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Liverpool Stripped Of World Heritage Status. Will Stonehenge be next?

Liverpool Stripped Of World Heritage Status. Will Stonehenge be next?

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A “secret” United Nations committee in China has stripped the English city of Liverpool of its status as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Speaking with the Guardian, Liverpool mayor Joanne Anderson described the decision as  incomprehensible.”

An article in Smithsonian Mag explains that in “a secret-ballot vote held during a meeting in China,” 13 members of the Unesco committee voted to remove the city from its World Heritage list. BBC News reported that five voters opposed the move to defund Liverpool, and two ballot papers were ruled invalid.

While mayor Joanne Anderson described the decision as incomprehensible, we will try to comprehend what is going on here. How can a “secret meeting in China” affect the survival of heritage sites in the UK?

Was Liverpool Stripped Over Its Association With Slavery? 

Liverpool was added to the Unesco World Heritage list in 2004 for its premier position in 18th and 19th century world trade and shipping, and for the port’s legacy of innovating new marine technologies. However, according to National Museums Liverpool, Liverpool was the European port “most involved in transporting enslaved people between 1695 and 1807, with 5,300 voyages to Africa leaving from its ports.” But Unesco knew all this back in 2004, so what else has changed if the defunding is nothing to do with slavery?

Liverpool was once a key slavery port for England. (sas / Adobe Stock)

Liverpool was once a key slavery port for England. (sas / Adobe Stock)

In 2012 Unesco placed Liverpool on its ‘in danger‘ list after Liverpool Waters announced plans for a mixed-use redevelopment at city center areas of the famous waterfront. In February, the Liverpool City Council approved another major waterfront development project and gave the go ahead for the construction of a 52,888-capacity stadium for Everton Football Club. And it is here that we have our first sniff of the underlying problem.

The Opinions Of Outsiders Generally Stink To Locals

The Unesco/China argument is that the development project detracts from Liverpool’s authentic heritage status. This is based on the fact that the Bramley Moore Dock, which opened in 1848 to supply coal to sea ships, would be mostly redeveloped. Journalist Tony McDonough wrote in the Liverpool Business News that Unesco argued that the football stadium “would have a completely unacceptable major adverse impact on the authenticity, integrity and outstanding universal value of the World Heritage Site”.

On the outside it might look like Unesco are saving the day, but they are essentially dictating to Liverpool what they can and cannot do with this piece of land. There might be an argument if the area in concern was home to valuable docks, old machinery and the like, but it is greatly abandoned waste land. Thus, major Anderson told Liverpool Business News that she found it “incomprehensible” that Unesco, in a secret meeting in China, “would rather Bramley Moore Dock remain a derelict wasteland, rather than making a positive contribution to the city s future and that of its residents”.

The Dreaded UNESCO World Heritage “In Danger” List

How do we get from Liverpool being dumped by Unesco, to all the recent headlines saying Stonehenge might be next for the heritage-chop. In the same way a football stadium was deemed to be of not much heritage value to Liverpool, the controversial new two-mile tunnel planned for construction beneath Stonehenge is also proving to be a major problem for Unesco. 

The Guardian said Unesco s world heritage committee has told British ministers that Stonehenge will be placed on its “World Heritage in Danger” list. This is the same list Liverpool was put on, and while its name sounds like a great place to be, alluding to emergency funding pots, it is the last step to being stripped of heritage status. If you are on this list you are in great “danger” of being dumped, very soon.

What we have here is a high-level game of heritage chess wherein despite being warned by Unesco, British transport secretary Grant Shapps green lit the controversial scheme in November. Now, British heritage chiefs, and the thousands of employees who work hands-on protecting Britain’s historic sites, await the high court’s decision pertaining to a judicial review by campaigners as to whether the Tunnel gets built, or not.

Top image: The world icon that is Stonehenge could drop of the world heritage site.        Source: Timo Kohlbacher / Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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