"The wall of traffic" photographed from Stone Henge World Heritage site. © Our Place
Recently a British newspaper ran an article that raised the question of whether World Heritage status was a good or bad thing for a place, particularly a living city or a site that also provides contemporary public services for its local citizens.
The article mentioned that in some cities, residents and local bureaucrats believed that the restrictions imposed by WH status on building new infrastructure coupled with the sometimes overwhelming influx of tourists looking for some sort of World Heritage experience, was creating “Unescocide” for the local citizens and communities. While this might be stretching the argument re the pros and cons of World Heritage inscription a little far (tourism pressures and infrastructure challenges are unfortunately not only restricted to WH recognised locations), it highlights an issue that will only become more common as new places are added to the WH list.
As part of this argument, tunnels have recently become a contentious issue concerning WH sites.
The city of Dresden in Germany lost its World Heritage status in 2009 when the local community decided to go ahead and build a bridge over the UNESCO inscribed Elbe River Valley, which flows through the city and rejected the more expensive tunnel option preferred by the conservation community and UNESCO advisors. In a vote the majority of citizen preferred saving money as opposed to retaining their WH inscription.
The latest Tunnel controversy is close to home for the newspaper’s UK readers and affects one of the world’s most iconic heritage sites: the megalithic site of Stonehenge. There are plans to build a 2.9 Km tunnel with another connecting few kilometres of dual carriageway across a part of the inscribed site. After concerns had been raised by citizens and heritage groups in the UK and around the world, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has asked the authorities to report back by the beginning of February 2018 on what, if anything they will be doing to mitigate the feared possible damage to the site.
So “to tunnel or not to tunnel” will again become a public issue over the next year or so. While there is no suggestion that Stonehenge might be struck from the WH list, as Dresden was, the benefits, obligations and compromises of a UNESCO listing will once more be brought into public focus and debate.
CEO OUR PLACE
You can now view Geoff’s recent heritage travel photography blog on the Home Page of our OPWH.com web site: www.ourplaceworldheritage.com