Following Liverpool’s recent removal of it’s heritage status by the World Heritage Committee, it brings up the classic considerations of conservation vs regeneration. Liverpool, which has been defined as a World Heritage Site since 2004, was removed after being added to UNESCO’s “in danger” list in 2012 due to the several developments that have popped up along its waterfront including the £5.5 billion Liverpool Waters development.
A report from the end of June 2021 said that “The inevitable process for the implementation of the Liverpool Waters project and other large scale infrastructure projects in the waterfront and northern dock area of the property and its buffer zone have progressively eroded the integrity of the property and continued to do so as the most recent projects proposals and approvals indicate.” These developments, the report says, have undermined the integrity of the Victorian-era docks which have drastically altered the character of Liverpool.
Being a UNESCO World Heritage Site brings with it the benefits of tourism which Liverpool has fed off and embraced since its listing. In 2017 UNESCO decided to remove Liverpool’s status, however the council and Historic England drafted an action plan called the Desired State of Conservation Report which introduced a skyline policy restricting proposals for any tall buildings. Now with its removal again, city authorities have contested the decision once more. If unsuccessful, Liverpool will be the third site joining the extremely small list of those to lose their World Heritage Status.
This brings to light the issue of regeneration to protected sites, especially urban areas. It is safe to say that the docklands in Liverpool have been selected for this type of regeneration because of the returns investors and developers can get on a desirable location. How much of this came from Liverpool’s World Heritage Status will be unclear, and its removal will probably have little impact on prices and rents, but it is worth considering the measurable impact to tourism and the prestige a title like this can bring to a site – and how detrimental it can be to take it away! In our previous study “Concrete and Corruption” we looked at how the changing of our cities can drastically change their character and the population that live there. The changes in Elephant and Castle removed large swathes of a diverse community and the development at Greenwich Peninsula added in large amounts of expensive flats with little or no affordable housing for a borough that is currently going through an affordable housing crisis. Maybe Councils should be taking a more robust evaluation pf the ‘regeneration’ choices they are making? Liverpool is defined by its docks which were an instrumental factor in its growth over the last century so would the safer decision be to just regenerate other areas? This is probably too simplistic of an approach but it does draw to light the implications of neglecting other areas in need of regeneration.
Cities and urban areas need to grow continuously for an ever-increasing population so what is the best way to achieve this and conserve what makes a site special. The Desired State of Conservation Report was a great step in the right direction and provides an answer that robust urban planning is key, but it obviously was not enough. Regeneration definitely has its place, but this must not be detrimental to the fabric and character of areas that deserve preservation.