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World Heritage Site - but Greenwich faces problems

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Greenwich's newly designated World Heritage Site presents formidable problems which, in the end, only a new road can solve, Sir Angus Stirling, chairman of the government's Royal Naval College trust told an international conference last Friday.

Speaking to the International Council for Monuments and Sites conference on Europe's cultural heritage, he said: 'We have got to build a new road which takes traffic away from areas where it should not be.'

Sir Angus, former director-general of the National Trust, said Greenwich's problems were just as great as Stonehenge's, with its roads being forced to take traffic they were not designed to take. The Millennium Dome means that 'historic Greenwich has to be ready to welcome an enormous influx of visitors' and at present 'the means of transport are abysmal - by road, rail or water'.

Facilities for visitors are inadequate, he claims.

Greenwich needs better parking, a better welcome for visitors, and better restaurants. The answer to its transport problems must lie in a wider solution for the whole of South-east London. But, questioned by Professor Victor Middleton of ICOMOS's Cultural Tourism Committee, he backed the idea of a short length of new road to take through traffic out of a historic town centre where conflict between vehicles and pedestrians is already acute.

Sir Angus welcomed the government's commitment for the first time to provide 'reliable and regular riverbus services from the centre of London, opening up the Thames as a gateway to the east'. He described plans to improve Greenwich Pier and Cutty Sark Gardens and feed visitors through an adjacent Naval College building. From this visitor centre they would 'fan out' to the World Heritage Site's various attractions. But equipping historic Greenwich to cope with expected visitor numbers requires 'substantial investment from public and private sources'.

An impassioned plea to end the way taxes discriminate against repairs came from Sir James Dunbar-Nasmith. 'It flies in the face of logic, and in the face of evidence about the value of conservation to the economy, ' he said of the regime which imposes VAT on repairs but leaves new-build exempt. Tourism thrives on well-conserved historic environments, and building conservation was labour intensive, yet conservation was more heavily taxed, he said, appealing to delegates to support a new campaign to persuade the European Union to relent.

Culture secretary Chris Smith said that the government's prompt rejoining of UNESCO after a 10year gap means that it can now look for new World Heritage Sites to nominate. Dr Henry Cleere, ICOMOS's World Heritage adviser, said he hoped that set-pieces by Mies and Aalto might soon be on the list.

The conference, at the RIBA, was attended by 240 delegates from 25 European countries. ICOMOS is a non-governmental organisation which advises UNESCO on World Heritage Site designation and management.

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