News from Scottish Parliament
Cross-party support expressed for Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site at Scottish Parliament debate
Dec 15, 2016
Edinburgh – 15 December 2016
Strong cross-party support was expressed today for Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns World Heritage Site in a debate on its future held at the Scottish Parliament. The debate was called by Gordon Lindhurst, MSP for Lothian region ‘to assist in the preservation of the irreplaceable’ and led to expressions of support for the prized UNESCO accolade from the Conservative, Scottish National and Green MSPs present.
During the debate, Gordon Lindhurst called upon the Scottish Government, and all parties involved in the management of the site, to ensure that the forthcoming World Heritage Site Management Plan be ‘better integrated with the city plan’ as a simple way to ensure stronger protection for Edinburgh’s historic environment.
He also called for action to be taken to address repair and maintenance issues citing a recent Edinburgh World Heritage report which showed that 72% of the buildings in the historic city centre are judged to be in need of some form of repair, the majority being privately owned historic tenements with multiple owners and tenants. This call was endorsed by Ben MacPherson who urged the adoption of a new system ‘to sustain historic tenements’.
The economic importance of the World Heritage Site was underlined by several MSPs, including Ben MacPherson who saw it as ‘key to our economic prosperity’, a thought echoed by Alison Johnston who added that ‘we mustn’t damage the unique selling points that bring the visitors here in the first place’. Miles Briggs added that the World Heritage Site ‘underpins the jobs of thousands’ and contributes ‘huge sums into the local and national economy’.
The subject of the contribution of new development to the World Heritage Site was also referenced by Ben McPherson who said that the new 2017 Planning Bill is an opportunity to ‘balance our desire for new homes, and the need to develop our economy, with the need to value and preserve our heritage’. Miles Briggs added that the city’s World Heritage Status should not be considered as ‘an impediment or an obstacle to modern development’, but rather ‘a creative challenge’ that he wanted planners and developers to rise to.
Andy Wightman raised the issue of the increasing number of properties, especially in the Old Town, that are no longer used as primary residences, but instead as short term holiday lets, or as student accommodation. He saw the forthcoming Planning Bill as a chance to address this and introduce ‘new use-class orders’ to ensure that the Council has some democratic control over the use of flats within sensitive areas. He also questioned the use of some public spaces during the festivals, such as at St. Andrews Square. Alison Johnstone added that ‘it’s really important that we don’t forget who Edinburgh is for while providing a warm welcome to those who want to come and visit us’.
In concluding the debate, Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs commented that ‘each of our six World Heritage Sites is a treasure to be celebrated and cherished’. She expressed her belief in the various systems of protection saying that ‘our planning system has a number of safeguards which together ensure that major decisions are taken within a transparent and rigorous process with due regard for our heritage’. She went on to say that ‘a balance needs to be struck between the needs of residents, visitors and economic development as well as the conservation of the site’s Outstanding Universal Values’. She concluded by emphasising the need for teamwork and partnership so that that which is special about Edinburgh is ‘understood, celebrated and conserved’ and she commended the important work undertaken by the partners involved in the management of the site, particularly Edinburgh World Heritage.
Adam Wilkinson, Director of Edinburgh World Heritage commented: ‘We are delighted with the support expressed today from all sides for Edinburgh’s extraordinary World Heritage Site. We stand ready to support residents with advice and grants to help conserve historic properties. And we’d encourage everyone who cares about Edinburgh to get involved with the new Management Plan. Please take a look at the draft plan when it is published in February and let us know what you think. Edinburgh’s World Heritage site belongs to everyone.’
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