UN may act against Britain for failure to protect heritage sites

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London, September 9 : The United Nations (UN) has said that it may act against Britain for failure to protect the heritage sites in the country, by threatening to put the Tower of London on its list of world heritage sites in danger.

According to a report in The Guardian, the warning has come after experts accused the UK of damaging globally significant sites such as Stonehenge, the old town of Edinburgh and the Georgian centre of Bath.

UNESCO, the UN's cultural agency, has told ministers in London and Edinburgh that it wants urgent action to protect seven world heritage sites which it claims are in danger from building developments, and said in some cases the UK is ignoring its legal obligations to protect them.

Their complaints range from decisions to approve new tower blocks in central London, such as the 66-storey "shard of glass" at London Bridge, to the failure to relocate the A344 beside Stonehenge despite promising action for 22 years, to a proposed wind farm which threatens Neolithic sites on Orkney.

For all seven sites, UNESCO has asked the UK to write detailed progress reports replying to its concerns by February.

UNESCO's world heritage centre in Paris is also sending two teams of inspectors to Edinburgh and Bath this winter to investigate its concerns that new buildings in both cities will damage their "integrity" and their "outstanding universal value."

In its strongest criticism, UNESCO's world heritage committee has said that it "deeply regrets" the decision by Edinburgh city council to press ahead with a hotel, housing and offices development called Caltongate next to the Royal Mile, despite expert evidence it will ruin the medieval old town's unique form.

Leading architects and conservationists, including Sir Terry Farrell and Marcus Binney, chairman of Save Britain's Heritage, have said they share UNESCO's anxieties.

According to Binney, "Heritage has taken a back seat to Cool Britannia and encouraging everything modern, and we're now uncomfortably in the limelight for failing to have proper policies to protect our world heritage sites, and timely criticisms are now being made."

In potentially its most serious conflict with ministers, UNESCO has said it could put the Tower of London on its "world heritage in danger" list next year if ministers fail to honour promises to strengthen planning guidelines for the area.

UNESCO is worried that the "iconic" Norman Tower and its 13th-century walls will be overshadowed by Renzo Piano's London Bridge tower, the so-called "shard of glass", and a 39-floor tower on Fenchurch Street in the City.

But, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which has lead responsibility for protecting the UK's 27 world heritage sites, has said that it is introducing a heritage protection bill which will give all sites in England the same legal protection as a conservation area.

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