UN: Ministers are ruining our world heritage

By Chris Hastings, Arts and Media Editor, Sunday Telegraph


The scene was described by Monet as "dazzling" and "beautiful" and inspired the Impressionist master to paint some of his best loved works.

Views of the Palace of Westminster could be "ruined" by a skyscraper

Now the Palace of Westminster has joined a list of heritage sites that ministers are accused of failing to protect.

A United Nations body overseeing "world heritage sites" is threatening to put several British areas on its Heritage in Danger List, a register of 31 historic places whose futures are in jeopardy, according to documents released under Freedom of Information.

The UK sites would join such places as the ancient city of Bam in Iran, which was devastated by an earthquake, and Manas wildlife park in India, where militant tribesmen caused huge damage.

The International Council on Monuments and Sites UK, acting on behalf of the UN, has condemned the decision by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, to approve the 50-storey Vauxhall Tower in south London.

Mr Prescott acted against his officials' advice and also ignored protests that the 600 ft tower would ruin views of the Palace of Westminster, just under a mile away. The council has complained to David Lammy, the Culture Minister, about three other high-rise buildings in London, it has emerged, and it is also fighting skyscrapers in Edinburgh, Liverpool and Bath.

Last month, it wrote to the Government Office for the South-West, urging officials to call in an application for high-rise development in the centre of Bath, which was granted heritage site status in 1987.

The documents show that the body also condemned the failure to hold a planning inquiry into the multi--million-pound redevelopment of Edinburgh, in contravention, it says, of the world heritage status bestowed on the city in 1996.

The proposed 50-storey Vauxhall Tower in London

It fears that the Quarter Mile development, which has already involved demolition of several listed buildings, will radically alter the skyline.

It has told the Department for Culture Media and Sport that comparisons can be drawn with Cologne, in -Germany, which was put on the danger list in 2004 after city authorities approved high-rise blocks near its cathedral.

In March 2005, eight months after Liverpool's waterfront became a world heritage site, the UN body wrote to the city council and to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, warning that plans for the area were "not acceptable".

Susan Denyer, the organisation's secretary, wrote to the department attacking the decision to approve the Vauxhall Tower development.

"The Government is committed to protecting the Westminster world heritage site and yet has allowed a development that its own advisers and planning inspectors said would be damaging.

"The commitment to the convention does not seem to have been any stronger than a commitment to a listed building that got in the way of any development. There would seem to be, however, a fundamental difference between a government deciding to go against its own systems of protection and a government ignoring an international convention that exists to benefit mankind as a whole."

Referring to an earlier meeting with department officials, Miss Denyer added: "Many of the concerns raised were related to the slight mismatch that seems to exist between official Government commitment to the World Heritage Convention and the way that commitment is put into practice." In a detailed report to the department, compiled in 2005, Miss Denyer wrote: "We believed it was essential that these schemes were interrogated at a public inquiry so their implications could be properly considered in the light of world -heritage.

"No one today suggests that World Heritage cities should never change. However, managing change comes with certain responsibilities and constraints."

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport insisted the Government was committed to protecting British sites. He said Britain had one of the most developed planning systems in the world and every application was properly scrutinised.

"Unesco will rule in June on whether British sites will be put on a danger list. But we are confident the Government's case is a strong one."

If put on the danger list, the Government will have to follow measures approved by the UN or lose World Heritage status.


The Giant's Causeway, a volcanic rock formation in County Antrim, north coast of Ireland

Durham Castle and Cathedral

The Iron Bridge (the world's first bridge made of iron) and the the Ironbridge Gorge in the town of Ironbridge, Shropshire

Studley Royal Park, including the Ruins of Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire

Stonehenge, neighbouring Avebury (one of Europe's largest stone circles) and associated sites

The castles and town walls of King Edward, Gwynedd

St Kilda, an uninhabited archipelago of volcanic islands

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire

The ancient city of Bath which has many Roman ruins and statues and beautiful Georgian architecture

Hadrian's Wall, built by Emperor Hadrian and was a northern boundary of the Roman Empire

Palace of Westminster, Abbey of Westminster and St Margaret's Church

The Tower of London

Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine's Abbey and St Martin's Church, Kent

Old and New Towns of the city of Edinburgh (dominating the city is Edinburgh castle, which sits on top of an extinct volcano)

Maritime Greenwich by the River Thames, famous for such historic landmarks as the Cutty Sark, the last surviving tea clipper, and the Royal Observatory, the home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Meridian Line, Longitude 0.

Heart of Neolithic Orkney, the remains of Stone Age villages in the Orkney Islands

The Historic Town of St George, Bermuda (Bermuda is a part of Britain)

Blaenavon Industrial Landscape - remnants of industry from the Industrial revolution

Derwent Valley Mills, Derbyshire

Dorset and East Devon Coast

Liverpool - Maritime Mercantile City

The other sites are New Lanark (a village founded in 1786 during the Industrial Revolution for cotton mills and to house the workers), Saltaire (another Industrial village similar to New Lanark), Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew and Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape

Last edited by Blackleaf; Mar 4th, 2007 at 05:58 AM..