UNESCO’s decision to strip Liverpool of World Heritage status might appear to have little to do with Wessex. Not so. Wessex is home to all or part of five World Heritage Sites, from Devon to Oxfordshire. One is described as ‘Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites’. That wording is important. It’s not just the stone circles that matter. It’s also their context and all it implies for understanding and appreciating them. This is why the Westminster regime’s decision to carve up the World Heritage Site for a road tunnel is all but certain to mean UNESCO striking Stonehenge and Avebury from the list too. If nothing changes, it’s only a matter of time and formality.
Liverpool were warned, repeatedly. There are precedents too, which those involved can’t fail to have noticed. In the German region of Saxony, Dresden was deleted, in 2009, after a massive road bridge was allowed to cut across the historic landscape, destroying the city’s setting.
‘Taking back control’ works both ways. Whether it’s the Northern Ireland Protocol or the A303, the UK government regards international obligations as non-binding, to be weighed in the balance and then ignored. In the first case, it’s discovering that EU sovereignty is just as real as UK sovereignty, which ought not to come as a surprise. In the second case, it’s learning that a prestige designation of global quality isn’t just a plaque to put on the wall and polish occasionally. It means having to do things. And, even more importantly, to refrain from doing others. It’s not yours, however handy it is for tourism promotion: if you make yourself unworthy of it, it will be taken back.