CITY PROSPERITY AND BATH'S HERITAGE ROLE

Abigail Harrap, Project Officer, World Heritage Site Management Plan, and Vaughan Thompson, Policy & Planning Officer, B&NES, on 27 June 2002

The 1972 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organisation) Convention for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage called for the international community to cooperate in protecting sites of `outstanding universal value'. The UK government was made responsible for identifying, protecting and conserving sites, presenting them suitably to the public and transmitting the values to current and future generations. They have so far identified 24 sites in the UK; Bath was declared such a site in 1987. It has high quality architecture and town planning; an attractive landscape setting; the homogeneity resulting from the use of Bath stone; the only hot springs in Britain; and a long, continuous history.

A Management Plan is now being produced by Abigail Harrap for the World Heritage Site, which is the whole area within the old Bath City Council boundary. It may be desirable to get it extended to include some of the surrounding green belt. The plan has four stages: understanding the site; identifying threats and opportunities; prescribing objectives; and completing an action plan. It will be adjusted annually and reviewed every five years. The Steering Group is made up of 11 `stakeholders' including the Dept. of Culture, Media and Sport, the National Trust, English Heritage, Bath Preservation Trust, Bath Society, the Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Bath Residents Associations. A Partnership with local businesses and organisations will coordinate activities, although the Council will be responsible for operating the plan, which will be part of the Local Plan, now being prepared.

Two meetings of the Steering group have contributed to the design of the Plan and, recently, reviewed the management issues and considered possible actions.

The prosperity of the City is closely related to its World Heritage status; 77% of visitors come to Bath because of its architecture, `atmosphere', or history, and they come from all over the world. The question is: how can we protect the World Heritage Site whilst increasing the prosperity of the City and manage any conflicts of interest?

Discussion

A vigorous discussion from the 20-30 members of the audience produced the following points:

• UNESCO do not provide any financial support and the UK government's attitude is that it is a prestigious classification but gets no special treatment because of this classification. In Europe, government financial support is more generous.

• It would be desirable for the government's attitude to change so that, for example, traffic could be controlled to reduce pollution which attacks Bath stone; road signs and markings could be reduced in number to improve the appearance; grants could be again given for restoration of the historic houses; pennant stone could replace the concrete pavements and the ugly sunk kerbs for wheel chairs; deliveries to businesses and coach entry to the City need to be controlled to specific times. Such changes may be achieved more quickly through the Partnership than by waiting for legislation.

• The fabric is being damaged by vibration from heavy vehicles and visitors as well as residents are being severely disturbed by noise every night in the City centre.

• The rents from Council-owned property should be earmarked for investment in the City's facilities and property.

• Change to the buildings and town plan is acceptable within limits. The development of Western Riverside may affect the Heritage Site.

Donald Lovell