The UK is eroding its global reputation for conserving its ‘unprecedented’ historic assets, cultural bodies have warned, with Stonehenge set to be the next to lose its coveted World Heritage status after Liverpool.
The UN heritage body told ministers that Wiltshire’s darling stone circle would be placed on its “endangered” list – the precursor to its removal from World Heritage status – if a 1.7-mile road tunnel billion pounds was going as planned.
Heritage bodies said on Friday that Unesco would cast a “tougher spotlight” on the UK’s other 31 listed sites, including the Palace of Westminster and Kew Gardens, after Liverpool became just third place in nearly 50 years to be stripped of its world heritage. status.
Other sites that should be the subject of further consideration by the UN agency include Stonehenge, the New and Old Towns of Edinburgh, the Tower of London and the historic Cornwall mining area. , all of which have raised concerns about controversial developments.
Chris Blandford, president of World Heritage UK, complained that there was “low awareness at government level” of the importance of the country’s Unesco sites, which rank alongside international gems such as the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids of Giza. He said many were severely underfunded and ministers had shown “great reluctance to make the most of our World Heritage offer”.
He said: âThese are places of international importance. They are the best of the best of our cultural heritage. By the time we are outside [of the European Union] and want to be taken seriously internationally, why not use these incredible assets of such importance to help us do so? “
Unesco chiefs criticized the British government for failing to “fulfill its obligations” to protect Liverpool’s Victorian waterfront and blamed years of development for “an irreversible loss” of its historic value.
The Unesco World Heritage Convention, to which the UK is a signatory, encourages governments to create national foundations to provide dedicated funding for their cultural property, but the UK does not have such a body.
Instead, most World Heritage sites are managed by cash-strapped local authorities and have seen their funding cut since 2010 due to the removal of bodies such as regional development agencies. Given the financial pressure, many councils are under increasing pressure to approve contentious developments that negatively affect the historical value of their cultural assets.
A 2019 report from World Heritage UK, which represents the 31 Unesco sites in the country, said they received an average of just Â£ 5million each from the central government between 2013 and 2018. The annual expenditure government fees for the UK’s 27 World Heritage sites are Â£ 19million, compared to Â£ 70million for the country’s 15 national parks, according to the report.
Stonehenge is expected to be stripped of its status if the three-kilometer tunnel is constructed at the site as planned. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps gave the project the green light in November despite warnings from Unesco that it would have a “negative impact” on the historical value of the area. The High Court is expected to decide in a few weeks whether the project can continue after a judicial review by the activists.
Unesco’s world heritage committee told ministers that Stonehenge would be inscribed on its “list of world heritage in danger” – a step prior to the dispossession of its status – if the tunnel continues.
Barry Joyce, former vice-chairman of the UK’s International Council on Monuments and Sites, which advises the Unesco committee, said it was “rather shocking” that Shapps approved the Stonehenge tunnel despite the serious concerns of planning inspectors.
He said: âIt is conceivable that other sites will be put on the Unesco risk register, and if steps are not taken to mitigate or avoid the potential damage identified by Unesco, then it is all. quite conceivable that other sites would be removed from the World Heritage list.
Such a move would make Britain the first country to have more than one historic site delisted, dealing an embarrassing blow to its global cultural standing.
Henrietta Billings, director of Save Britain’s Heritage, said Britain was now in the international spotlight because of its ‘delegate and forget’ approach to its cultural gems. âThe world is watching how we manage World Heritage. Britain had a reputation for exceptional planning and conservation and the real concern is that we are sleepwalking in a situation where we are losing that. “
The UK’s plethora of historic landmarks, which range from prehistoric sites such as Stonehenge to medieval castles and Roman forts, contribute billions of pounds to the economy each year and attract millions of visitors from all over the world.
Joe O’Donnell, director of the Victorian Society, said he was concerned the government’s upcoming planning bill would weaken protections for heritage sites, potentially leaving more of them vulnerable to new developments. He added: “Unfortunately, given the combative and dismissive reactions from politicians to the Unesco decision, improvements in protection do not seem likely any time soon.”
Jo Stevens, the Shadow Culture Secretary, said it was “vital to preserve and protect these sites which are not only important parts of our national identity, but also vital for both inbound and outbound tourism. national â. She added: âIt is typical of this government to make sharp statements about our national culture while failing to do the basics to protect it. “
A government spokesperson said the UK was “a world leader in the protection of cultural heritage”, and the government did not agree with Unesco’s decision on Liverpool. They said: âProtecting the heritage and archeology of the Stonehenge site is a priority for the government and Highways England and we will continue to work closely with Unesco, Icomos. [the International Council on Monuments and Sites] and the heritage and scientific community on the next steps.