In July 2020, UNESCO stripped Liverpool of its status as A Unesco World Heritage Site. After months of debate in the city – would the loss really make that much difference? – the decision was finally made, with the reason cited as: “the irreversible loss of attributes conveying the outstanding universal value of the property”, largely due to new development.
Speaking about the loss of world heritage status, ArchiPhonic Architectural Designer, Allan Yeates said: “In practical terms, the loss of world heritage status hasn’t made any impact on my work so far, but I do think it will have repercussions for the city as we move forward from the decision. I think that there is a big risk that developers will try to take advantage of this as an opportunity to build on formerly protected land and this is what I’m most worried about.
“The developers are private companies or individuals looking for profit and there’s no long-term cohesive view to improve the area, which is often a risk with a lot of development. We have to trust the council to manage this through the planning system. That the council is under a lot of scrutiny at the moment, with government commissioners overseeing the planning department among others, may be a positive, with more stringent checks and balances in place.”
Speaking of the role of the architectural profession in preserving historical features and heritage sites, Allan added: “Who am I to say what are the important historical features and sites that should be preserved? I feel that as a country we are sometimes too keen to preserve and protect buildings and fix them in an arbitrary period, which then halts future usefulness. Historically, buildings have been built and then modified to suit the needs at the time. This then protects them as they are always useful. Having said that, I am glad we’re not seeing developers follow a Chinese model and flattening everything to build low-quality apartments.”
Considering the opportunities presented by the change and what architectural professionals could do to help preserve history and heritage and allow regeneration and preservation of historic sites to work in harmony, Allan said: “Ideally we could help to create schemes that are more sympathetic to their context and that work with the history and heritage of the local area. However, things like this can have an impact on profits, so it becomes about either trusting the council to better control development and draw out good schemes, or educating our clients to see the value in good design that can be hard to justify on a spreadsheet.
“I think regeneration and preservation can work in harmony. These sites have been created to fulfil a specific use that was needed at the time. That period in history has passed and now there is a different need. To me it feels like a shame for things to sit empty, unused and slowly crumbling, just for the sake of preservation of a short period in history. I think it’s much more important to find a use for these spaces that then means they will be looked after indefinitely.
“It’ll be fascinating to see how this pans out over the coming years, as long term it will probably be a really good thing for the development of the city. It’ll also be interesting to see if it has an impact on tourism and attracting people to the city.”
Views expressed in this article are Allan’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of ArchiPhonic.