A TOURISM bonanza awaits the Lothians if the Forth Bridge is granted World Heritage Site status, experts said today.
The iconic structure has emerged as a UK frontrunner for the sought-after Unesco award, with bosses now drawing up visions of fleets of cruise liners docking in the Capital.
First they must convince judges that the site can be protected, boosted by the recent completion of a ten-year £200 million restoration.
Historic Scotland, one of the agencies tasked with fighting the bridge’s corner, said that it deserved the status as it had “outstanding universal value”.
Miles Oglethorpe, head of industrial heritage at Historic Scotland, said: “The restoration project is so important to this nomination. This would have been quite difficult to go for a few years ago, when there was some controversy over the condition of the bridge.
“There would be much more interest in the bridge and an increase in visitors. There’s already a visitor centre being built for all of the bridges. An increase in cruise liner traffic is anticipated as well. There are clear economic benefits.”
The Victorian icon is one of two UK sites nominated after a shortlist of 11 of the country’s most impressive attractions was submitted to Unesco.
The bid will be overseen by the Forth Bridges Forum, which includes Historic Scotland, bridge owners Network Rail, Transport Scotland, the Forth Estuary Transport Authority, Fife Council and Edinburgh City Council.
In 2010, Network Rail refused to support plans to seek World Heritage Site status, blaming the “additional burdens” it would have placed on its ability to operate the structure as a working bridge which carries 200 trains a day, but has now given its support.
Mr Oglethorpe said: “The most recent attraction to be made a Unesco site is the 200-year-old Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in Wales, which has led to a significant rise in tourist numbers to the Wrexham area.”
He added that, whatever the outcome, having international focus on the engineering marvel would be an opportunity to inspire young people.
The second UK nomination is Gorham’s Cave Complex in Gibraltar. The bid will have to be finalised by 2014 for a decision the following year.
If successful, the rail bridge would be the sixth World Heritage Site in Scotland. There are currently around 900 World Heritage Sites, including the Great Barrier Reef and the Statue of Liberty.
Manuela Calchini, regional director for VisitScotland, said: “We welcome attempts to get World Heritage Site status for the Forth Rail Bridge.”
The 11 nominations for the UK, of which the Forth Bridge is the front-runner, include:
• Chatham Dockyard and its Defences, Kent
• Creswell Crags, Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire
• Lake District, Cumbria
• Gorham’s Cave Complex, Gibraltar
• Island of St Helena, South Atlantic Ocean
• Jodrell Bank Observatory, Cheshire
• Mousa, Old Scatness and Jarlshof, Shetland
• Slate Industry of North Wales
• Flow Country, Scotland
• The Forth Bridge
• Turks and Caicos Islands, West Indies