Headlines: May 28th, 2008

England’s most important historical sites will be given greater protection under proposals which have been put out to consulation. Under the plans all 17 World Heritage Sites would be included in national planning protection rules, putting them for the first time on the same footing as conservation areas, national parks and areas of outstanding beauty.

The sites include historic landmarks such as Hadrian’s Wall, Stonehenge, the Ironbridge Gorge and the Tower
of London but also more widespread features such as the City of Bath, the Dorset and East Devon ‘Jurassic’ Coast and areas of Liverpool centred on its mercantile sites are not in previously protected conservation areas.

The proposed changes would prevent minor developments occurring without specific planning permission on the basis that seemingly small changes such as roof alterations, new buildings nearby or the use of artificial stone could together have a serious impact on a Heritage Site. The Department of Communities and Local Government said, for example, that the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape, the most recently recognised site and one that is seen as particularly vulnerable, would be covered for the first time. English Heritage is also publishing detailed advice on how planners can give proper consideration and protection to World Heritage Sites.

Dr Christopher Young, Head of World Heritage and International Policy for English Heritage, said one of the most significant threats faced by the sites was the incremental damage to those outside protected areas. “We welcome that this destructive anomaly that threatens these few vulnerable sites has now been addressed by the planning system. This new planning circular will offer the basic protection that should be expected for sites of such outstanding international importance,” he said

World Heritage status is granted by UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and its Heritage Committee is due to meet in July to review new and existing sites.