Liverpool Loses Its Unesco World Heritage Status

The English city argues that redevelopment of its waterfront shouldn’t disqualify it from the list

Liverpool is only the third site to be stripped of its Unesco World Heritage status. lovestruck via Flickr under CC BY-NC 2.0

A United Nations committee has stripped the English city of Liverpool of its status as a Unesco World Heritage Site, citing “the irreversible loss of attributes conveying the outstanding universal value of the property” due to new development, reports Julia Buckley for CNN.

Liverpool mayor Joanne Anderson described the decision as “incomprehensible.”

“Our World Heritage site has never been in better condition having benefited from hundreds of millions of pounds of investment across dozens of listed buildings and the public realm,” she says in a statement.

In a secret-ballot vote held during a meeting in China, 13 members of the Unesco committee voted to remove the city from its World Heritage list, BBC News reports. Five opposed the move, and two ballot papers were ruled invalid.

Unesco added the city to its list in 2004 in recognition of its role in world trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. Liverpool was one of the United Kingdom’s most important ports at a time when the British Empire was becoming a dominant force around the world. The listing also reflected innovative technology and building techniques of the city’s maritime industry. People there developed new types of docks, new warehouse construction techniques and industrial canals that served as models for other port cities.

Liverpool’s ports facilitated the movement of goods and people—including the development of the slave trade. According to National Museums Liverpool, the city was the European port most involved in transporting enslaved people between 1695 and 1807, with 5,300 voyages to Africa leaving from its ports.

Liverpool dock
The city's docks are tied to the history of the British Empire. Ronald Saunders via Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0

“Liverpool is often called the ‘slaving capital of the world’ because it was the largest slave-trading port city in Europe in the 18th century until the British slave trade’s legal abolition in 1807,” Sarah Moody, a historian at the University of Bristol, tells the New York Times’ Aina J. Khan. (The International Slavery Museum opened at the city’s Royal Albert Dock in 2007.)

Unesco placed the city on its “in danger” list in 2012, citing the planned Liverpool Waters mixed-use redevelopment of parts of the waterfront near the city center, as Helen Carter reported for the Guardian at the time. The project has since moved forward, with portions of it now complete and others still under construction.

In February, the Liverpool City Council approved another major waterfront development: the creation of a 52,888-capacity stadium for the Everton Football Club. That project requires the destruction of the Bramley Moore Dock, which opened in 1848. As Kristy McHall reported for the Liverpool Echo in 2016, the dock was used mainly to export coal and provide fuel for steamships. It was used for 140 years before closing in 1988.

Unesco argued that the arena “would have a completely unacceptable major adverse impact on the authenticity, integrity and outstanding universal value” of the World Heritage Site, reports Tony McDonough for Liverpool Business News.

“I find it incomprehensible that Unesco would rather Bramley Moore Dock remain a derelict wasteland, rather than making a positive contribution to the city’s future and that of its residents,” says Anderson in her statement.

Per Deutsche Welle, Liverpool is only the third place to ever lose its Unesco World Heritage status. Oman’s Arabian Oryx Sanctuary lost its spot on the list in 2007 due to poaching and habitat loss. And, in 2009, the organization removed the Dresden Elbe Valley in Germany after the construction of a four-lane motorway bridge over the river. Fifty-two sites are currently included on the organization’s List of World Heritage in Danger.

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