Following last week’s announcement that UNESCO have stripped Liverpool of its World Heritage Status, there have been a myriad of social media posts and articles about what this means (or doesn’t mean) for the City. Some expressed mild disappointment and some adopted a more ‘we’ll be fine without it’ approach.
It did, however, make me pause to consider my city - its charms, shortcomings, history and future and ultimately conclude that, once again, the external perception of Liverpool will have unfairly taken a knock.
Having lived, studied or worked in the South, Birmingham and Manchester over the past 20 or so years it reminded me that, unlike any other city, we regularly have to defend our position and correct misinformed views of Liverpool. I have penned this article for colleagues, friends and family who have either never visited the city, or have not revisited it for years.
Some of the views of those who are unfamiliar with the city are exacerbated by the consistent and inaccurate stereotypes from the ill-informed. Hangovers from days of rioting and overtly vocal politicians dominating our screens in the 80’s, to the more lighthearted, tracksuit-donning, curly wig wearing characters portrayed on Television –admittedly very funny at the time, but over 30 years later, they are just an irritating perpetuation of an image which couldn’t be further from today’s Liverpool.
In 2008, Liverpool was European Capital of Culture which catapulted the city to another, more positive level of exposure and the significant impact of cultural initiatives, regeneration, growth in visitor numbers and economic growth continue to this day.
Clearly all is not yet perfect and we sighed in collective exasperation at the recent exposure of questionable practices from certain high-level public servants. A setback caused by a very small minority but unfortunately reinforcing some of those outdated stereotypes. The majority of us work hard to promote the city, encourage investment and enhance the already exciting opportunities which exist: but this was a disappointing blow. However, it is being addressed admirably by Tony Reeves, the current Chief Executive of Liverpool City Council. He has helped to expose the previous less scrupulous practices and promote a more transparent and trustworthy platform on which to build.
One of the key concerns cited by UNESCO was the development of Everton’s new 52,000-capacity stadium on the waterfront. Its official address is Bramley-Moore Dock, who’s Wikipedia page describes it as ‘a semi-derelict dock on the River Mersey‘. It is a stones’ throw from Bootle which remains one of the most deprived areas in the UK*. Everton FC have jumped through planning and heritage hoops and will be investing over £500m in developing their new stadium - which will deliver an estimated £1.3bn boost to the local economy, create more than 15,000 jobs and attract 1.4m new visitors to the city.
It includes £55m in ‘preserving, restoring and celebrating the heritage assets’ and is located in an unloved part of town and what was the ‘buffer zone’ of the World Heritage designation. The main site was focused around the majestic Three Graces (The Grade 1 Listed Royal Liver Building, Port of Liverpool and Cunard buildings) - all remain standing proud overlooking the Mersey and adjacent to the magnificent Royal Albert Dock.
The area connecting Everton’s new stadium to that world famous waterfront is largely under the ownership of Peel Land & Property and their £5.5bn Liverpool Waters project - further regeneration and investment providing entirely new communities along the waterfront and a vital link between the city centre, the northern fringe and the new stadium.
Also in the mix is the Stanley Dock and Ten Streets Regeneration area including the Titanic Hotel, one of Liverpool’s most popular hotels and the Grade II Listed Tobacco Warehouse, Europe’s largest brick building and soon to be home to 538 apartments and 100,000 sq ft of new commercial space. My own view, echoing many others, is that whilst UNESCO endorsement was nice to have, this investment and regeneration will be far more wide reaching and directly beneficial for the city and a catalyst for future growth.
I would encourage anyone who hasn’t visited Liverpool to come and see it for themselves. I’ve found over the years that those with negative views of the city are those least familiar with it. It seems this can also be said of UNESCO who made their decision without setting foot here in over 10 years.
The overwhelming majority of comments on the removal of World Heritage Status expanded on the many virtues of Liverpool, far more eloquently than I could. The culture, history, architecture, two magnificent cathedrals, the waterfront, two world class football teams, two universities, an extensive talent pool, world leading scientists, the nightlife, the amazing people. Of course, no commentary on Liverpool would be complete without mention of the four sons of the city. The most successful group of all time and famous the world over, The Beatles still generate around £20m per year for Liverpool through tourism. The removal of our World Heritage badge will not deter the streams of overseas visitors hopping on the Magical Mystery bus to Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, The Cavern, the birthplaces of John and Paul - or, as one of my southern colleagues mentioned, Abbey Road…I pointed out this was in London and rested my case.
*For more detail read ’Liverpool Beyond the Brink’ - Michael Parkinson – a fascinating commentary documenting the key economic, social and political challenges facing the city today to ensure there is increased productivity, that the benefits of the city's renaissance are experienced by all the people in Liverpool in all parts of the city.