T he UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage treaty was created in 1972.
By ratifying the Convention, countries commit to protecting and preserving the world’s heritage. There are currently 1,157 World Heritage Sites throughout the world, recognised for their exceptional cultural, historical, or scientific value. Within the UK there are already 33 World Heritage Sites, including Stonehenge, the Jurassic Coast, the Tower of London, Caernarfon Castle, and Skara Brae Prehistoric Village.
The designation of a World Heritage Site by UNESCO does not afford sites any additional statutory protection on an international level, but many countries afford these assets extra protection through the planning system. Furthermore, the majority of Sites are covered by other designations, such as Listed Buildings or Scheduled Monuments.
In England, this is covered by Chapter 16 of the National Planning Policy Framework, which emphasizes the importance of World Heritage Sites and other designated heritage assets. Local Authorities and Regional Assemblies can also create their own policies which protect World Heritage Sites within their own boundaries. For example, the London Assembly produced a Supplementary Planning Guide which sets out policies to conserve and enhance London’s World Heritage Sites, currently comprising the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Maritime Greenwich, and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Development management within and in the setting of World Heritage Sites is incredibly important, as seen in the case study of Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City. Liverpool became a World Heritage Site in 2004. However, the World Heritage Committee expressed concerns about the proposed development of Liverpool Waters, and therefore included the Site on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The development took place, and Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City was subsequently removed from the World Heritage List in 2021.
However, development within a World Heritage Site is not always entirely harmful. It can be used as an opportunity to improve the significance of the Sites through the reinstatement of historically significant aspects of the Site or the removal of features that currently negatively detract from Sites’ significance. An example of this would be the proposed A303 Stonehenge Tunnel. The proposed tunnel would remove the majority of the A303 road surface from the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, which would allow the public more access to the ancient landscape. Furthermore, the A303 currently cuts across Stonehenge Avenue, and the proposed tunnel would allow for this feature to be reinstated.
Considering the international importance of these assets, it is essential that heritage expertise and consultation is sought as early in the planning process as possible. As required by the NPPF, Historic Environment Desk-Based Assessments can be produced which identify any potential development impacts on the significance of these assets, as well as potential for enhancement of assets through sensitive design. At Fuller Long, we have the technical expertise to provide you with this service, so please do get in contact with us. We would be happy to help.