09 Jul 2013
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The 37th meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee took place in Phnom Penh, Cambodia from 16-27 June 2013. No nominations from the UK were presented to the Committee but there were State of Conservation (SOC) reports for three UK properties: Westminster, Liverpool Mercantile & Maritime City, and Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape.

For all three properties, the State of Conservation reports were a follow-up to decisions made at last year’s Committee. Liverpool is currently on the World Heritage List in Danger, and both Cornwall and Westminster were threatened with potential Danger listing if progress is not made with implementing Committee decisions.

Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape
Two issues were of concern to the Committee – the resumption of mining within the boundaries of the serial property at South Crofty and the approval of plans for a large supermarket within another part of the serial property at Hayle Harbour.

The potential for development at Hayle to have an adverse impact on the property was recognised by the Committee at the time of inscription. The current plans were objected to by English Heritage and therefore referred to the Secretary of State to decide whether they should be called in for a Public Inquiry. Unfortunately the Secretary of State decided that the plans had no national or international interest and as a result Cornwall Council should be free to determine the application which they then approved.

The Committee report noted that the supermarket will have a high adverse impact on the ability of Hayle Harbour to display its role as the port through which much of the copper and tin from Cornwall was exported, and also noted that that was the primary reason for including the harbour in the serial property. The proposals would therefore impact adversely on the integrity and authenticity of this component part of the property.

In its decision, the Committee regretted ‘that the State Party has not complied with the request expressed by the Committee in Decision 36 COM 7B.94 to halt the Hayle Harbour project, and, given that planning permission has already been granted, strongly urges the State Party to halt the development of Hayle Harbour in the light of its potential impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property and to consider, as a matter of urgency, all possible ways to develop alternative solutions for smaller-scale heritage-led regeneration for the Hayle Harbour site that respect its role as the port and harbour for the mining industry;

It also decided ‘in case the Hayle Harbour development project is not halted and reconsidered, to consider inscribing Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) on the List of World Heritage in Danger at its 38th session in 2014.

In response to the decision to revive mining at South Crofty which would extend under the property, the Committee report stated that insufficient information had been provided by the State Party to demonstrate that the resumption of mining at South Crofty will not have a negative impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the serial property, and hence that the resumption of mining cannot be justified on the basis of the arguments brought forward by the State Party.

The Committee requested ‘ the State Party to provide updated information on the proposed mining project at South Crofty including comprehensive graphic documentation of the project and its relationship to the property and its setting, for review by the World Heritage Centre and Advisory Bodies, and also requests the State Party to halt any resumption of mining at the property until such time as the World Heritage Committee has been able to examine and scrutinize all of the necessary documentation’.

The Committee also approved a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM reactive monitoring mission to the property later this year.

Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey, including St Margaret's Church
Over the last few years, the Committee has repeatedly expressed concern about the actual or potential adverse impact of tall buildings on the setting of the property. Reactive monitoring missions were carried out in 2006 and 2011 and they focused on the need to strengthen the systems for protecting the immediate and wider setting of the property, which does not currently have a buffer zone.

The specific concern this year was the fact that, notwithstanding the objections of English Heritage to several tall buildings at Nine Elms, Vauxhall Island Site, Heygate Estate and, in particular, Elizabeth House, (which if built would in effect close the gap between Big Ben and Portcullis House when viewed from Parliament Square), none of these had been called in for a public Inquiry. In the case of Elizabeth House, the Secretary of State had said that the case did not “involve a conflict with national policies, have significant effects beyond the immediate locality, give rise to substantial cross boundary or national controversy, or raise significant architectural or urban design issues”.  The 2011 mission had considered that the development of Elizabeth House would be a crucial case for testing the effectiveness of the policy framework.

The report also once again highlighted the need to define the immediate and wider settings of the property in relation to its Outstanding Universal Value and embed these in the policies of all the relevant planning authorities. The Committee decision urged ‘the State Party to ensure that these proposals are not approved in their current form and that they be revised in line with the concerns raised by English Heritage;

It also requested ‘the State Party to strengthen its policy and planning frameworks to ensure the adequate protection of the setting of the property by defining the immediate and wider setting and view cones of the property in relation to its Outstanding Universal Value and by identifying adequate mechanisms within the respective policies of all relevant planning authorities to ensure that new constructions do not impact on views and other attributes of the property; and urged ‘the State Party to refrain from approving any large-scale development projects in the vicinity of the property until an adequate protection of its immediate and wider setting is in place’.

Finally it stated that it ‘would further advise the Committee to consider placing the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2014, should the foreseen development projects be approved as currently planned’.

Liverpool - Maritime Mercantile City
Liverpool was placed on the World Heritage in Danger List in 2012 in response to concerns at the potential impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property of the then proposed Liverpool Waters scheme a major, large scale development project that would stretch 2 km along the waterfront from Princes Dock up to Bramley Moore Dock and included proposals for a cluster of tall buildings within the buffer zone.

The Committee’s report this year noted that following Liverpool City Council being minded to grant consent for the Liverpool Waters scheme, the decision was referred to the Secretary of State in October 2012 as a result of English Heritage’s objection to the scheme and because of the scale of the proposed development. On 4 March 2013, the Secretary of State decided not to call in the case which means that Liverpool Council could now give formal approval.

In its decision, the Committee reiterated ‘its serious concern at the potential threat of the proposed Liverpool Waters development on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, and also notes that the implementation of the development, as currently planned, would irreversibly damage the attributes and conditions of integrity that warranted inscription, and could lead to the potential deletion of the property from the World Heritage List;

It also strongly urged the State Party to ‘reconsider the proposed development to ensure the continued coherence of the architectural and town-planning attributes, and the continued safeguarding of the Outstanding Universal Value of the property including the conditions of authenticity and integrity; and requested that a formal Desired State of Conservation (DSOC) for removal of the property from the World Heritage List in Danger be elaborated (as it also requested last year), and that Corrective Measure be set out that if implemented would allow the property to reach the DSOC that might allow the Committee to take it off the World Heritage List in Danger.

The 38th meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee will take place in Qatar in 2014 (dates to be confirmed).  The list of new World Heritage sites agreed at its 37th meeting in Cambodia in 2013 is here