Liverpool’s new heritage chief has insisted the city does “not need” Unesco world heritage status – but said he was still considering a fresh effort to reclaim its once-cherished title.
Alan Smith, Liverpool’s head of heritage preservation and development, said that being stripped of the mantle had “no impact at all” on visitor numbers, but that he was keen to get it back.
“We don’t need it. We’d love it. It’s a reputation for them; it’s a reputation for us. So surely [Unesco] need to have an 11th-hour think about these things,” he said.
Liverpool became only the third place in nearly 50 years to lose its world heritage status when Unesco concluded that years of development had led to an “irreversible loss” to the historical value of its Victorian docks.
The UN agency said developments such as Liverpool Waters, a £5.5bn Peel Group project, had led to a “serious deterioration” of the area’s outstanding universal value along with “significant loss to its authenticity and integrity”.
Smith criticised the decision as “naive” and said it was “unfair” of Unesco to judge Liverpool’s world heritage site by the same criteria as other cultural treasures that do not face the same challenges as major cities.
He said the move had not dented Liverpool’s “staggeringly good” cultural appeal and that losing its international title had “no impact at all” on visitor numbers. The occupancy level of city centre hotels was 81% in August, the highest since October 2019, according to the council, with nearly as many rooms sold this summer as in the previous eight months.
Smith, who previously managed the Grade I-listed St George’s Hall and Liverpool town hall, said that “no labels are needed because we don’t need to know how good we are as a city”.
Despite the bullish approach, however, he admitted that the city was considering making a scaled-down effort to place the Three Graces and St George’s Hall on Unesco’s world heritage list.
The four buildings – nicknamed “the fab four” by some – were part of the original world heritage site but were not specifically singled out for criticism during nearly 10 years of sometimes-fractious talks with Unesco heritage officers.
The Three Graces is the name given to the trio of historic structures that line Liverpool’s Pier Head waterfront – the Royal Liver building, Cunard building and Port of Liverpool building – which were built between 1904 and 1917 as a sign of the city’s international prestige as a major trading port.
Smith said talks about submitting a fresh application were under way. It is understood that Historic England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have not yet been approached by Liverpool about such an application but that they would if one went ahead.
“It’s up to Unesco if they want us to be a red line through their list of beautiful sites across the world. Personally I would look to arbitrate; they should come back and take our offer and reduce [the size of the site] down,” he said.
“If it was down to me, I’d do the Three Graces and St George’s Hall – they’re world-renowned – but we need to consult within our team [and] within our city. [But] it’s key to say that we don’t need it.”