Friday, 26 June 2009

Dresden stripped of World Heritage Site status

Dresden yesterday had its World Heritage Site status removed, at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Seville.

It has been on the 'in danger list' for some time, while UNESCO tried to work with the authorities to build, instead of the hideous traffic bridge pictured above, a tunnel, which would not have damaged the landscape of the Elbe Valley which was a major part of the Outstanding Universal Value for which the site was inscribed.

There was a great deal of discussion, but in the end it was felt that allowing Dresden to remain a World Heritage Site, after all that had gone before, would signal to other sites that they could do pretty much as they liked and not heed UNESCO reports.

So, the unthinkable has happened, and hopefully it may encourage others who thought that UNESCO was without teeth.

It seems to me that when countries put forward sites for inscription, they also agree to protect the Outstanding Universal Value for all of humanity. That Dresden did not do so is a cause for deep regret.

More background, an opinion piece by the Friends of Dresden in the NYT:

The Committee has said that if Dresden wishes to apply again with a different part of the city and fresh thinking, but with smaller area and without the bridge, it can be considered, but that's a long way ahead, if it happens at all.

Meanwhile, the draft report on Bath was published yesterday, making recommendations regarding what the city council needs to do to further protect the site and its landscape setting. The report indicated that had the Dyson Academy plans for the Grade II listed Newark Works not been withdrawn that may have had serious consequences, but they were so that threat was removed.

More on that here:

It's clear that things already built or given planning permission will have to go ahead, UNESCO can do nothing about those, it would be futile to try, regrettable as some are, but it will be interesting to see what happens with the next phases of the deeply disliked Western Riverside scheme, and the latest Park and Ride, given the recommendations made in the report. It's a pity that many newspapers seemed to think that UNESCO visits and then simply decides to remove World Heritage Status, and that because Bath has not had that removed it is safe. That may be the case for now, but it would be well advised to look at what has happened at Dresden, and get its collective finger out.

From the Bath Preservation Trust website:


Bath Preservation Trust has welcomed the decision before UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee today (25th June 2009) particularly with its emphasis on greater protection of Bath’s landscape setting and the call to revise the plans for Western Riverside.

Although the Council has described the report as a ‘clean bill of health’ , Bath Preservation Trust would encourage the Council to demonstrate their commitment to the promises made to UNESCO by placing historic environment and landscape setting SPDs into their plans for the Local Development Plan, by introducing article 4 directions for development across Bath, and to convert the many strategies and plans into direct policies and actions.

The full UNESCO Draft Report and Decision can be found here:

From the BPT Press Release:

‘The Trust is pleased that UNESCO saw fit to send the inspection team to
Bath, to remind the Council and indeed central government of their
responsibilities. It is now incumbent upon them to provide the resources and
the planning framework necessary to manage the World Heritage Site in a
way which secures its qualities for future generations.’


We still wait the release of the full report on Edinburgh, which was visited last November by the same mission team.

Meanwhile, despite the antics of the City of Edinburgh Council's planners, Edinburgh World Heritage Trust is ploughing on with its excellent work conserving, enhancing, and educating.

All the latest news in now on the EWH website, including the June edition of Director's Notes from Adam Wilkinson, which I now shamelessly nick and reproduce here.

Director's Notes June 2009

Last week saw the opening of the EWH funded learning space at the Museum of Edinburgh at the launch of the Old Town Festival. It was a simple and delightful event – a mug of coffee in the courtyard of Huntly House, attended by local school children, councilors and those involved in both the festival and the museum, and a fair scattering of other important folk. We were regaled with tales from the chairman (an 18th century equivalent of a taxi driver), then from our Chairman, Charles McKean, Councillor Deirdre Brock and Donald Smith, Director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

The learning space itself is a lively little room in the museum, well equipped with materials to keep your children busy and involved on rainy days. The immediate challenge will be keeping it well stocked and fresh. The longer term challenge is much greater. This is the first step on the long road to giving every school child in Edinburgh the opportunity to explore the World Heritage Site and relate it to their heritage. The next step will be pulling together an online toolkit for teachers to incorporate into the curriculum for excellence. Other steps are underway to ensure that the heritage and history of the city centre remains relevant and accessible to all Edinburgh, such as our support for the excellent Scotland Street Tunnel Youth Project. We’re excited by the prospect and promise of this grass roots scheme and look forward to seeing how we can use World Heritage Status as a tool for inclusion.

As I walked towards the learning space, my eye wandered on to the museum’s displays, including James Craig’s plans for the New Town. This is but a tiny bit of the mass of wonderful documents and plans within the city’s archives that are yet to be opened out to the public – another long term aim for us must be to encourage and enable this to happen.

These aims and ambitions are emerging as we define our plan for the next five years or so. This should be completed by the end of the summer and will give us a framework in which to flourish and take opportunities as they arise. One of these which is at present occupying us is the Energy Efficiency Design Awards. EWH’s conservation funding programme is a brilliant vehicle for bringing together disparate groups of private owners, and we feel that an important part of ensuring the building stock of the WHS is in a good state and relevant for the next 50-100 years is to ensure that once repaired it is as energy efficient as possible.

We are currently applying to EEDA for a grant to apply simple and replicable measures to a B Listed tenement in private ownership (previous work has been to tenements in the single ownership of a housing cooperative), as well as one or two possibly more complex measures. Whether we win funding for this venture or not is a moot point – calculations show that we can achieve a 60% reduction in carbon emissions from a building type classed as “hard to treat”. Changing perceptions such as these is going to be a major challenge, given the level of funding that Government seems willing to throw at the problem and the relative vacuum in terms of ways of achieving this level of reduction that are benign to the architectural and historic interest of the buildings. It is only right that we should be at the forefront of working out the best way of achieving such reductions.


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