Rescue Says: UNESCO has severely criticised the UK Government for its treatment of the World Heritage Site of the Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City

This comes in a report published ahead of a UNESCO meeting next week. The Liverpool site was given World Heritage Site status in 2004, but since then and particularly from around 2012 when it was officially placed on the “In Danger” list (detailed in Rescue News 114 &115), the report catalogues a series of fundamental errors of judgement and understanding of the importance of maintaining the historic integrity of the area on the part of the UK Government, a poor legal framework, inappropriate development within the WHS zone and a lack of an adequate management plan for the site. The report also states that after repeated requests for corrective action, the UK has failed to provide either a framework for the sensitive management of the site, nor demonstrated adequate commitment to prevent the integrity of the historic site from inappropriate development. Moreover, the report details that responses from the UK Government received during this period state that it is of the opinion that it has no power to influence such inappropriate management of the site, indicating that the necessary legal and instrumental means to secure the safety of the historic site are lacking nationally.

The current proposals, for a new football stadium for Everton FC to be constructed at Bramley Dock, are the last straw – the Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City is recommended for deletion from the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites within the next week.

This sad news represents an appalling failure on the part of the UK Authorities to recognise, protect, enhance and manage one of our premier national historic landscapes. However, it is not an isolated example. Other World Heritage Sites in the UK have been, and continue to be, subjected to similarly desultory treatment. In 2010 the proposed siting of equestrian events at Maritime Greenwich for the 2012 Olympics rode roughshod over concerns for the potential long-term harm to that site they might cause (RN 109 & 110), whilst in 2011 proposals for quarrying at New Lanark 18th century cotton mills model village threatened the buffer zone of the WHS and thereby the setting of the historic site (RN 113). The same year the UK was heavily criticised by UNESCO for failing to adequately protect the surroundings of the Tower of London from overbearing and inappropriate development, ruining the historic setting. The ongoing saga of the threat to the Stonehenge WHS from the proposed A303 tunnel is well known (RN – passim), but readers may be less familiar with the ongoing degradation of the Palace of Westminster. The threat to this structure from a serious if not catastrophic fire is extreme (Notre Dame and the risk to ancient buildings: Rescue write to The Times – Rescue – The British Archaeological Trust (rescue-archaeology.org.uk) ). Most recently, concerns regarding the potential impact upon the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew from the proposed third runway at Heathrow Airport have been swatted aside. This issue barely figures in the discussions.

It is clear that since around 2010, planning and development policy in the UK has totally ignored the privileged and sensitive status of our leading and most internationally-recognised and important heritage sites and landscapes. The current proposals to reform the planning system fail to address any heritage concerns adequately, let alone those of World Heritage Sites, so it can only be concluded that this degradation will continue. The UK Government is culpable on all counts of failing to recognise the true significance of our World Heritage Sites, failing to protect their integrity and importance, and failing to provide either strategic leadership or even adequate management guidance. They have shirked any responsibility, ignored repeated attempts to raise concerns, and allowed unfettered development to damage and threaten our flagship sites. This is nothing less than shameful.

UNESCO’s report can be found at: https://whc.unesco.org/archive/2021/whc21-44com-7A.Add-en.pdf

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