Friday, 14 November 2008

UNESCO meeting

Today 12 members of the Planning Committee met the representatives from UNESCO who have come to form a view on whether the status of the Old and New Town World Heritage Site status should be retained. The two representatives were pragmatic and knowledgable - and were clearly impressed with Edinburgh's environment and architecture. The UNESCO representatives will prepare a short report by mid December which will be presented to the World Heritage Committee meeting in Seville in July 2009. That meeting will consider whether any action is appropriate.

It would be nice to think that they simply confirm the current accolade which the world heritage designation confers - but it should be remembered that this is nothing more than an accolade. Should they decide to place the Old and New Town on their 'at risk' list the Council must consider carefully how it responds. UNESCO does not - and should not - have any more power than to award their designation. Edinburgh is currently a world class beautiful city whether or not it has the designation.

Of course, the campaign to have UNESCO visit, and the attendant attention accorded to the visit has a negative effect on the city. The Scottish Government has chosen the occasion of the visit to announce that it will call in the Tiger development at Haymarket for a public enquiry - which, we are told may take as much as 18 months. The Haymarket development was passed by the Planning Committee in June this year after an exhaustive process. The further delay (in a time of recession) simply casts a long shadow over the ability of the city to direct its affairs, respond to changing circumstances and bring forward functional, innovative and much needed projects. It is not so much Edinburgh which is under scrutiny by UNESCO. It is the lumbering planning system which, in its handling of a number of large projects, is being weighed in the balance and found wanting. Delay, indecision and confusion abounds.


Anonymous said...

World Heritage Status is a little more complex than an accolade that UNESCO award. We, Edinburgh Council, Historic Scotland and the predecessor of the DCMS applied to be inscribed on the UNESCO list. They accepted our application to join and in joining we ratified the principles of protecting the Outstanding Universal Values as set out by UNESCO/ICOMOS.

The reasons for the mission visiting now were apparent back in 2005/6 before the previous Council adopted the Caltongate Masterplan (not your fault I know) but the Council and developer ploughed on regardless. If they had listened to the local community and other amenity bodies in 2005 they would have got permission far quicker.

CR said...

Thanks for the detail about what I called the'accolade' which, of course, I accept. The challenge, in a blog, is to cut through the complexities to the central issues and I have tried to do that without getting bogged down in detail.

The adopted masterplan was a very significant consideration in the decision finally made (by those of us on the committee) in that it was part of the due process. I am clear that there are genuine and valid differing opinions about the merits of Caltongate or the Tiger Development. The thrust of my comments is that we must have a workable mechanism - not to satisfy the differing views - but to take a decision and move on.

I confess I do not grasp your last sentence. But a key point is that UNESCO is not the arbiter of decisions taken here. As you make clear, we applied for the designation to recognise the values evident in the site. We can equally disassociate ourselves from it. As the UNESCO architect pointed out in our discussions, if you ask five architects you will get ten opinions. The issues here are far wider and than 'heritage' ones.

Thanks for being in touch

Anonymous said...

I agree completely that the issues are wider than heritage but the concerns of the local community and the economic future of the city centre will always have a heritage element to them. Edinburgh does need conference facilities but there is more than one appropriate location for them - the St James Quarter or Morrison St Goods yard could have provided the space and connections without treading on local peoples toes or the heritage issues. This was pointed out before the masterplan was adopted and was the reason for the objections continued/continue. Having a client and then carving a space for them in the Old Town is not the most enlightened approach. Had the scheme been scaled back even slightly (as other architects suggested to the developer) it wouldn't have been nearly so prolonged or costly.

UNESCO is not the arbiter of decisions but we gave them the right to comment on whether they think we are protecting the values the city was inscribed on the list for. I have a problem with the late date at which the mission has arrived but that seems to reflect a failure of the DCMS or HS notifying them.

I enjoy your blog and think it is helpful in making our local politicans accessible, accountable and human!!

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