UK cultural landmarks such as Stonehenge could be stripped of their coveted World Heritage status unless the government curbs “ill-advised development” and protects historic sites for future generations, a Unesco chief has warned.
Dr Mechtild Rössler, the director of Unesco’s World Heritage Centre, urged ministers to “do everything” they can to conserve the UK’s treasures after Liverpool became only the third place in nearly 50 年 to lose its revered title.
Rössler said developers should be made more aware of the international value of places such as Stonehenge before proposing potentially harmful projects. 她说: “These are the most outstanding places we have on Earth. If we are not capable of protecting these, for me the question is what will be left on this planet?”
The intervention came ahead of a crucial high court judgment on whether a two-mile tunnel can be built underneath Stonehenge. Should the development get the green light, Wiltshire’s famous stone circle is expected to be placed on Unesco’s “in danger” list – a precursor to being stripped of world heritage status – in what would be another humiliating blow for Britain.
Rössler, a world-renowned expert in cultural heritage and the history of planning, said the UK government “should take into account the beneficial provisions of the world heritage convention and do everything to protect this heritage for generations to come because we are not protecting this heritage for us today.
“We need to ensure that the generations to come benefit from the same heritage we can benefit from today.”
Heritage bodies have warned that the UK risks losing its reputation for conserving historic sites because controversial developments, such as the Stonehenge tunnel and Everton’s new football stadium, have been allowed by the government in recent years to go ahead.
Rössler said she was surprised that Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, had given the green light to the £1.7bn Stonehenge tunnel despite the government’s planning inspectorate concluding it would cause “permanent, irreversible harm” to the world heritage site.
Stonehenge is “one of the most emblematic sites we have on the World Heritage list”, 她说, adding that it would have been “much better” if the government had discussed the development further with Unesco’s world heritage bodies before granting approval in November 2020.
She said the government must produce a heritage impact report by February “with a view of [Unesco] putting Stonehenge on the list of world heritage in danger”.
“I really encourage the authorities of the UK to get everybody together and to see what the best solution would be because the warning was made several times,”她补充道.
The high court is expected to rule imminently on whether Shapps’s decision to approve the Stonehenge tunnel was unlawful because it did not properly consider damage that would be done to prehistoric sites and thousands of ancient artefacts. The Department of Transport has said the decision was “correct, lawful and well-informed”.
The stone circle, which attracts nearly a million tourists a year, has been on the world heritage list since 1986. It would be the best-known cultural attraction to be delisted if such a step was taken, giving the UK the ignominious distinction of being the first country to have two historic sites removed from the prestigious list.
The UK’s plethora of historic monuments, which range from prehistoric sites such as Stonehenge to medieval castles and Roman forts, contribute billions of pounds to the economy each year and draw in millions of visitors from around the world.
Rössler, who has led Unesco’s World Heritage Centre for six years, said the decision to strip 利物浦 of its title was “a loss for all of us” but that the city’s leaders had failed to address its concerns for years about the Liverpool Waters project by Peel Holdings, the major developer owned by the reclusive billionaire John Whittaker.
“The warning was in 2012,” she said. “There was no feedback in terms of complying with the request from the world heritage committee to stop the situation which leads to the loss of outstanding universal value. That is the problem”.
Asked whether Unesco was concerned about the UK’s management of its historic landmarks, 她说: “The UK has all the policies in place, you have the institutional bodies … and management plans for most of the sites in place.
“However, I have to say sometimes there is ill-advised development. What I would like to see for the future of world heritage [是] that everybody is in the same boat. That includes developers to be better aware of what the values of the sites are so that projects don’t threaten the OUV [outstanding universal value] of these places. That is a challenge we have everywhere and we have it also in the UK.”
Rössler called for more financial support for the UK’s world heritage sites, which on average receive only about £1m a year from central government and often rely on volunteers. Unlike other countries, the UK has not established a national foundation to fund these treasured sites, as it is encouraged to do under the Unesco world heritage convention.
她补充说: “I think there needs to be more support for world heritage [但] in which way authorities are doing that is really left to the national authorities and to the local authorities.”