When Liverpool placed its bid to be listed as a World Heritage Site, it was for very good reasons. We have a beautiful and fantastic city centre with many buildings which reflect our city’s place at the centre of the world’s mercantile and maritime industries.
Liverpool has a legacy to protect and I have always said that we will do everything that we can to protect it. That’s why Historic England have welcomed our progress at bringing down the number of listed buildings ‘at risk’ because we have worked with people to bring them back to life and give them a new future.
The World Heritage Site remains protected, but what is being protested now is what is called the ‘buffer zone’. This is NOT the area that is the World Heritage Site – but is the surrounding area. And for a city our size also unfortunately covers almost the entire size of our city centre.
This area is full of sites that are the legacy of our economic history. We have done very well recently, but we still have many empty sites and derelict buildings in our city centre – everyone who lives here and walks around knows that to be true. When our city planned on becoming a World Heritage Site – nobody had in mind that we would preserve empty building sites and car parks forever.
In fact, Historic England have said that the proposals which were discussed at planning this week do not threaten our Outstanding Universal Value – which is the key measure of whether a site is worthy of world recognition. We are prepared to listen to the experts which is why our progress at preserving our heritage, despite extremely difficult financial constraints should be celebrated.
Our economy is growing, investors want to come to our city and we welcome the jobs and opportunities that come with this. But we cannot put the development of our city on hold to protect an empty plot of land.
Earlier this year, when discussing our World Heritage Site status, UNESCO demanded we put on hold all planning applications. Think about that for a moment. All planning applications in an area that essentially covers the entire city centre – including the areas that are not within the World Heritage Site. This would also include road improvements like those on Leeds Street. That was clearly not a sustainable position for our city, and possibly illegal. After advice from them, I wrote to UNESCO as part of a joint response with Government to make that point.
Global recognition for our city’s architecture that captures forever our place in a part of the world’s history is very important to us, but at the moment UNESCO are trying to treat our city as if our city has no future – like a dead, greying monument. But we are a living, breathing, growing and vibrant city. I notice UNESCO makes no complaints about London building skyscrapers near their World Heritage Site. There can’t be rules for one world-famous city and different ones for London.
When the Three Graces were built, there were people opposing their construction at the time too. Preserving our heritage is good. Preserving dereliction is not. Preserving the mementoes of our past is good. Denying us a future is not.