Since 2012, Liverpool has been placed by Unesco on the “danger list” with the threat of removal as a World Heritage Site. Should Everton plan on not being constrained by the threat of the city losing that status?
How long have Unesco been threatening to remove World Heritage Site status from the Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City?
The answer is almost half the time we’ve “enjoyed” the status. Granted in 2004, it “reflects the role of Liverpool as the supreme example of a commercial port at the time of Britain’s greatest global influence.” Yet, despite this glowing and accurate reference, much of the river-facing site (predominantly Liverpool Waters) remains derelict and, since 2012, we’ve been placed by the issuing body (Unesco) on the “danger list” with the threat of removal.
It’s clear to anyone who has lived, worked, have family connections, or have visited the City of Liverpool, how important the River Mersey, the docks, the commercial district and other historic areas of the city centre are – not only to the City of Liverpool today, but historically our nation, our former Empire, the industrial revolution, and the development of global trade.
It is there for all to see, even in its haphazardly partially redeveloped, partially restored, partially still abandoned state. Beyond that, there are huge expanses that are currently not visible or accessible to the public. For many years, most of the dock area has been largely sealed off. Hidden behind a Grade II listed wall, privately owned and – with the exception of the Albert Dock, Pier Head and Princess Dock – largely derelict.
As a result of our World Heritage Site status, it can be argued that the regeneration and economic development of the City and the region is less than it should have been.
The reasons for that are numerous yet significant, a perfect storm of private ownership, indecisive local authorities, a disinterested national Government, an absence of interested developers, a reluctant freeholder... and yes, the limiting factors of World Heritage Site status. Apparent from all is the ineffective role of each of the stakeholders, all with predominantly narrow self-interest apparently over-riding mutual benefit, and the greater good.
The singular missing component to the equation is leadership and common purpose. It should be possible to marry regeneration, redevelopment, public and private interests, and the protection and enhancement of heritage – even through the eyes of a distant global regulator (Unesco) symbiotically, each benefiting from – and recognising the benefit to – each other.
Looking at the correspondence between parties since 2012, the tone in both Unesco’s reports and the counters by the principals of the heritage site, demonstrate over the years, game playing and increasing mistrust.
Objective inspection of the Unesco report points to their disapproval of the behaviour of both Liverpool City Council and Peel Holdings as owners of Liverpool Waters. There’s clearly dismay from Unesco as to the ability to receive timely and relevant information in line with previous commitments. Their conclusion is that such does not allow Unesco to make the assessments it believes it is required to do.
As a result, we end up not with a win-win situation (enhanced heritage and development) but a lose-lose scenario where development is hindered by doubt and poor decision-making, while heritage remains locked away, largely a relic in a storeroom rather than a living breathing example of what our city provided and enhanced the world.
We are a city historically renowned for straight talking, for having an opinion (rightly or wrongly), and for sticking by it. Humour, integrity, fearlessness, a willingness to go against the flow — these are all recognised traits of our people – “scousers” throughout the world.
Therefore, how can it be that we can be so indecisive about the future of our greatest historical asset – the waterfront and everything that has, does and will flow from that?
I’m an Evertonian and, as such, have my own narrow interest over and beyond the city of my birth. From that narrow perspective, I see a situation that currently reduces the potential impact for the city — and most importantly the club – of building a new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock.
Bramley-Moore Dock is at the extreme north end of Liverpool Waters and is actually in the buffer zone rather than the actual World Heritage Site. Yet it now appears from initial media reporting to be the principal cause of the potential removal of World Heritage Site status.
Albeit well known locally among Blues and many others globally for more than 18 months – and, I must add, by Unesco themselves from their previous and continued engagement with Everton Football Club – formal acknowledgement earlier this year of the proposed development of a new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock seems to have caught them somewhat off-guard. They, of course, will point to a failure of communication and due process by the City concerning the site's Outstanding Universal Value (OUV):
The headlines from the BBC, largely driven by the need for clicks, focuses on the potential impact of the new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock:
As responsible citizens and with a strong city/community consciousness, I’m sure the Board of Everton FC take into account the implications of Unesco’s views and, as a result, we the club modify our behaviour, our proposals and response with consideration for all parties – in this case the Liverpool City Council, Peel Holdings, and Unesco. Our (Everton’s) thought process seems to be one of compliance, to fit in with the greater needs of the community, the City and the regulator (Unesco). Therefore, it is natural to assume that compromises regarding the new stadium have been made to satisfy the wider needs of all, rather than our own narrower interests.
All of which is fine if it (i) assures planning permission for the stadium; (ii) produces a stadium appropriate for our needs; and (iii) generates recognition and approval from Unesco, Liverpool City Council, and Peel Holdings, the owners of Liverpool Waters. As such, the compromise should not only produce an appropriate stadium but also produce benefits to the club by recognition of Bramley-Moore Dock enhancing the heritage of the city waterfront.
Commitment to World Heritage Site status?
That assumes both Liverpool City Council and Peel remain committed to retaining the World Heritage Site status.
But what if either the City or Peel Holdings believe that World Heritage Site status is no longer (if it ever was?) beneficial to their own narrow interests? What if the calculation is that not having such status is actually more rewarding? Are we (Everton Football Club) making unnecessary concessions to something which may not exist beyond the date we submit our planning application?
Clearly from a planning and redevelopment point of view, the absence of Unesco and WHS status makes development easier for incoming investors, makes Peel’s land instantly more valuable, and from the LCC’s point of view, brings forward the economic benefits of speedier development.
What does that mean for Everton? Assuming we have made compromises and concessions on design, almost certainly cost and capacity, to meet heritage concerns, are these concessions indeed necessary?
The timing is tricky, of course; our planning application (which can be modified) should – according to the proposed timetable – be made before Unesco reach a decision (likely in 12 months).
Should we plan on not being constrained by World Heritage Site status? Do we stand the risk of being seen as the reason for losing such status without the potential benefits arising for LCC and Peel Holdings? Do we think it wise or do we have the courage to take the leading role if we believe it to be in our best interests?
As the title suggests, it’s time for everyone – Unesco, LCC, Peel and Everton – to be adults in the room. It’s time for honesty in terms of intent and interests and to recognise that, although the interests of each are different, they can be beneficial to all. It’s equally important to recognise, if not, a parting of the ways between Unesco Liverpool city is beneficial too.
To be fair, the club will argue (perhaps with some justification) they knew of the timing of the latest Unesco report, and that the decision not to publish images beforehand, and the timing of the second phase public consultation, was planned accordingly.
However, given where we are and Unesco’s public response, leadership is required from all parties – and particularly Everton – for whom the consequences of the next few months – and, in particular, the relationship with UNESCO and other heritage organisations – are hugely important.
The call for leadership is of course, a common and frequent theme on my writings about the club.
The next few months are critical for our future and require our owner, our board and executive team to pass the challenges with flying colours. They can do so with a clear strategy and strength of corporate character. The time for obfuscation from all parties is over.
All must be clear as to their own objectives and requirements, and communicate them openly and honestly, otherwise we risk a conclusion that does not meet the requirements of any party. For Everton that’s a huge risk.