There is a recent spat with UNESCO over the designation of World Heritage Site status being withdrawn from Liverpool and a threat to do so if Southwark is allowed to develop tall towers. It is a one sided argument and an empty threat. As any parent knows the threat only works if the thing that the child values is being removed. So what if Liverpool waterfront, or the Tower of London for that matter, lost its World Heritage Site status? We would not see fewer tourists. We would not see a rash of new developments in the shadow on the Tower. I doubt very much would change at as our own heritage designations and levels of planning would not allow it anyway. WHS is a badge, a label and not a state of being.
A better balance between preserving what we have and allowing change to create cities that are liveable is needed. The Economist’s survey of Liveable Cities in 2012 includes only one city that has a World Heritage Site within it – Vienna. Admittedly it is near the top but all the others have historic cores and much built environment to admire, including heritage. They also have areas of preservation or conservation. Despite the feelgood factor of the Olympics, London slipped from 53 – 55 – last summers riots were the cause of this decline.
If the balance is too far in one direction and focussed only on the built heritage then we will suffer as a city and we as citizens of that city will suffer too. Liveability combines many factors such as schools, health as well as restaurants and art galleries, but in a World where the choice of location is increasingly flexible, and the money is concentrated in fewer super cities, the balance needs to be right. UNESCO is in danger of exhibiting the worse of the zealous fanatical heritage lobby with its single-minded agenda. England has the most demanding requirements for development; its cities have the most onerous of these. Before it removes its status UNESCO should be sure it would get the reaction intended.