29 Jan 2013
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The ICOMOS-UK World Heritage for Tomorrow conference was intended as our contribution, (together with The Open University, UCL Centre for Museums, Heritage and Material Culture, and the Institute of Archaeology, University College London ) to mark the 40th anniversary year of the World Heritage Convention in 2012.  The 30th anniversary was celebrated by just one main event – 200 people gathered in a flooded Venice in November 2002.  The 40th anniversary could not have been more different.  There were two formal events in February and November 2012 in Japan, hosted by the State Party, but what characterised the 40th anniversary year has been the dozens of events organised round the world at different levels, including this conference.

The aim of the day was to stand back, understand where the Convention had come from, and look at current initiatives and what opportunities World Heritage presented for the next decade.  We had a full complement of delegates in the lecture hall at UCL, many of whom, with the speakers, had come from some distance for the conference, including Shetland, Northern Ireland, Edinburgh, Wales, Montreal, Paris, Norway, Qatar and Hong Kong.  Around half were ICOMOS-UK members, and there was an enthusiastic contingent of students keen to learn about the reality of World Heritage and how it worked outside the classroom.  Discussions at tea and lunch breaks were animated and long-lasting, indicating perhaps that there are too few opportunities in the UK to debate the wider issues around World Heritage.

Baroness Andrews, Chair of English Heritage, started the proceedings with an overview of heritage in the UK.  She was followed by Professor Christina Cameron from the University of Montreal, Canada, who, among her many achievements, is the only person to have chaired the UNESCO World Heritage Committee twice.  She has just completed a book (Many Voices, One Vision: The Early Years of the World Heritage Convention to be published by Ashgate in May 2013) on the first 20 years of the Convention, based on extensive interviews with all the key people who were involved.  She used this and other research she has done to look at how the Convention had worked over 40 years as a charter for global conservation.  The first session closed with Susan Denyer, ICOMOS-UK Secretary & World Heritage Adviser, ICOMOS focussing on Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) as a reflection of evolving ideas of cultural heritage.

Marie-Noël Tournoux from the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, James Rebanks (Rebanks Consulting Ltd) and Adam Wilkinson (Director, Edinburgh World Heritage) all looked at the reality of identifying, managing and conserving historic towns or spaces.  After lunch Feng Jing (UNESCO World Heritage Centre) looked at how international collaboration had worked across countries for the Silk Roads serial World Heritage nomination, and Dr Kate Roberts, Senior Inspector of Ancient Monuments and Archaeology at CADW, talked about the Edwardian castles in Wales, including the new All-Wales Heritage Interpretation Plan, and how international obligations could be delivered at local level.  The final discussions of the day, chaired by Sue Davies, (Vice Chair UK-UNESCO) generated great debate, and many questions and challenges for World Heritage, particularly in the UK, in the future. 

Many thanks to all our speakers, and leaders of panel sessions, as well as our co-hosts of the event, The Open University and University College, London.  The Open University filmed the event, and, once editing has been completed, will put this on their public open-access website.