'Whilst the Mayor has taken years to stagger to this conclusion much damage has been done'

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson has set up a Liverpool World Heritage board in response to threats by UNESCO to cancel the city’s status as a World Heritage Site.

And he has appointed Sir David Henshaw, former chief executive of the city council, to head the panel made up of key city figures.

Anderson has told Heritage Minister John Glen of the establishment of the board in a bid to work closer with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to reset the relationship with UNESCO”

Critics have described the move as a U-turn by the mayor, while welcoming that he has finally “seen the light” in the value of the scheme which he is said to have previously dismissed as merely “a plaque on the wall of the Town Hall”.

For his part, Anderson blamed the impact of austerity for Liverpool taking its eye off the world heritage ball.

With the impact of austerity we have lost focus on communicating the importance of those benefits as effectively as we previously did​

Liverpool was inscribed as a WHS in 2004 covering six areas of Liverpool’s city centre and docklands. The award was made in recognition of the city’s global significance as one of the world’s major mercantile centres in the 18th and 19th centuries, and also for its part in the development of mass movements of people.

But the proposed £5bn scheme for Liverpool Waters, with its drawing of a Manhattan-style skyline, has put the city on a collision course with UNESCO who say it would fundamentally adversely affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property”.

This is despite the fact that no work on the Peel Liverpool Waters site, apart from on Princes Dock. 

Nevertheless, Liverpool is now one of only two endangered UNESCO sites in Europe.

David Henshaw and his new gang

Henshaw, who was the chief executive at council when the city received WH status 13 years ago, is also chairman of Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and National Museums Liverpool. 

He will oversee a task force that includes Sir Neil Cossons, former chair of English Heritage, Claire Dove, chief executive of Blackburn House Group, and a number of profs such as Gerald Pillay, vice chancellor of Hope University; Michael Parkinson, associate pro vice chancellor for civic engagement of the University of Liverpool and John Belchem, emeritus professor at the University of Liverpool, who has voiced severe criticism of Liverpool's regeneration efforts.  More appointments are promised in the coming weeks.

The move follows the annual summit of Unesco which has recommend that it looks at whether to “delete” Liverpool from its World Heritage list at its next summit in July 2018.

In the letter to the minister, who recently visited Liverpool to discuss the WHS issue, Mayor Anderson says: “We greatly value World Heritage Status and recognise that it brings huge benefits in terms of the city’s economy, identity and self-esteem.

“With the impact of austerity we have lost focus on communicating the importance of those benefits as effectively as we previously did. 

“I welcome the UNESCO challenge as it will enable us to highlight all the city’s achievements and re-energise the heritage agenda which has been less visible than I would have liked. 

“I have established a Liverpool World Heritage Board to review our position, involve all the city stakeholders and engage directly with UNESCO with objective or reaching agreement on the way forward. 

“With the support and input of the DCMS I am sure this approach can ensure Liverpool’s World Heritage Status is secured.”

20170619 Liverpool Waters Princes Dock Waterfront
The concept of Peel's Liverpool Waters put the city on Unesco's World Heritage danger list

The council said in a statement the creation of the board comes as the state of conservation within Liverpool’s Maritime Mercantile City WHS is at an all-time high.

“A new survey has shown that almost £750m has been invested into historic assets within the UNESCO approved site including the upgrade of 37 listed buildings since 2012, 18 with council financial assistance, such as the Aloft Hotel, the award-winning Central Library and Stanley Dock.”

But when UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee met earlier this year members from around the world were scathing about Liverpool’s World Heritage Site.

Liverpool City Council’s cabinet has also endorsed a new WHS management plan to further enhance conversation efforts and visitor appeal.

Echoing Anderson’s words, Henshaw said: “Liverpool’s track record in preserving its unique heritage is beyond question. What has been unfortunate is that the need for economic growth and job creation has clouded the fact that heritage is actually a key ingredient in achieving those goals.

“Liverpool has achieved a huge amount since 2004 in investing in its historic assets but has somewhere along the way failed to demonstrate how this is shaping the city’s future.

“I’m delighted to have been asked to chair this new board and look forward to working with our partners, both in the city and in Government, to achieve a new understanding with UNESCO and show how the city can address the concerns it has raised. As the Mayor has said, this is a huge opportunity for Liverpool to showcase why its World Heritage Status is an asset and how it is being utilised to engineer new investment and growth.”

Critics, meanwhile, while welcoming the move, described it as a u-turn by the mayor.

Lib Dem leader Cllr Richard Kemp said: “After six years attacking us Joe Anderson has finally realised the importance of our World Heritage Status.  In 2011 the Labour Party put out a newspaper throughout the City which criticised me personally and the Lib Dems generally for defending the World Heritage Status gained by the Lib Dems in 2006. They claimed it would cost the City 6,000+ jobs because we were threatening the Liverpool Waters development (what development you might ask!). 

 “Mayor Anderson described it then and used the expression many times in attacks on us as, ‘just a plaque on the wall in the Town Hall’.”

"We welcome his U-turn because now, faced with the reality of losing the status he has seen the light. 

He went on: “But whilst the Mayor has taken years to stagger to this conclusion much damage has been done. 

"We have allowed too much low-quality, high rise building in our city centre. Buildings like Heap’s Mill have been allowed to deteriorate. Our Lime Street area has been ruined by the inappropriate development taking place there."