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Edinburgh World Heritage/News/Liverpool’s loss of World Heritage status is a warning for Edinburgh

Liverpool’s loss of World Heritage status is a warning for Edinburgh

21st July 2021

Edinburgh World Heritage

Liverpool has now been stripped of its World Heritage status following a vote by the World Heritage Committee at a meeting in China. UNESCO previously had cited the “serious deterioration and irreversible loss of attributes” caused by new waterfront development within Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City World Heritage Site as the reason. We believe this represents a loss for the people of Liverpool, for the UK, and for the entire  international community.

The site in Liverpool is made up of six different locations that are home to some of the city’s most important landmarks such as the Cunard Building, the Liver Building, St. George’s Hall, the Victoria Tower, and the Albert Dock warehouses. In 2012, the site was added to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger due to a flurry of new construction and proposed developments, which would harm the Outstanding Universal Value in the immediate area, including the planned Liverpool Waters scheme, and carried out against the recommendations of heritage advisors.

What are the implications for Edinburgh?

In 2015, a visit was made by ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites) to Edinburgh. They subsequently raised concerns regarding a cluster of developments. This resulted in a formal letter from Mechtild Rossler, Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and the Heritage Division. However, despite the large amount of new development in and around the Old and New Towns, Edinburgh’s World Heritage status is not under imminent threat. The recent decision to stop the plan to transform the Old Royal High School into a luxury hotel has confirmed that new development that threatens the heritage value of the site will not be permitted. We are encouraged that more recent development projects, such as the plan for the vacant area behind Jury’s Inn in the Old Town, show more respect for the context and authenticity of the site.

The fate of Liverpool does however throw up some important lessons for Edinburgh.

  • All decision makers in the city, including local communities, the city council and heritage organisations, must remain vigilant in order to protect our precious city – not only our iconic buildings, but also our skyline, public realm, green space, and the communities that live and work in the Old and New Towns. The new hotel at the St. James’ Quarter has certainly raised eyebrows, and has altered our skyline significantly. The recent proposals, such as the approved new rooftop extension for Debenhams on Princes Street are a further reminder that little-by-little, new development can encroach and threaten the heritage value of Edinburgh. Through our role in advising the city on the impact of new development on the World Heritage Site, we hope to prevent any further erosion of this heritage value through enabling new, sensitive development that we can all be proud of.
  • At the same time, we need to ensure that the value and benefits of our World Heritage status are seen and enjoyed by everyone. This was clearly not the case in Liverpool, where the majority of elected members of the council favoured development over conservation. In Edinburgh, our status as one of the most beautiful historic cities in Europe is a major driver of economic growth, as well as a cause of daily pleasure and pride for its residents. We do not believe this needs to be sacrificed for any short-term financial gain.
  • We also need to address the challenges Edinburgh faces with heritage being part of the solution rather being perceived as a barrier, or a problem to be fixed. Whether this relates to issues around climate change, the visitor economy, or the high levels of inequality in the city, we believe that the city’s World Heritage status can be a force for good, which help us, alongside our city partners, develop long-term solutions that will benefit everyone.

We are saddened by the expected loss of Liverpool’s World Heritage status, and together with our partners we remain committed to protecting Edinburgh’s World Heritage status and the benefits it beings to the city and its people.

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