We know we’re on the UNESCO naughty stair (but what a stair. It’s got that beautiful worn patina of age, and is authentically vernacular) but it’s good to know we’re in great company…

The near-hysterical coverage of the recent UNESCO threat to strike us from their of list World Heritage Status sites omitted to mention just how commonplace this conundrum is.

Nowhere does the Echo, the Guardian, the BBC or the Liverpool Preservation Trust, say that, at any one time, UNESCO are threatening to withdraw their favour from dozens of sites across the globe. It’s just not that unusual. They practically hand these gongs out on comical elasticated string. Talk about the boy who cried ‘heritage!’.

The world, as John Barnes once sort-of-rapped, is in motion. World Heritage sites are always in a state of flux. At least those in dynamic cities are. They’re the Schrodinger’s Cat of attractions: in a suspended state of being and yet not being. When is a World Heritage Sight safe? When it’s wrapped in cling film and left in stasis.

Next month, UNESCO will vote on its findings, and send them to the council – this after a fact finding mission of the £5.5billion Liverpool Waters development at the heart of UNESCO’s ire. “This goes too far” said chief inspector Ron van Oers at the time. There’s a man who’s never seen Take Me Out, then.

So this will be the first major test for Mayor Anderson. In the meantime, we salute our top ten World Heritage sites currently on the naughty stair with us.

As we wait for the findings, let’s remember the words of Barnsey:

They’ll always hit you and hurt you/defend and attack/there’s only one way to beat them/get round the back…

Hmmm, maybe that goes too far. But we’ll do it for our city. Before they do it to us. Three graces on our shirts, and all that…

Istanbul

Ancient wooden warehouses in shocking state. Council opting to spend on new apartment blocks for poor people to, like, actually live in. It’s all too much. And that bridge proposal across the Golden Horn to alleviate the growing city’s congestion? UNESCO are livid. No-one touches their pristine horn and gets away with it. It straddles two continents, we’ve heard.

Mont Saint Michel

Plans to build wind turbines that could blight the spectacular view of this medieval island pilgrimage, crowned by an 11th century Benedictine abbey. UNESCO fart in their general direction. Handy on those stubborn wind free days.

Norwegian Fjords

Power lines across the spectacular Geirangerfjord have got UNESCO chiefs in such a mood it’s a definite nuls points. And, in a show of solidarity, they refused to sing Take On Me at the Christmas Karaoke this year.

Zanzibar Old Town

Plans for a swish five star hotel within the old stone town walls made UNESCO fact finders so cross on a recent visit they stole all the toiletries and left without paying for the in-room porn (which, to them, is Dan Cruickshank vinegar stroking an Etruscan vase).

Edinburgh

If UNESCO see ONE MORE WHEELIE BIN in Edinburgh’s Old Town they’ll snap. Honestly. And so help us, it’s gonna get messy. We’ve a suggestion: if they really want medieval authenticity, residents should throw their shit out of the windows onto the statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby. Ah, the good old days.

Pompeii

It’s a definite Up Pompeii from UNESCO. Talk about bad luck. First, the inhabitants of this idyllic seaside town get horribly burned and suffocated then, to add insult to life-extinguishing injury, UNESCO come along and complain that ‘visitor services aren’t up to scratch’. Call the cops. And get Costa Coffee in, pronto.

Nessebar, Bulgaria

The old town of Nessebar, a popular tourist spot, is being developed at too high a rate. Yeah, whatever. What has Bulgaria ever given us? Oh, apart from the only member of Ladytron who’s never lived here? Bulldoze it.

Panama

The Panama coastal highway (used by UNESCO to visit this historic district) is causing clear and present petulance to UNESCO. And that man who pretended to die in a freak Canoeing accident bought a flat there. That, understandably, was the last straw.

Victoria Falls

The falls, formed 150 million years ago, are in imminent danger, according to UNESCO, because of Zambia and Zimbabwe’s inability to draft up a Joint Management Team and an Integrated Management Plan for the site. Mass murderer Mugabe must be ready to throw in the towel any day now.

Lanzarote

This popular holiday hotspot is, according to UNESCO, a hotbed of illegal and highly offensive hotels. And we should know, we booked a last minute all-inclusive there last summer. Shocking polyester duvets, and there’s no way that was a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The nerve.

So yeah, UNESCO then. Quicker to anger than Kevin Keegan in a tight spot. And you know what, we might have angered the UNESCO Gods. But we’d love it if we beat them.


  • http://www.sevenstreets.com/ Robin Brown

    You know what would be good though? Peel said ‘yes, it’s reasonable that we alter our plans in a way that doesn’t detract from the first-class Liverpool waterfront so that the city can retain its world heritage status that currently acts on a brake to the city centre being carved up by developers who don’t give two hoots for heritage, architecture or the built environment’.

  • Scott

    I recently read that UNESCO tried to get the Tower of London to refill its moat for WHS Status. The City of London’s planners politely told them where to go, as they have done with approval for skyscrapers and office buildings round the Tower. There’s preserving historic environments, and there’s placing it under a bell jar and being surprised when nothing grows.

  • Tommy Burgess

    get on with building liverpool waters all that old dockland is a dump that liverpool people have been kept away from. build a new future for the many young people who are being left to rot and give them hope.

  • MatthewBlanchard

    @Robin Brown Well said Robin.

  • VapourTrails

    Heritage can be worth a great deal of money and jobs, so i do not think we should consider just throwing it away for the sake of Peel holdings. One of the questions that should be considered is the question of jobs and the figures that are thrown around for this project. If in the building of Liverpool Waters, all the jobs in construction etc, were to go to Liverpool people, then that would be a major factor to consider. However we all know that this will not happen, it never happens in Liverpool, so we could throw away a valuable tourist designation and get the crumbs. When people quote the job numbers to be gained from Liverpool Waters (or any other project), we need to ask where they get the figure from on the jobs count and who will get those jobs. Its very similar to Building Schools for the Future, who gets the job to not only build but also to design. It is surely not beyond Peel and Liverpool City Council to go ahead with Liverpool Waters and still keep the UNESCO designation.

  • Itz Nicko Timez

    How can they sell it on the cheap unless its been left to rot?

  • GaryKilroy

    If there had been a UNESCO 200-300 years ago we wouldn’t have a waterfront as they would have object to the city draining the brackish tidal pool that the current waterfront sits atop of. Every development in the last 20 years along the waterfront has been vigorously opposed by various groups on the grounds that the waterfront will be ruined yet it has never looked better. Lets get it built and move forward!

  • Mark

    Who cares about having UNESCO approval? This city has lived in the past for too long. They would never have approved of Peter Ellis’ two magnificent buildings or the Albert Dock. Liverpool and Wirral Waters going ahead sends out a huge positive message about the area and the investibilty of the north side. We’re not getting any help from the Government, they’re intent on making Manchester the economic powerhouse in the North. The buildings of Liverpool Waters will make the skyline even more iconic, like nowhere else in the UK, or even Europe.
    Hopefully transport links to the development will be improved though – ideal for a monorail/tramline.

  • Sir Duke

    Lovely entertaining article. But what’s the betting we won’t be laughing next month? UNESCO aren’t going to budge on this one, I fear. The real disgrace is that UNESCO world heritage sites are given out far too frequently, they used to be a mark of something truly world class, now any group of vaguely historic buildings can get the seal of approval. Keeps UNESCO in subsidies.

  • Rob King

    This.

    “If in the building of Liverpool Waters, all the jobs in construction etc, were to go to Liverpool people, then that would be a major factor to consider. However we all know that this will not happen, it never happens in Liverpool.”

  • James

    The work being given to Liverpudlian workers, wasn’t there something announced about this, as to a deal that was signed with Peel to agree that?

    Re “protecting heritage” angle – no-one has ever been able to explain to me exactly how having skyscrapers down the road (and actually quite some way) from the Liver Building harms it. It’s hardly as if they’re going to be boxed in out of sight. I can see no common sense in it. Just seems to me to come down to an individual’s taste, which hardly seems to me to be a valid objection to impose on a city.

    Unesco will say what it says, but I would be interested to hear as to how they became so involved that they visited. I would also be interested to learn how and why articles seem to appear in the national press about it every now and then.

    Have these been written from press releases? If so, who is writing/releasing those, what contact if any have these people had with Unesco, who else have they had contact with, if they have been in contact with people then what have they been saying?

    Certainly, if it turned out that the UK taxpayer has been paying (either directly or indirectly) someone to run some sort of campaign against a major business and redevelopment plan in Liverpool then I feel that would be worth hearing about.

    I don’t suppose the Mayor has any new powers to hold enquiries of his own?

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David Lloyd

    The Mayor would have powers to make a big difference by unlocking the potential of the local economy, shape transport, infrastructure and other strategic planning, but we’re not sure they could make UNESCO change their minds. It will, for sure, be a strong test of Joe’s mettle, if it should come to pass.

  • James

    My interest is not specifically with Unesco – after all, their decision is not about whether this can go ahead or not, but whether we as a city still get to keep a certificate, and that’s entirely up to them. However, what does interest me is the potential net effect of that on any decision to “call in” the scheme (or scuttle it), and how this has come to pass, the journey to this point.

    What interests me is to wonder how exactly they got involved, and who, if anyone, involved them? What made them decide to visit? To wonder how and why articles about this have been getting in the national press, and who, if anyone, is behind that? If this has been co-ordinated activity by someone, how influential has it been overall, and on who?

    It would be something of a scandal and new low in my eyes, for example, if it turned out that UK taxpayers were paying for some kind of sophisticated PR or lobbying “long game” offensive designed to ensure that Liverpool’s redevelopment never gets off the ground.

    So, Unesco side-show aside, I would like to know – one way or another – has the war over Liverpool Waters been a “clean fight” fought honestly and openly based on genuine principles, or is it something else we need to be aware of?

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin Brown

    Liverpool City Council asked to be considered as a World Heritage Site, laid out the arguments for becoming a World Heritage Site and set the parameters for which bits of Liverpool should be considered as World Heritage Sites.

    UNESCO agreed and everyone was happy, which must have had UNESCO scratching their collective heads a few years later that Liverpool City Council wants to wave through developments that make the delisting of Liverpool as a World Heritage Site fairly likely.

    UNESCO disseminates its news like any organisation – it sends out press releases. I don’t understand the notion that taxpayer’s money is somehow being used to lobby against Peel. If Liverpool Waters goes ahead as has been laid out, UNESCO will have to reassess whether Liverpool still qualifies as a World heritage Site under the original frames of reference.

    If anything there’s a heck of a lot more lobbying against UNESCO and the current WHS status quo coming out of Liverpool’s business community, to whom the WHS is a royal pain in the arse that stops them building empty skyscrapers dotted around Old Hall Street, Pier Head and other such listed areas.

    There’s a lot of disinformation and unhelpful rhetoric over UNESCO and the way the WHS came to pass. More here:

    http://www.sevenstreets.com/talk-and-opinion/liverpool-waters-peel-unesco-whs/

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin Brown

    As an addendum, here what the council had to say on the subject in 2003, when it was cheerleading for the WHS listing. Number 4 is particularly interesting:

    How will Liverpool benefit from becoming a World Heritage Site?

    World Heritage status will bring major benefits to the city and even since July 2004, these are beginning to be felt:

    1. Pride. The international seal of approval will build confidence in the future of Liverpool and should be a source of great pride. Together with the success of being named European Capital of Culture 2008, World Heritage Site status is generating new pride in Liverpool as a vibrant cultural and historic city.

    2. Image. Liverpool’s new image and status is crucial to the on-going regeneration of the city. Liverpool is now better placed to attract informed cultural tourists who are keen to see the tangible evidence of what justifies the honour of World Heritage status. High quality historic environments make interesting places to live and work in and will attract more small business to invest in the city.

    3. Funding. The enhanced heritage status is a powerful argument in any application for external funding for heritage and regeneration projects. A public pot of £4.5 million has already been secured for a Townscape Heritage Initiative for Buildings at Risk in the World Heritage Site and its Buffer Zone.

    4. Management. But perhaps most importantly, the Liverpool World Heritage Site Management Plan is a valuable planning tool in the proper conservation and management of the Site.

    http://www.liverpoolworldheritage.com/faqs/index.asp

  • James

    I understand all that, and as I said I’m not referring to Unesco’s decision, which is their own to make. As I said, Unesco is just about a certificate, not an ability to do.

    It is not Unesco I am wondering about, especially since they only seem to have become involved mid-way through all the hoo-ha about this. They have to do what they think is right for them, and yes they will issue press releases.

    What it is I am wondering about is if there are any specifically UK based groups or persons that have been networking, or lobbying, briefing newspapers etc against this? If there has been, how effective has any lobbying been, and who have they had contact with? If so who are they, and how are they funded?

    It’s not to do with Unesco or how important WHS is or isn’t, it’s to do with asking questions about transparency all round, about questioning how and why stories appear in a newspaper rather than just looking at the contents.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin Brown

    UNESCO monitors WHS sites and works with local authorities to determine whether planning applications threaten a WHS.

    If they do UNESCO states its position and releases that news to the press.

    The press use that information to form a story, almost certainly contacting the relevant parties – in this case the city council and Peel, who will make statements on their position. Peel have been fairly proactive in releasing their own take on events as far as I can see.

    That’s the process; that’s the journey. I don’t perceive UNESCO saying ‘don’t build Peel’. More of a case of ‘if you build this, you threaten the listing under the terms you asked to be considered’ – like a car manufacturer suggesting you don’t jack up your car on 30-inch wheels, tweak the ouput and install a woofer in the back, or you might invalidate your warranty.

  • http://www.mcqn.net/mcfilter/ Adrian McEwen

    Thanks for trying to bring some facts and research to the debate Robin. I’m disappointed in the original article – I’d expect better than joining in the divisive, all-or-nothing debate here on Seven Streets.

    James, maybe you should contact UNESCO and ask them how/why they got involved? That’d be more useful than repeated wondering about lobbying.