Liverpool can thrive without UNESCO world heritage status

The iconic and majestic view of Liverpool's waterfront area.

Losing its UNESCO world heritage status offers Liverpool an opportunity to better plan how major infrastructure is interlinked throughout the city region, argues Keith York of Civic Engineers.

News that UNESCO has withdrawn Liverpool’s world heritage site status has been met with a fairly mixed response in the business and political worlds.  

From my point of view, Liverpool can be better off without its UNESCO title and can continue to thrive and prosper without it.  

Other than emboldening the city with a degree of prestige in certain circles, the status itself is not responsible for driving much of the positive change which Liverpool has achieved over the past 17 years since it was first announced.   

In fact, one of the biggest drivers of that change has been something that the world heritage status has threatened to hold back – better infrastructure. It is our view that such an extent of the city’s waterfront should never have fallen within the UNESCO listing. In doing so, it risked sterilising derelict and unremarkable areas of docklands, particularly along the city's North Shore. 

Instead, Liverpool City Council and its allies have had the courage to embrace progress and change, whilst also investing millions in protecting the areas with undoubted historic value, such as the three graces and the Royal Albert Dock.

There is no doubt that crowds of people will continue to visit Liverpool and the wider city region because of its unrivalled heritage and its historic architecture. But contemporary developments such as Liverpool One, The Museum of Liverpool, and Liverpool Waters, have also become significant and necessary parts of Liverpool’s modern story, ensuring that the city remains an attractive prospect for those choosing to live, work and invest here.          

Cities are intrinsically changing places that evolve over centuries, with social, political, and industrial networks converging across any urban environment that is worth its salt. Having greater capacity for height and density is a positive and an essential feature of a modern urban settlement. 

Of course, in cities like Liverpool where strength of heritage is a key driving force for decision-making, new plans and developments must also be tempered with appropriateness and contextual consideration. While UNESCO status prompted such considerations, it also placed too many limitations on an environment where plenty of other checks and balances are already in place.    

The future development of Liverpool needs to continue to be assertive and confident. People will still come to Liverpool and see the city and its famous waterfront for themselves, something which many UNESCO panel members have failed to do even once since the conferring of the city’s status back in 2004.  

The work that Civic Engineers has delivered at Liverpool Lime Street Gateway is an example of sensitively positioning the new with the old, restoring the listed frontage of the station right on the doorstep of St George’s Hall. 

As development projects like this continue at pace across Liverpool and now without the limitations of UNESCO, there is an opportunity to better plan how major infrastructure is interlinked throughout the city-region, ensuring for example that Liverpool has a strong focus upon active travel combined with public transport use. 

Liverpool will continue to grow and adapt whilst protecting its history for all the world to admire and those who see the removal of the UNESCO title as a disappointment in terms of the city’s prospects would be wise to reframe this news as an opportunity for Liverpool to progress sensitively and appropriately for its 21st century needs. 

Keith York is an associate at Civic Engineers.