How useful is it to be a UNESCO world heritage site?

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Palace of Westminster: Will this view be obstructed?

Yesterday in The Observer Jamie Doward wrote an interesting story about preserving UNESCO World Heritage status in the face of development. In particular, one of the UNESCO advisory committees is asking them to place an area around our parliament in Westminster on its endangered list.
Why?
Because it says that buildings planned for the area would threaten the views.
Doward’s article ventures to and from with the arguments of both sides; those who plead for development and those that want to Preserve everything as it is. He points out that only 962 places in the world have been accorded status and it is highly prized. But is it? It doesn’t involve the grant of any money but it does involve the “lucky” awardees having to maintain the sites and it restricts development. The main claim is that having the status encourages more visitors. More visitors means more revenues for the site which may mean more jobs and possibly more for the local economy.
But is it worth the status if it inhibits regeneration or new jobs for industries and businesses located nearby? Which would you rather have jobs and houses with fewer unemployed or heritage preserved? It’s an age old argument and the only answer is that both are necessary. If you build a skyscraper next to a status listed site and it affects the view does that really inhibit the listed site? The site is still there; it’s still being protected; people know it’s there. All that has happened is that a new building obscures it slightly. But if the people working or living in the building take more notice of the site isn’t that a good thing? More might visit; more might pay to visit or even become a “friend” to guarantee long term support. Should a preservation body – in this case English Heritage – be making comments on the surrounding area if the site remains undamaged and stands no chance of being damaged?
From the other side, uncontrolled development will have some impact but surely not the same level that war will have. Attacks on sites in Mali, Libya, Congo, Afghanistan and Iraq must surely be more concerning.

Somehow, both sides are going to have to agree where a line should be drawn and who knows how far apart the two sides are. If both views continue then the threat is that status will be withdrawn. But what will that mean? There are plenty of sites in the world that don’t have status and does it really affect them? Until UNESCO can come up with a more positive and stauncher reason to oppose some of this economic development, they may well lose the argument to their own detriment. With the annual meeting starting in a week’s time, the outcome could be important for all parties.

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