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Cultural Heritage vs. Economic Development?

Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City

Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City was nominated in 2004 for its history that dates from 18th, 19th and up to the early 20th century. It used to be a major transatlantic port, used for the import and export of goods. Parallel, it used to be a centre for slave trade until slavery’s abolition in 1807 and a centre for emigration from northern Europe to America with nine million people sailing from Liverpool for the ‘New World’. It contributed also greatly to the maritime technics of the time and dock constructions.

The nominated site is discerned in 6 areas and around them there is a quite large buffer zone to ensure the protection of the values of the nominated site in case of future developmental plans.

However, in 2012, the nominated site was inscribed in UNESCO’s ‘In danger list’ and remains there till today. The reason is the proposed development of a project named ‘Liverpool Waters’. This project, according to UNESCO, is threatening the site’s Outstanding Universal Value.

Five semi-structured interviews were carried out with people living and working in Liverpool. Four were male, three working for a tour company (I1,I2,I3), one student (I4) and a librarian (I5).

All interviewees were aware of the existence of the UNESCO label and all named either the waterfront as a whole or specific buildings or a specific area at the waterfront as the nominated area. To all was clear though that it was not the city as a whole that carries the label, but a part of it.

Liverpool’s citizens name the three breathtaking buildings at the Pier Head collectively as the 'Three Graces' (Port of Liverpool Building, Cunard Building and Royal Liver Building). The modern buildings, which got constructed within the past two decades beneath them, are called the 'Three Disgraces' (The Liverpool Museum, the Mann Islands Buildings and the Ferry Terminal).

When asked to express an opinion on the role of the label for the city, most interviewees hesitate to answer. Approximately half of them don’t believe it plays any or a significant role and the other half, that it played small or some role in boosting tourism and getting publicity. According to I1, in the citizens’ everyday life such a fact plays no role, but citizens like to boast when it comes to comparison with other cities or nominated sites.

Not all interviewees knew that Liverpool – MMC is currently inscribed in the ‘In Danger List’ with a possibility of being deprived of its UNESCO label. The two tour guides (I1, I3) knew and had a clear personal view on the topic, I2 needed some prompt to remember it, I4 had no clue and I5 connected it without much effort with the ongoing discussion about the developmental plans at the waterfront.

Various opinions were supported for and against the Liverpool City Council, as well as the UNESCO committee. All interviewees supported that politics play a role in every decision taken.

The data about a possible removal of the UNESCO label and the beliefs on the future outcome show an interesting tendency. Hesitation about the label remaining to the city is expressed by I2 and I4; a person living and working temporarily in Liverpool and a student accordingly. In other words, people that live in Liverpool for years, are those that reject emphatically the possibility that such a negative outcome is possible. At the same time, these are the very same people that deny that a label removal would have an impact or any impact on the city.



Liverpool City Council (2003). Nomination of Liverpool - Maritime Mercantile City for Inscription on the World Heritage List, [online] http://whc.unesco.org/uploads/nominations/1150.pdf [14.06.2017]

Liverpool Waters (2017). Liverpool Waters, [online] http://www.liverpoolwaters.co.uk/ [28.06.2017]

Rodwell, Dennis (2014). Negative impacts of World Heritage Branding: Liverpool - an unfolding tragedy?, in: Hølleland, Herdis and Solheim, Steinar (eds.): Between dream and reality: Debating the impact of World Heritage Listing. Primitive tider special edition. Reprosentralen: Oslo, pp. 19-34.

UNESCO World Heritage Centre (1997-2017). Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City, [online] http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1150 [14.06.2017]

UNESCO World Heritage Centre (1997-2017). Nominations of Cultural Properties to the World Heritage List (Liverpool - Maritime Mercantile City), [online] http://whc.unesco.org/en/decisions/132 [14.06.2017]

UNESCO World Heritage Committee (2012). Decisions report – 36th session of the World Heritage Committee in Saint-Petersburg, [online] http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2012/whc12-36com-19e.pdf [08.02.2017]