John McLellan: Secrecy over World Heritage Site must end

Edinburgh is proud of its World Heritage status
Edinburgh is proud of its World Heritage status
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A guide for the future of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site for the next five years was approved this week, shaped by an “oversight group” which, according to the official report, was designed to “ensure a strong governance”.

Among others, the group included the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos UK) which advises Unesco about which places are worthy of World Heritage status. Icomos has also been involved in training planning committee councillors.

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The last time Icomos sent a delegation to Edinburgh, it was at the height of fears about the city’s World Heritage designation because of the New Waverley, St James Centre and Royal High School plans.

During the planning processes for these admittedly controversial developments, the potential loss of WHS status was almost like a gun against the planning committee’s collective head.

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There were counter concerns about accountability because although the group was heavily involved in discussions with city officials, their identity and meeting schedule were kept closely guarded secrets and it was suspected that the fears to which Icomos was apparently reacting were self-generated.

At this week’s planning committee, I called for greater openness in the way the World Heritage Site is managed and, if we are serious about “strong governance”, the secrecy of the past cannot be repeated.