Will Joe Anderson’s philistine behaviour cost us World Heritage Status?

This use of West Waterloo Dock has provided new life for old buildings although this is partly threatened by inappropriate new development. (photo by John Bradley)

For more than a decade Joe Anderson talked down one of our greatest assets – the World Heritage Status that was gained in the first decade of the century (2004). He said it was just a plaque on the wall in the Town Hall. He painted a false choice. It was progress or preservation; new buildings or old; heritage or jobs. None of these dichotomies was correct. The way for forward for Liverpool must be to use of unique cultural assets to provide anew future for our City.

So often over the last decade I and a few other people who were desperate to save our heritage was attacked by Anderson and were portrayed as people who want to preserve the old at the expense of new jobs and opportunities. Nothing could have been further from the truth then or now. As I look round the best cities in the world, they are places where the old has been combined with the new to provide a unique ambience which people want to visit, live in and invest in.

Now Joe’s chickens are coming home to roost. A meeting will take place tomorrow in which our World Heritage Status could be stripped from us linking us with just 3 other places which have had this grave dishonour. As a desperate last-ditch attempt to stop this happening Liverpool’s great and good have come together to plead with UNESCO to give us another year to try and make amends and they are making extravagant claims about what they have achieved in the last decade to preserve our heritage. I have to ask where Steve Rotheram has been for the last decade as either an MP or the Regional Mayor. I can’t recall him standing up for our heritage during the infamous reign of Redrow Joe.

Unfortunately, the letter has an argumenta s thin as tissue paper. Yes, some buildings were saved but many have been destroyed or allowed to decay. Look at the revolting building on Lime Street which replaced the Futurist. The facade of the Futurist could have been saved to build on a unique set of buildings bounded on each end by two listed pubs, but we didn’t have the guts to insist on it.

Buildings like the Irish Centre, the Lime Street Odeon, Woolton Hall, Heaps Mill, the ‘Welsh Cathedral’ and many more lie abandoned and deteriorating with the Council refusing or incapable of acting to ensure they are given a new life.

Look at what we have allowed to be built. Poorly built apartment blocks in and around the heritage buffer zone which are already starting to show signs of decay and which will need major efforts to rehabilitate them in the depressingly near future. That’s just those that were built. For 6 years a major frontage which affects the Liverpool Cathedral has been lying neglected in china town and many other stubs of buildings exist which may never be built.

It’s not only scam developers who have made the mess. Joe was also in thrall to offshore developers Peel Holding whose tentacles spread across 500 companies, are led by a tax exile living in the Isle of Man and appears to have companies in tax havens globally. What Peel wanted Anderson supplied. Peel want what is good for Peel. They are capitalists, that is what they do. What Liverpool needs will also be a secondary consideration to people like that.

If UNESCO do give us another year, we need to show that we do, finally, mean business and we can do that by doing three things:

Firstly, we need an immediate review of our heritage strategy to strengthen our commitment to our City Centre, the buffer zone, all listed buildings and our 40+ conservation Areas throughout the City.

Secondly, we need to increase of staffing so that we can regularly check the City’s listed buildings and in the many places where it is necessary begin enforcement action so that landlords who hope we will go away are made to make decisions about the short and long-term futures of the buildings they own.

Thirdly, we can be tougher on planning applications that are in or around the World Heritage site. A case in point is the proposal to place a banal and boring development on the river front at Waterloo Dock and in doing so cut the sight of the old warehouses that are now lived in by hundreds of people from the river and help to destroy the view of one of the most famous riverscapes in the World.

This is important to us as a City. People come to live, visit and invest in a city for many reasons. They want to see their football team lose, they want to take part in cultural events, they want to take advantage of our great quality of life. Key to these decisions short or long term is a desire to come to a great and unique place.

Our past is an important part of our future. We have more listed buildings than any other City in the Country outside London. We have shown how, with imagination and, sometimes with public sector financial support our past can be given a new life which provides a richness of form and function which is a unique offer. An offer which differentiates us from Manchester or Leeds or Birmingham. An offer which will make people want to come here, for whatever reason, rather than go somewhere else.

In the 1850s our forefathers thought big and long term. In the 1950s our immediate forefathers built concrete tat, much of which has had to be demolished. Let us hope that in the 2020s UNESCO will give us the breathing space to define a new strong and unique Liverpool which says that never again will we settle for the second rate but will continue to strive to be the best of the best of the best.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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