The 41st Session of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee met in Krakow, 2– 12th July 2017. Deliberations included receipt of reports and making decisions on World Heritage Sites (WHSs) and the designation of new Sites. For reports and decisions, including advice to States Party, see: whc.unesco.org/archive/2017/whc17-41com-18-en.pdf.
The newly-designated English Lake District, a National Park, is safeguarded under UK legislation unlike many of our WHSs. The reports and decisions of the Committee concerning five of the 27 other WHSs in the British Isles are therefore deeply worrying.
Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City, under threat of high-rise development on the waterfront, is retained on the List of World Heritage in Danger for a sixth year. Continuing concerns were expressed about permissions and “inadequate governance systems and planning mechanisms” and a report on measures to reverse the situation was requested by 1 February 2018 which, if unsatisfactory might result in deletion from the WHS List.
The Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape was threatened with possible inscription on the World Heritage in Danger List unless stronger planning safeguards are put in place and more proactive efforts are made to ensure that current and future developments, including mining, do not compromise the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the WHS and its setting.
The Committee pointed to serious inadequacies concerning The Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey including Saint Margaret’s Church. Insufficient weighting is given to the Site’s OUV and to Historic England’s advice in determining when to call in an application within the property or its setting. The inability of reversing a planning permission, once given, was noted, as was the fact that HMG “considers the World Heritage Committee’s timeline to be incompatible with applicable statutory planning timeframes and requirements”. Details of major conservation works planned for the Palace of Westminster are called for “before any decision is taken or approval is issued”.
Despite progress in following the Committee’s advice on improved protection of the property, further specific measures are requested for The Forth Bridge.
Concerning Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites, HMG is urged to “explore further [A303 widening] options with a view to avoiding impacts on the OUV”, including a southern bypass and “longer tunnel options to remove dual carriageway cuttings from the property”. HMG is also asked to manage the timing of consent and other statutory processes to ensure that the World Heritage Centre and its advisory bodies can “continue to contribute to the evaluation and decision-making processes at appropriate stages.” A progress report is requested by 1 February 2018. HMG appears under notice that a road scheme that fails to meet UNESCO’s advice might result in another WHS on the “in Danger” list.
These reports and decisions point to serious issues surrounding the management and protection of our WHSs. Clearly, special measures are needed, since the normal planning processes demonstrate serious inadequacies and give insufficient time to fully evaluate and advise on major projects. With one WHS threatened with de-listing, another threatened with being placed on the List in Danger, and the possibility of a third being so listed next year, the UK is obviously not meeting its WH Convention commitments. Full recognition of their importance and meaningful statutory protection for our WHSs is urgently needed within our legislative heritage framework.