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Edinburgh World Heritage Site plans halted by Unesco

Two schemes planned for Edinburgh city centre face a two-year delay after Unesco passes strongly-worded resolutions urging Edinburgh Council and the Scottish Government to scale back plans

The plans for a 17-storey hotel at Haymarket by Richard Murphy Architects and a £300 million Old Town scheme have prompted Unesco to call for the creation of a ‘buffer zone’ to introduce strict controls over developments just outside the city’s world heritage site, which covers the Old and New Towns, and a robust policy for protecting key views in the city.

The decision has come as a major setback for the council who had managed to push plans ahead in spite of opposition from city heritage groups. Proposals look set to be delayed for a further two years after The World Heritage Committee decision to order the UK government to produce a progress report on its recommendations by 2011.

Decisions may have an immediate impact on the Haymarket scheme where “considerable concern” was expressed over its height. Still awaiting a government ruling following a public enquiry that ended this month, the Scottish Goverment have confirmed that Unesco’s verdict would be taken into account.

Irish developer, Tiger, insisted plans for the £200m scheme would not be scaled back.

Culture minister Mike Russell said: ‘Edinburgh has to balance being a city recognised for its historic legacy alongside serving as a thriving capital city. We will consider these recommendations when shaping how we continue to manage this incredible city.’

Gordon Murray, founder of Glasgow-based GM+AD, made these comments:

‘Recently Government Minister Liam Byrne warned “social justice means power for everyone not just those with the sharpest elbows”.  If the Planning process was felt to be undermined by the recent intervention of the Prince of Wales, then the current warnings issued by UNESCO must surely be a far greater threat to any local democratic process.  Bath has been “warned” about the height and scale of new redevelopment of industrial land on the perimeter of the city.  From my reading, Bath has long been a city capable of taking care of itself.  The travails of James Dyson are testament to that.  Now Edinburgh has similar threats where the development process is being put further under pressure by UNESCO’s authoritarian rulings. An organisation which professes to be:”working to create the conditions for genuine dialogue based upon respect for shared values and the dignity of each civilization and culture.”

A look at this organisation’s web-site reveals that it is a predominantly European phenomenon.  49% of all WH sites are in Europe and US.  Italy has more that China and Africa put together but then few middle class Europeans visit Africa.  The lack of accountability exhibited by this organisation is much more insidious than any Royal hand.  All based on the dubious value of the WH imprimatur as an enhancer of tourism. It also assumes that in Scotland we have no intellectual basis from which to appraise our own heritage.  With Historic Scotland, the National Trust and the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic Monuments, I should have thought us more than capable of assessing the value for our own  past and our future.

A few more cities need to take a leaf from Dresdens book and tell UNESCO to remember its original goal: to build peace in the minds of men.’

Readers' comments (11)

  • This is excellent news for Edinburgh. For more information see www.eh8.org.uk

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  • I imagine at least some of the council etc were hoping that this project would increase tourism as I have just read about the hotel. Plus the project would create jobs/income etc - all good, but - to demolish listed buildings? Im sure tourists visit Edinburgh (at least in part) for Historical Edinburgh plus ive just seen (at least some, i don't know how many) of the locals are not happy with these existing plans. Plus, I have to say, if the above picture is part of the proposed new build,??

    I hope it all gets sorted out as quickly as possible with alterations to the proposed plans so that jobs etc. will be generated whilst beautiful, historical Edinburgh with its people and environment remains authentic and intact.

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  • Of course, Gordon Murray and his sidekick Alan Dunlop have not much idea, but are pro-development and anti-heritage, and have loud voices and sharp elbows. Of course, both are in the development business, so possibly their ideas are a little biased.

    It's a huge pity that before opening their mouths and making fools of themselves again about UNESCO's supposed 'anti-democratic' stance they didn't do some research.

    Of course, this country could pull out of being signed up member of UNESCO (World Heritage) if it wishes, it didn't have to become part of it, but democratically elected governments have decided it is worth while. We don't have to put forward places to be incuded on the list of World Heritage Sites either, but we do. And we have signed international treaties to say we will manage those appropriately, for all humanity, for all time. It's not about tourism, although of course some people think so.

    Thr UK takes its turn to be part of the World Heritage Committee. Other countries are putting forward World Heritage Sites over time; another clutch was added to the list last week.

    Also, of course, both Caltongate and the Haymarket Tower were both passed against national and local planning policies, supposedly democratically adopted. Caltongate should have been called in, and wasn't, Haymarket has been. Those who will have to live in its shadow were very much against it. Caltongate in particular has a very murky history.

    UNESCO was invited by the Scottish government to visit and report. I think Gordon Murray might find many in the organisations he mentions will be very pleased to see both schemes scrapped. They do indeed know a little about heritage and how to look after it.

    He has no idea about Bath either. Dyson withdrew his plans for his Academy after the government called them in; the Environment Agency objected as they were against national planning policy which says schools cannot be built on flood plains.

    Then the government refused to stump up the many millions required, far more than for any other Academy, as it felt that on educational grounds, the plans didn't stack up. Two other places got the cash instead.

    Bath can look after itself? Is that why its ordinary residents raised such an outcry about the Western Riverside Development? Bath Council has lost its way in recent years somewhat

    But the truth doesn't make for a good rant, does it Gordon?

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  • Thirteen new sites added last week, three put on the Danger list, two of those at the request of the countries concerned in order to bring international help to their plight.

    http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/536

    Only those countries which are signed up members of UNESCO can put sites forward to be adopted. They then agree to manage those sites, not allow them to be destroyed.

    Dresden allowed the reason for inscription as a World Heritage Site to be destroyed, the beautiful rural river landscape of the Elbe Valley, by a four lane montrosity of a motorway bridge. Therefore it cannot remain as a site as its cited Outstanding Universal Value has been so damaged. An international committee, made up of member states, voted democratically in Seville last week to remove it as a WHS. UNESCO had tried to work with Dresden, suggesting a tunnel instead, but the bridge went ahead.

    If the Taj Mahal was demolished, that also would cease to be a World Heritage Site. It's not rocket science, is it, understanding that?

    When hiring an architect, consider - would you employ one who is ignorant of so much? I know I wouldn't. Weren't Murray and Dunlop's tower blocks nominated for the Plook on the Plinth Awards? They weren't amused I recall.

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  • The Dyson plans were also looked at by UNESCO, as many local people had raised such an outcry against them and wrote to UNESCO complaining that they would damage the World Heritage Site, of which status they are very proud. However, Dyson withdrew them; UNESCO said it was 'satisfied'.

    The plans would have destroyed a Grade II listed building; the council planning committee passed them against the recommendations of its own planning officers and despite many objections.

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  • The National Trust for Scotland, which is in dire financial trouble, is a membership charity, not a statutory body which has any formal input into national heritage protection issues in Scotland.

    I'm not at all sure what the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland RCAHMS (not, as Mr Murray would have it, the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic Monuments) has to do with this issue either. Perhaps Mr Murray could enlighten us, or has he no idea what that body does either?

    "RCAHMS was established by Royal Warrant in 1908 (revised in 1992). We are an executive non-departmental government body financed by the Scottish Parliament through the Architecture and Place Division, part of the Directorate for the Built Environment of the Scottish Government, and overseen by a Chairman and nine Commissioners. Our role is to:

    Identify, survey and interpret the built environment of Scotland

    Preserve, care for and add to the information and the items in the National Collection relating to the archaeological, architectural and historical environment

    Promote public understanding and enjoyment of the information and the items in the collection.

    Historic Scotland is good in parts, but it did invite UNESCO to comment (it's an arm of government).


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  • Wilson's Weekly Wrap on the Architecture Scotland Website today has a few amuaingly pertinent comments about Gordon's little outburst.

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  • A snippet from that:

    "Gordon Murray of gm + ad has exploded with rage at the very idea of any (external) body interfering with the right of (external) developers to completely knacker our cities in the name of mammon. Indeed Gordon has got himself into such a froth in the AJ’s daily bulletin as to lump Unesco, Prince Charles, the City of Bath Council into a huge conspiracy against local democratic processes. The best bit of the tirade is when he cites Historic Scotland, the National Trust and the Royal Commission of Ancient and Historic Monuments as the agencies that provide us with the intellectual basis from which to appraise our own heritage, his point being, I think, that we don’t need Johnny Foreigner lecturing us on the value of our culture. Just a pity that none of the agencies he lists has ever been known to demonstrate any democratic instincts whatsoever. ..."

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  • Yes indeed and absolutely. Who on earth does that Mr Gordon Murray fellow think he is. He is also from Glasgow for goodness sake. As for that other waster Mr Alan Dunlop he needs a right good talking to and Peter Wilson is just the man to do it.

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  • It's just a shame that almost all that Murray says isn't true. Sjould engage brain before opening gob. I don't suppose he's actually read the UNESCO report either.

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  • Murray and Dunlop hissy fits over Unesco? That's not news, it's the publicity-seeking result of a long-standing fued on their behalf against certain people connected with world heritage; they are carrying out a peurile little vendetta. They were once criticised for a building (which was bad, but both of them consider themselves to be above crticism) and it's festered ever since. The rage breaks out every now and again, which is highly amusing as neither of them displays any informed idea at all at what they are raging against.

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