Heritage Rethink

Images of the fabled “undead” invaded my thoughts when I read that mayor Anderson had given the job of rebuilding bridges with UNESCO over Liverpool’s world heritage status to David Henshaw. Now, I am all for the Pauline conversion of the mayor to a begrudged realisation that our cultural footprint is something to be valued rather than belittled. His past comments have, after all, betrayed his limited perspective on its economic and political importance.

Of more immediate concern is the mayor’s apparently exaggerated faith in the abilities and acumen of Henshaw, and the cross-section of the local “great and good” appointed to help him, in dealing with the problem. Whilst I wish them all of the best in their task, I am mindful of Henshaw’s previous dabbles in development. Most recently, his leadership of the redevelopment of Alder Hey hospital included a controversial proposal to build a huge housing estate on land previously committed to parkland. The plan upset both local councillors and local residents, and was kicked into touch. Similarly, his proposal for a stadium on the King’s Dock was also rejected by both the then Regional Development Agency and the European Commission. The claim that the latter would create 4000 jobs was seen as bogus, there being no evidence for the claim.

Still, I am sure that he will be at home glad-handing fellow bureaucrats, whether locally or at UNESCO. However, Anderson should recall that Henshaw was the chief executive at Liverpool who finished the local government career of former council leader, Mike Storey. He was also the man at Liverpool council who erected a protective wall of departmental directors around himself, whilst he pulled their strings. Given the current precarious position of Ged Fitzgerald, the mayor might do well to ensure that Henshaw does not get too comfortable at Cunard Building.

Of course what is really important is the future well-being of the city and the region. Reinforcement of Liverpool’s world heritage status is a vital step in maintaining the city’s tourism offer, as well as being an international indicator of the city-region’s significance. Currently, the city is lagging behind in the competition for investment. Its name remains far bigger than its reality. That needs to change.

My view is that there are two immediate changes which need to occur to the benefit of both the city and the city-region. Firstly, I believe that the mayoralty in Liverpool ought to go. We have no need for three mayors in the city. I also believe that the current mayor is not giving the right lead for the city. Secondly, such a change would fit with an enhanced role for the metromayor, with a wider remit and wider powers. We need an integrated approach to the city-region. Whilst Liverpool is primus inter pares in the city-region, it is but one of six very different boroughs. They need to be brought together in hitherto unexplored ways, to the advantage of all.

One thing is certain. The catalogue of failure and controversy which has bedevilled the city in recent years has acted against the interests of both the city and the wider city-region. The dispute with UNESCO is only one example of this phenomenon. Similarly, the continuing Chinese whispers about corruption are debilitating to all those who want to see all of our communities prosper. Until there is wholesale change in Liverpool in particular, I can only see the city-region slipping further behind comparable parts of the country.

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