deletion of Liverpool from World Heritage List

22nd June 2021

UNESCO is recommending that Liverpool be stripped of its prestigious international heritage site status due to inadequate management and weak planning laws.

The report from the United Nations heritage organisation, issued on Monday, is set to be debated by international governments at a UNESCO meeting in China on 16th July 2021

The Department of Culture Media and Sport - as signatories to the international heritage treaty and the official 'State Party'- is ultimately responsible for the protection and conservation of the UK's 32 World Heritage Sites.

Ministers will have a final opportunity at the meeting next month to make their case for retaining Liverpool's special status.

Liverpool 'Maritime Mercantile City', which includes the Pier Head and Albert Dock, was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS) in 2004.  But it has been on UNESCO’s ‘List of World Heritage in Danger’ since 2012.

There are 869 protected man-made structures, cities, and towns on the list of World Heritage Sites. If Liverpool is deleted, it will be only the second time ever a city has been removed due to irreparable damage to its “outstanding universal value”.

In their draft decision, the World Heritage Committee states "with deep regret that inadequate governance processes, mechanisms, and regulations for new developments in and around the World Heritage property, have resulted in serious deterioration and irreversible loss of attributes conveying the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property."

They add that, despite repeated requests to change course, "the process of further deterioration is irreversible, and that the State Party has not fulfilled its obligations defined in the Convention with respect to protecting and conserving the Outstanding Universal Value, as inscribed, of the World Heritage property of Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City".

In particular, the committee cites the recently consented Everton Football Stadium on the historic docks, and the 'Liverpool Waters' scheme, a highly controversial outline planning permission granted in 2013 for a 60-acre site with buildings up to 50-storeys in height. Put forward by the Peel Group, it was granted planning permission until 2042. 

The report says the UK has "confirmed on multiple occasions” that there were no legal means to prevent harmful development within the World Heritage Site in order to protect Liverpool’s OUV.

See the full World Heritage Committee decision report here (pages 53-59).

SAVE Britain's Heritage has written to Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State responsible for Heritage, urging him to act now to avert the national humiliation of losing this prestigious global status.

SAVE calls on UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee to grant Liverpool an extension of its WHS status for a further 12 months, in order to bring forward the necessary safeguards to protect the World Heritage Site. This follows on from the recent appointment of a new City Mayor, Joanne Anderson and executive team to run the city.

Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain's Heritage said: "The loss of Liverpool’s World Heritage Site status would damage the UK's international reputation, at a moment when its presence on the global stage has never been a higher priority.  The spotlight will be thrown on the British Government's ability to manage and protect its other World Heritage Sites - such as Stonehenge, the Palace of Westminster and Cornwall's Mining Landscape. The UK must act now to reassure our international counterparts that global heritage is safe in our hands.”

Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain’s Heritage said: “SAVE has been fighting for historic landmarks in Liverpool for over 40 years.  Whilst there have been both triumphs and disasters, it will be ironic indeed if Liverpool loses its World Heritage Site status just as a new planning regime has been instituted and there is a prospect of policy change. The World Heritage Committee should recognise this and grant Liverpool one more year to make changes.”



World Heritage Sites are internationally recognised to be of 'Outstanding Universal Value'. That value is so exceptional that it transcends national boundaries and importance for current and future generations. Within the UK planning system, World Heritage sites are considered to be of equal, if not higher importance than grade I listed buildings due to their internationally recognized significance.

Liverpool was inscribed as a UNESCO WHS in 2004 for its outstanding universal value as, ‘the supreme example of a commercial port at the time of Britain's greatest global influence’. Its WHS stretches from the iconic Three Graces on the waterfront to St George’s Hall and Lime Street Station and covers some 136 hectares of the city.

For over 40 years SAVE has 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 Streets and most recently Andrew Gibson House.



Notes to editors:

1. For more information contact Ben Oakley, conservation officer at SAVE Britain’s Heritage – / 07388 181 181.

2. The Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City World Heritage Site was inscribed in 2004, and joins a very select list of just 32 sites in the UK. As of this year there are 869 ‘cultural’ World Heritage Sites globally, and inclusion of Liverpool in this exclusive list should be treated as a great honour and a privilege, serving to highlight the global importance of Liverpool’s rich history and exceptional architecture.

3. Management of UNESCO World Heritage Sites is the responsibility of each respective national government, in this instance the Secretary of State for the Department of Culture Media and Sport.

4. Dresden is to date the only one of the 869 ‘cultural’ World Heritage Sites worldwide to have been stripped of its status.

5. SAVE fought a high-profile campaign in 2016 against the demolition of the Futurist cinema and a terrace of 18th, 19th and early 20th century buildings in Lime Street, central Liverpool. The buildings were in the buffer zone of the World Heritage Site and we argued that their demolition and replacement with a 11 storey student and hotel block would have a harmful effect on the World Heritage Site.

6. 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.