UNESCO, UN's cultural agency, on Wednesday stripped Liverpool's waterfront of its world heritage status, citing concerns about overdevelopment, including plans for a new football stadium, according to AFP. At committee talks chaired by China, 13 delegates voted in favour of the proposal and five against -- just one more than the two-thirds majority required to delete a site from the global list.

Tian Xuejun, chairman of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, declared the site of Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City is deleted from the World Heritage List. Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram called it "a retrograde step" taken by officials "on the other side of the world".

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Rotheram said places like Liverpool should not be faced with the binary choice between maintaining heritage status or regenerating left-behind communities.

Expressing disappointment, the UK government said it believes that "Liverpool still deserves its world heritage status, given the significant role the historic docks and the wider city have played throughout history." 

The International Council on Monuments and Sites, which advises UNESCO on the heritage list, said the UK government had been "repeatedly requested" to come up with stronger assurances about the city's future. The planned new stadium for Everton football club was approved by the government without any public enquiry, and "is the most recent example of a major project that is completely contrary" to UNESCO goals, it said.

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Several countries had backed the UK, agreeing it would be a "radical" step in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and urging more time for a new city council elected in May. A corruption scandal linked to regeneration funding had engulfed the old city leadership, prompting the national government to step in temporarily before the May local elections. Those who argued against delisting Liverpool included Australia, whose own listing for the Great Barrier Reef is threatened in this year's UNESCO deliberations.

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Norway in contrast said that while it was "painfully aware" of conflicts between development and heritage conservation, a "delicate balance" was possible, which was lacking in Liverpool. The prestigious World Heritage label can be a boon for tourism, while encouraging governments to protect cultural or environmental treasures. But addition is not permanent, and sites can also be stripped of their status or be warned they are at risk.

The waterfront and docks of Liverpool were listed by UNESCO in 2004, after an ambitious regeneration following decades of decline in one of the cradles of Britain's Industrial Revolution. The city also saw the departure of millions of Irish and British emigrants -- as well as African slaves -- to the United States and elsewhere, a history that forged what UNESCO deemed Liverpool's "distinctive character and unique spirit".

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But since 2012 the agency has locked horns with UK officials over development that has seen extensive restorations but also new construction that UNESCO inspectors say is overwhelming the district. It had urged the city to limit building heights and reconsider the proposed new stadium for Everton at a derelict dock site, warning of "significant loss to its authenticity and integrity".

The waterfront is also the site of a statue honouring the four members of The Beatles, the most famous cultural export from a city rich in musical history.