Our History of Neglect

Daily Mail (London), September 9, 2008 | Go to article overview

Our History of Neglect


Byline: Luke Salkeld

BRITAIN is failing to protect some of its most important historical sites, the United Nations warned yesterday.

Unesco, the UN's cultural agency, heavily criticised the Government, saying it had failed in its duty to conserve parts of the country's globally significant heritage.

The World Heritage Committee also raised serious concerns about the future of Stonehenge, the old town of Edinburgh and the Georgian centre of Bath.

And it claimed that it was so concerned about the Tower of London that it was considering whether to list the site as 'in danger'.

Although the agency does not have the power to 'punish' the UK by way of fines, the possibility of having a site officially described as 'in danger' could be hugely embarrassing for the Government.

Experts have also said it could have economic consequences for the tourism industry.

Unesco has told ministers that seven

British world heritage sites are in danger from building developments and that the UK is ignoring its legal obligation to protect them.

Their concerns include the decision to approve new tower blocks in Central London and the failure to move a main road running next to Stonehenge.

It has now asked ministers to write detailed progress reports for all seven sites.

The committee also plans to send inspectors to Edinburgh and Bath to investigate concerns that new building developments in both cities will damage their 'integrity' and their 'outstanding universal value'.

The agency said it 'deeply regrets' Edinburgh city council's decision to build a hotel, housing and offices despite evidence the developments will ruin the medieval Old Town.

The committee's latest report also accuses the UK of breaching world heritage site guidelines by failing to warn it in advance about the scheme in Scotland's capital.

Last month, Koichiro Matsuura, Unesco's director general, said there was growing concern about Edinburgh.

'It is crucial that its outstanding features are preserved and protected,' he added.

Unesco also said it is worried that the 'iconic' Tower of London will be overshadowed by Renzo Piano's Shard London Bridge Tower, which is to be built in the City. It warned it will place the tower on its 'world heritage in danger' list next year if ministers fail to honour promises to strengthen planning guidelines for the area.

Leading architects and conservationists, including Marcus Binney, chairman of Save Britain's Heritage, share Unesco's anxieties.

Mr Binney said: 'Heritage has taken a back seat to Cool Britannia and encouraging everything modern.

'We're now uncomfortably in the limelight for failing to have proper policies to protect our world heritage sites, and timely criticisms are being made.' A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which is responsible for protecting the UK's 27 world heritage sites, said it is considering introducing a protection bill, which will give all sites in England the same legal protection as a conservation area. …

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