The United Nations‘ lead cultural agency has unceremoniously stripped the British city of Liverpool of its coveted status as a world heritage site, ruling that new commercial development has robbed the port’s famed Victorian-era docks of their unique cultural and architectural value.
In a move that angered city officials, UNESCO representatives in a virtual meeting Wednesday hosted by China said that new office buildings and a planned waterfront soccer stadium had caused an “irreversible loss” in the docks’ historic significance.
It was only the third such de-listing in a half a century, officials said, and the first by UNESCO since Germany’s Dresden Elbe valley suffered a similar demotion in 2009. The waterfront at Liverpool, a famed port also known as the hometown of the Beatles, had been a world heritage site since 2004.
Massive redevelopment and the filling in of unused land had led to a “serious deterioration and irreversible loss” to the historic significance of the waterfront, Tian Xuejun, the chair of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, said in a statement.
Official world heritage sites, which include such celebrated sites as India’s Taj Mahal to Yellowstone National Park, enjoy prestige and bragging rights, the opportunity to apply for UN preservation funds and protection under the Geneva conventions from direct attack during war.
Liverpool officials sharply criticized the decision, saying the recent development boom had enhanced the dockside for residents while providing thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in new investment.
Steve Rotheram, the metro mayor of the Liverpool city region, told the Guardian newspaper Wednesday the UNESCO de-listing was
a “retrograde step that does not reflect the reality of what is happening on the ground.”
It was “a decision taken on the other side of the world by people who do not appear to understand the renaissance that has taken place in recent years,” Mr. Rotheram added.
One Liverpudlian tweeted: “The bottom line is, no one visits Liverpool because of UNESCO or their world heritage status.
They come for our football, music, culture, architecture, nightlife, shopping — and people. All of which need to be carefully preserved, and not by men in suits around the world.”
Henrietta Billings, director of the activist group Save Britain’s Heritage, expressed dismay at the UNESCO vote but said local officials bore much of the blame.
“It is hugely regrettable that this fine city has lost its status due to weak planning and regulation of new development,” Ms. Billings said in a statement. “It’s an embarrassment for the UK government as signatories of the UN treaty on heritage protection.”