Following a secret Unesco ballot at a UN committee in China, Liverpool has been stripped of its World Heritage Status.
The city had been previously warned that new developments around the city’s waterfront had resulted in a “serious deterioration” of the historic site, with principal concerns centering around the £5bn mixed-use Liverpool Waters development.
This controversial move – detailed on page 8 – has been panned by many, including the city’s Mayor. The docklands are undoubtedly of historic value, but large swathes of the land represent little more than post-industrial decline and urban decay, and are in dire need of renewing if they are to form a functional part of a city – one which is finally starting to see an easing in the decline from its historic early 20th century economic peak.
Liverpool is not alone in the committee’s sightlines. Unesco has recently confirmed that Stonehenge could be added to its ‘heritage danger list’ if a £2.4bn highway tunnel is permitted – though this at least has been backed by archeologists and perhaps should be avoided. Similar concerns have been raised previously in Edinburgh and Westminster.
It is clear that any site of historic importance needs to be carefully treated and its historic value retained to the highest possible extent. But, with the housing shortage as alarming as ever, if houses can’t be built in the place of old buildings or infrastructure beside relics, where should they go? Not in my back yard, is the cry of many!
To give them their dues, as the climate emergency becomes ever more dire, and tragic fires have highlighted the cracks in UK housing policy, the Government has taken strong strides to improve the regime in the near future – the Future Homes Standard and the Building Safety Bill are both set to markedly increase the quality as well as efficiency of the UK’s homes – yet, despite these commendable moves, the Government is still failing to answer where these new homes should go, and is far behind the housing targets it set in 2017.
The causes are a subject of much debate, but whether it’s strict planning laws, underfunded planning departments, land-banking, extensive green belts around big cities, or NIMBYism, the Government is far behind its 300,00 homes a year goal.
Of course, Covid has complicated matters – with the NHBC registering a total of 123,151 new homes in 2020, compared to 160,319 in 2019, though a recent post-lockdown bounce detailed on page 5 saw new home registrations rising to a 14 year high – but none of these statistics come anywhere near the Government’s targets. It is clear that innovation is necessary, as well as renewed focus from the Government, if the housing shortage is to be addressed.
Luckily, whether it’s building above car parks, building homes underneath gardens, or the modular revivals seen in our project report on page 38, there are solutions out there that can avoid tampering with our historical or natural treasures.
With face-to-face trade shows opening back up this year – from UK Construction Week, to CIH’s Housing, to the RCI show, (all previewed in this issue) – perhaps it is through a renewed and renergised focus that the real innovation needed to tackle the housing shortage can be found and implemented.
Jack Wooler, deputy editor