Previous SectionIndexHome Page

14 Dec 2005 : Column 459WH—continued

UK World Heritage Sites

2.30 pm

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr. Olner. It is a pleasure to be in your company this afternoon, as it always is. It is appropriate that we are having a debate on UK world heritage sites, because we are sitting—and I am standing—in a world heritage site now. About a week and a half ago, I was lucky enough to be re-elected as chairman of the all-party world heritage sites group—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] I knew that I would get an accolade in this House for something. It is a great pleasure to serve in that position.

A number of Members in the Chamber have been active in the all-party group for some years. I see the hon. Members for East Devon (Mr. Swire), for Salisbury (Robert Key), for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Bath (Mr. Foster) and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz). I am sure that other colleagues will be keen to join in the work of the all-party group in time, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland (Dr. Kumar), who I know hopes to catch your eye a little later, Mr. Olner.

The all-party world heritage sites group has been functioning for several years. The group is cross-party, as is the nature of this debate. We want to get our teeth into world heritage issues, put the politics to one side and talk about how we can ensure that world heritage sites deliver the very best for us as a nation and for the communities in which they sit. I hope that the tone of this debate will be one of constructive thought and the desire to make sure that new partnerships develop so that our world heritage sites are protected for the future.

I should like to thank English Heritage, which has taken on the role of the all-party group's secretariat support. I particularly wanted to thank Peter Just, who is not a million miles away at this very moment, for the work that he is already doing for the group. The group welcomes English Heritage's support.

Today almost seems like world heritage day: this morning, the Minister and I had the pleasure of attending the annual general meeting of the Local Authority World Heritage Forum, which brings together all local authority areas with world heritage sites to ensure a co-ordinated view of the needs, desires and aspirations of world heritage sites across local government. The forum works in partnership with a range of organisations that I shall probably mention this afternoon.

I want to split my speech into two sections. I want to talk about some of the broader issues affecting world heritage sites in the UK, but obviously, Mr. Olner, you would not blame me for wanting to speak briefly about the world heritage site in my own constituency—the Ironbridge gorge—and I shall do that in my closing remarks.

The 1972 UNESCO world heritage convention was perhaps the most successful of all; it covered 180 member states and more than 800 world heritage sites. By joining the convention, member states undertake to protect their heritage, both natural and cultural, in general terms.
14 Dec 2005 : Column 460WH
They also have the opportunity to identify places of outstanding value to all humanity, and they can nominate them to be included on the UNESCO world heritage list. Once sites are on that, member states accept that the international community will take an interest in the management of those places through the work of the world heritage committee.

Within the UK, world heritage is probably the best known aspect of UNESCO's work, and the one that captures the popular imagination, because it is linked to specific places. World heritage involves many players. At national level, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has the lead responsibility for the convention, and other Departments, such as the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, are also involved.

The devolved Administrations are involved too, as are the newly re-established UK National Commission for UNESCO and non-governmental organisations such as the UK committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, ICOMOS-UK. Of course, the   Local Authority World Heritage Forum is also involved, as are individual local authorities and organisations that are present within world heritage sites.

There is a wide range of partners within world heritage sites. For example, one of the key players in my area is the Ironbridge Gorge museums trust. Such organisations take an important leading role within the world heritage site in their locality.

The UK joined the world heritage convention in 1984 and now has 26 world heritage sites: 16 in England, four in Scotland, two in Wales, one in Northern Ireland and three in overseas territories—I am sure that the Minister will be particularly keen to visit those.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. David Lammy ) indicated assent.

David Wright : I would like to go there as well, if the Minister will take me with him.

Twenty-one UK world heritage sites are cultural sites, four are natural sites and one, St. Kilda, is both a cultural and a natural site. During its 21 years in the convention, the UK has gone through three distinct phases of site development. During the first phase, from 1984 to about 1989, we nominated obvious monumental iconic sites in the UK—for example, Stonehenge, Avebury and the Tower of London—without much thought to the consequences for managing such places in the future.

During the second phase, from 1989 to 1997, we realised after a series of planning appeals that world heritage status was a significant factor in the management and sustainable use of places such as Avebury, Ironbridge and Hadrian's wall. We started to consider other places, as well as the obvious monumental iconic sites, and that led in 1994 to planning policy guidance note 15, which stated that world heritage sites were a key material consideration in planning cases. It asked local authorities to develop policies to protect them and recommended that they draw up management plans as well.
14 Dec 2005 : Column 461WH

Management plans are now a key feature of the UK's approach to world heritage sites. Their implementation is overseen by steering groups of stakeholders, including national agencies, local authorities, site owners and local communities. Since 1997, the number of UK world heritage sites has increased from 16 to 26. I understand that all but four have current management plans, and work should be completed on the remaining few sites—the last four—during 2006.

Management plans are incredibly important, as most world heritage sites are living communities. People live in them, and local people need to understand how the organisations involved in managing the site will interact with them. They need to know how they can make plans to change their housing, to start up a new business or to do something else within the site. They need to think about how their plans will correspond with the management plan for the site. The management plans are important documents, and credit is due to all the organisations that have moved so quickly to ensure that they are in place.

The third phase of development involved a review of tentative sites for world heritage status, which must be   considered collectively on their merits. Between 1997 and 1999, the review of the tentative list marked a new approach to defining world heritage sites in the UK. In large part, the tentative list moves the balance from monuments, which can be managed, to urban and rural landscapes, which are far more difficult to manage. Management plans would be crucial if further sites were to be designated. We must consider the sustainability of    such sites for the benefit of local and national communities.

That has been a quick canter through some of the broad themes in world heritage. The Minister may like to reflect on some of the key issues when he speaks, and I am sure that other colleagues will do the same. I shall now raise five points.

The first issue is the statutory recognition of world heritage. Historically, there has been no statutory protection in the UK for world heritage sites, unlike listed buildings, conservation areas, ancient monuments, national parks and so on. The current review of heritage designations and protection is an opportunity to address that. World heritage sites sit at the top of the heritage hierarchy. The designation is one of the few of international significance that we recognise in the UK, and the statutory recognition and protections afforded to such sites should reflect the importance of world heritage sites in that heritage hierarchy.

I understand that the DCMS has announced that the new heritage register will include world heritage sites. I should like the Minister to say a few words about that, because if that is the case, it is a major step forward. It would be interesting to hear his views on how the interaction with local authorities and their planning powers is working, and its impact on how we treat our world heritage sites in the UK.

The second theme is about the resourcing and management of world heritage sites. The primary responsibility for world heritage sites in the UK rests with the Government, because of their deal with UNESCO, but much of the day-to-day management
14 Dec 2005 : Column 462WH
falls on the local authorities where the sites are located. They have individual and day-to-day responsibility for protecting, promoting and presenting sites that fall within their boundaries.

Local funding for those activities varies between sites, but in practice there is pressure on local authority budgets. Authorities and communities benefit from the generation of tourism that the sites engender, but because of the national and international status of the sites and the scale of visitor numbers, they put unique pressures and burdens on local areas. Will the Minister open up a continuing dialogue with colleagues at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to consider the impact that world heritage sites have on local authorities, and whether we can do any more to assist them?

Thirdly, I want to reflect on the promotion of world heritage. The brand and the concept are probably not that well known beyond anoraks like us. Most people probably realise that there are one or two world heritage sites locally, regionally or nationally, but we do not promote the brand well in the UK, never mind internationally. We must do more to ensure that world heritage and the world heritage sites are considered key destinations for people who want to visit the UK, and for internal tourism. That is important.

I was lucky enough last year to visit the grand canyon. It is a world heritage site in the United States, but there was no indication of that status. It is clearly of world significance, but it would have been nice to have walked into the entrance lobby of the main hotel on the rim of the grand canyon to find a brochure on worldwide world heritage sites, showing Bath, Stonehenge, Ironbridge gorge and other sites in the UK and throughout the world, where people could pick up and follow the world heritage trail.

We must consider that idea. It is particularly important because the Olympic games will take place in this country in 2012. Would it not be a shame if millions of visitors came to London and other sites throughout the country, including world heritage sites that will host parts of the Olympics, but never got any further? Would it not be nice to get some of those millions of visitors out of the Olympic venues, London and the other locations where events are being held, and into world heritage sites?

What better way is there of promoting Britain and its contribution to the world through the Olympics than by promoting Britain's own world heritage sites? There is an opportunity, and I hope that the Minister will ensure that we seize it.

We in Telford had the pleasure of receiving the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell) recently. He was keen to work with our hon. Friend the Minister who is here today to promote world heritage sites as tourist destinations in association with the Olympic games.

Fourthly, several world heritage sites throughout the UK are at specific risk from development and from natural problems such as flooding, land instability or coastal erosion. The status and the physical fabric of several sites are under threat. We need help and support from across the Government to ensure that those sites
14 Dec 2005 : Column 463WH
are protected. Many local authorities cannot carry the burden of ensuring that their site is protected. We need support from central Government.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend is making an interesting contribution. As he will know, the world heritage site in my constituency is a living, urban heritage site, with several thousand people living in it. One of the issues that we face is how to maintain a vibrant urban centre when there are pressures from many directions, such as the pressures on small shops and smaller shopping centres, and the effects of that pressure. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to consider how urban heritage sites are affected by wider trends in the retail and shopping markets and in planning policy? To put it   bluntly, the viability of the heritage site in my constituency would be affected if the local community were to run down because of pressures on the local shopping and retail centres; that would undermine the entire living nature of that heritage site.

David Wright : My hon. Friend makes his point very well. It is important to bear in mind what we might term global factors, such as changing retail markets, in thinking about management plans for world heritage sites.

In world heritage site management, it is important that we do not stop the development, change and evolution of sites in urban environments, such as my hon. Friend's and mine. We do not want to preserve them totally; we want to ensure that their key elements are preserved, and their key spirit, but we should not turn down all development or stop all retail growth or change. We should respond in a way that is in keeping with the spirit of the management plan and the spirit of world heritage. Many urban world heritage sites are not static communities; they are living communities where people want to go shopping and earn a living—where people live. It is important that we understand that in our management of world heritage sites.

I am conscious that several Members want to speak, but I wish to make a fifth and final point; it is about specific development threats, and it fits in particularly well with my hon. Friend's comment. In planning world heritage site environments in both rural and urban areas, it is important that we consider the scale, scope, quality and design of new buildings. I understand that Cologne in Germany was put on the world heritage at risk register in 2004 because of approvals given for high buildings outside the buffer zone, more than 1 km from the cathedral, which is inscribed. I would hate similar situations to arise, where buildings are developed around world heritage sites that detract from those sites. We must manage planning processes extremely carefully.

Mark Lazarowicz : On that point, may I offer an example? One of the issues in the world heritage site of Edinburgh new town in my constituency is the need for affordable housing. Affordable housing that meets the high standards—it is correct that they should be so—in that site tends to cost a lot more than affordable housing in other parts of the community. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is therefore important that local, devolved and central Government should be prepared to pay
14 Dec 2005 : Column 464WH
extra to ensure that where there are vibrant communities, we can have affordable housing for a range of people? If that costs more because the housing has to meet the higher standards required for world heritage sites, so be it, because that cost has to be met.

David Wright : As Parliamentary Private Secretary to a Minister in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, I must be careful about what I say; I notice that my hon. Friend the Minister is looking at me with that thought in mind. However, I agree that it is important to promote high-quality design in development. I worked in the housing sector for 13 years, and I think that it is possible to secure very high-quality buildings that are fit for purpose through existing regimes, by   acting creatively and addressing quality—and, occasionally perhaps, by pushing at the cost boundaries.

Perhaps we should not mention the Scottish Parliament building in this context, but to ensure that we get quality, we should look very closely at planning applications within world heritage site areas. We need to ensure that partners who wish to work in those areas are aware of their responsibilities within the management plan.

Time is pressing on, Mr. Olner, but I want to make two brief concluding remarks about Ironbridge. The first is on a positive note, while the second is about a local problem with which I hope the Minister might be able to help us.

First, Ironbridge gorge, within my constituency, has a major and regular flooding problem, which goes beyond Ironbridge, down through Coalbrookdale to Coalport. Recently, in February 2004 and November 2005, we instituted a successful scheme that defended the Wharfage by placing pallet barriers along it. We were grateful to ministers at DEFRA for working with ourselves and the local community to ensure that we had flood protection on the Wharfage at Ironbridge. But there are still properties where we have problems, so it would help if the Minister could meet council officials and myself to discuss continuing problems with flooding in the world heritage site area.

Secondly, as local people will be aware, there is a major problem with land instability within the gorge. A combination of geology, erosion, mineral exploitation and ongoing development within the gorge has caused a   series of land instability problems. The bill for remedying that is significant. The initial scheme, which we have at the moment, to stabilise one of the areas at greatest risk, will cost £5.2 million. That will be funded by the European regional development fund and specific awards through the local transport plan. But we need to look at a much larger scheme—for which we would need Government support—if we are to ensure that we deal with that land instability problem, and avoid ongoing problems with our world heritage site resulting from the natural environment.

I will conclude there, having tried to canter round the broad issues relating to world heritage—some of the challenges and problems that we face, but also some opportunities. We have a massive asset here which, if we are careful, will ensure that we bring in a large number of tourists to the UK and promote tourism across it. World heritage sites can be an engine for their local economy. We have certainly found that with Ironbridge,
14 Dec 2005 : Column 465WH
and I know that other hon. Members find the same with the world heritage sites in their areas. I am proud to chair the all-party group, and I look forward to a continuing dialogue with the DCMS and other departments on the issues that I have raised.

Mr. Bill Olner (in the Chair): Several Members have said that they want to speak, so let me tell the spokesmen from the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties that I intend to give the Minister at least 15 minutes to wind up.

2.53 pm

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): It gives me great pleasure to congratulate the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright), first on securing the debate and secondly on his renewed chairmanship of the all-party group. He is doing a service to us all, and to world heritage sites. I wonder, Mr. Olner, whether you remember the film that accompanied the British bid for the Olympic games in Singapore, and the dramatic effect of seeing Stonehenge with the Olympic flags behind it. That was part of the reason why Britain gained the Olympic games for London. Of course, I have the honour to represent the stones and the Stonehenge world heritage site, which includes Avebury, which is not actually in my constituency.

The story of Stonehenge is a great one, but also a sad one. Back in 1985 the United Kingdom withdrew from UNESCO. I was, at the time, the last national commissioner to have been appointed for UNESCO from the United Kingdom. I was obviously sad at the decision of my Government to pull out at that time. However, that has been remedied. We are back in, and I am delighted that the Secretary of State for International Development took that decision.

During the period that we were out, much had happened in terms of designating British sites. There is now a long and distinguished list, as we know. UNESCO now has a full British complement and is responsible for the world heritage sites. Sue Davies is chairman of the culture committee of the UK National Commission for UNESCO and the chief executive of Wessex Archaeology. I should, therefore, start by declaring a non-pecuniary interest as a director and trustee of Wessex Archaeology.

I remember well the launch of English Heritage in the chapter-house of Westminster Abbey, just across the road. In those days the chapter-house belonged to the    Government and was administered by the Department of the Environment, and then by English Heritage. At the first meeting of English Heritage, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu pledged that the No. 1 priority would be Stonehenge, including the refurbishment of the visitor centre, improvement of the site and taking the roads out of the landscape.

Lord Montagu made huge strides and efforts over many years, but he did not quite get there. He was not the only one who was defeated. Margaret Thatcher was defeated, too. I recall visiting her as Prime Minister in her rooms in the House of Commons. She got on her hands and knees with me, poring over the maps, looking at the Stonehenge issue and arguing the case, because that was the sort of person she was. However, even she did not manage to crack the problem of Stonehenge.
14 Dec 2005 : Column 466WH

Then Sir Jocelyn Stevens came on the scene and he, as chairman of English Heritage, brought to bear all his charm and charisma and all the other traits for which he was famous and made valiant, dramatic attempts to solve the problems of Stonehenge. We recall the cartoons of people at English Heritage jumping out of windows and all those happy days. However, even Sir Jocelyn did not solve the problem of Stonehenge. I hope that Sir Neil Cossons will solve the problem; he is the person most likely to succeed.

It was not just Margaret Thatcher who failed to succeed; our present Prime Minister also failed. I raised the matter of Stonehenge with him at Prime Minister's questions in July 1997, when he said that the Government were aware of the problem and would do their best to try to solve it. We are still waiting. I suspect that the Prime Minister will have retired before the stones are put in their proper context.

This is an extraordinary story about a world heritage site, because everyone has wanted to succeed. I know, because I was the first Minister for National Heritage at the Department of National Heritage. Quite rightly, Sir    Humphrey said, "No, Minister. You can't get involved in your own constituency." So that was fine. But then I became the Minister for Roads and Traffic and I saw the problem from another angle and, once again, Sir Humphrey rightly said, "No, Minister. You can't get involved in your own constituency." So I could not solve the problem either.

The local authorities were hugely enthusiastic about cracking the problem. Local government officers in Wiltshire county council and Salisbury district council were sweating away, trying hard to find the right way through. That was a great drain on their expertise and on the local authority budgets, but nobody succeeded.

The current Minister has a huge challenge before him. I know that he understands what this is all about, because he is helpful and courteous, and has been infinitely patient as he has observed the sand slipping through his fingers when it comes to Stonehenge. His door has always been open; I am grateful for that. I   know that, thanks to his background, he has a good feeling for the importance of things like world heritage sites in our national history.

Stonehenge is about more than that, however; it is a matter of national and international significance. I was going through one of the huge piles of Government brochures, plans and so on, and I came across a brilliant initial plan that was produced to celebrate the English Heritage bids, which spoke of

And on the front of that Stonehenge master plan was a quote from Siegfried Sassoon's poem, "The Heart's Journey":

Then we turn the page, and we see Sir Jocelyn Stevens saying something that I bet he has regretted ever since. It is the sort of thing you say; it is the sort of thing you mean:

Yes. Quite. And that is the problem, because everyone has wanted to solve this problem at Stonehenge. We all know that we want to restore it to the grandeur of the
14 Dec 2005 : Column 467WH
time when there was little interference by man. We want to take the roads out of the landscape; do we do it with a tunnel or not?

We were all pretty surprised when the then Minister, Lady Blackstone, announced that they were going to build a long-haul tunnel beside the stones, and we said, "Hooray, but where is the money coming from?" But of course, earlier this year the Department for Transport said that it had no money, so that was all over and we had to go back to the drawing board.

We have had endless problems about the visitor centre and how it depends upon the tunnel or the road improvement, and if the Winterbourne Stoke bypass and the Countess road flyover are built without the tunnel there has to be a new public inquiry. It gets more and more convoluted. That is the problem. I honestly believe that our system of national government is not good at delivering this sort of project; it is just not designed to do it. Even when two Prime Ministers have been personally committed to trying to find a solution, they have not found it.

So we have to keep trying and we will keep trying. Meanwhile, the stones will not get damaged. They will be as mysterious and wonderful as ever. They deserve their designation as a world heritage site. But we should be increasingly ashamed of the visitor facilities there, and of the encroachment of the 20th and now the 21st century upon the landscape of the stones, and we must try harder.

I am still passionate about this and I believe that there are ways through. I am delighted that the Minister for roads has also had an open door and I know how much he wants to solve this. I know how much the Minister who will reply to today's debate does too, but we must go on until we do solve it; otherwise, we shall not be living up to our responsibilities as the keepers of a world heritage site like Stonehenge and Amesbury. We simply must do it. My plea to the Minister is that he uses his best endeavours and, much more than that, his charm, his guile and whatever else he can offer to help us do this, because everyone will be grateful to him: the local authorities, the local people, and the people travelling up and down from the west country.

My final point is that a world heritage site in this case is not just a heap of old stones. Stonehenge represents an important symbol of the history of our country and culture, but much more than that, it is the gateway to the west of England. The west of England is one of the most innovative, exciting, vibrant parts of the United Kingdom. We trade on our heritage, our environment, our beaches and our holidays. At the same time, we have—in my constituency at least—the lowest unemployment rate in the United Kingdom and the highest rates of economic activity. We have high technology, we have nanotechnology and we have science in bucketfuls, and yet the whole economy of south-west England comes to a halt at Stonehenge. Stonehenge ought to have a large road sign saying, "Gateway to the South-West"; instead, you get to Stonehenge and there is a big sign saying, "Road Closed".

That is the problem, because in the south-west of England the infrastructure investment has been poor over many years. We have not had road improvements. We have had to fight even to get the M5 designated a
14 Dec 2005 : Column 468WH
strategic route. The A303, which was always the second route to the south-west, has been downgraded. The Blackdown hills controversy cost us years. It cost the economy of the whole south-west years; it cost the tourist economy of the south-west huge amounts. It continues to cost everyone a great deal, not only in terms of money, but in terms of everything that world heritage sites stand for. There is every reason why the Government, as a whole, should get together to solve this problem: it is about the economy, the quality of life and the standard of living.

Only last night, some of us had a meeting with the South West of England Development Agency. It too recognises that the bottleneck of Stonehenge is having an adverse impact on the place of the south-west of England in the world, in terms of economy and quality of life. So the problem represented by Stonehenge is a massive problem, and I have not over-egged that in any sense. But at heart it is the stones that matter, and the landscape in which they lie. They matter to us and to our children and grandchildren, and we must crack this problem for their sake too. I put in a plea not just for all the world heritage sites to be in our hearts and minds as we think of everything that makes Britain so British, but for us to think in practical terms about the need to provide world-class visitor facilities. Britain is capable of the very best—we know that—but we are failing miserably at Stonehenge in 2005.

I hope that, by the middle of 2006, we will see the Government's working party produce a sensible plan that can be costed, afforded and implemented without delay. At that point, UNESCO can realise its dreams for the world heritage sites in this country, all of which are magnificent; indeed, I hope to see more. My hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) has in his constituency not only part of the Jurassic coast international site, but the Cornwall and west Devon mining landscape, which is the subject of a new application.

There is a huge task ahead. Everyone wants this to happen. Minister, please make it happen.

3.6 pm

Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright) on securing this debate. Before he was elected, I, as a student in Birmingham, regularly visited his constituency to see the Ironbridge site, which I have admired since the first time I saw it in 1975. I have been there many times since. I have not visited Ironbridge since he was elected, so I will inform him when I next decide to visit.

I wish to focus on two matters; I am aware that time is limited. First, I shall make a few observations about the world heritage site list and, secondly, develop another theme. Unlike other hon. Members who have spoken, I do not have a world heritage site in my constituency. However, in the northern region, we have two: Hadrian's wall and Durham cathedral and castle. I am happy that they are world heritage sites, but, if one goes further down the road, one finds York cathedral and city walls, which are not included in the list. That is   surprising, given that the great Roman emperor Constantine was crowned in that city. That site should
14 Dec 2005 : Column 469WH
have been a candidate for the list. Somehow, it has been overlooked and does not appear on the list that I have seen on the internet.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I add my   congratulations to the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) on securing the debate. I was interested to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland (Dr. Kumar) about the Roman empire. I wonder whether he is aware that the proposed list includes the first multi-country bid for world heritage status for the frontiers of the Roman empire, including the Antonine wall in Bearsden, in my constituency. I would be interested to hear whether he believes that that should be included on the list.

Dr. Kumar : I heartily agree. The tentative list includes sites in the north-east, including Lindisfarne and Jarrow. It is amazing that they have not been considered, given the part they have played in history. In the dark ages, the torch of learning was kept alive at those sites, where men such as Bede kept our spirit alive. Further south, one finds Whitby, which has a great religious history, and was the site of the synod that effectively settled what we now know as the Christian doctrine. There is no recognition of that.

I believe that the list is subjective and selective. I know that the Minister is looking for ideas, so I suggest that he takes up some of my suggestions when advancing his programme. There is also a little bias, which has been hinted at earlier in the debate. A lot of the sites are all about stone and mortar. I recognise that it is about buildings: churches, cathedrals, castles, abbeys or palaces. That is fine, as they are part and parcel of our history, but that is a limited reflection of our heritage and world heritage. I want to explore that theme further.

We must consider things laterally. I am most interested in science and engineering, which the Minister knows I am passionate about. I care greatly for it. I studied it as a student and I worked for a living in that sector before I entered the House.

Nowhere in the list of UK world heritages sites is there any connection with the physical and natural sciences. The nearest that we get is the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, the Royal Greenwich observatory and the maritime museum.

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree, given his enthusiasm for engineering, that the Telford aqueduct should be on the list of heritage sites in Britain? Its bicentenary was held just a couple of weeks ago. It is a 200-year-old aqueduct that is still in use and it is an amazing engineering feat.

Dr. Kumar : I am happy to endorse that, because it fits   into the theme that I am trying to explore. The contribution of science and technology needs to be incorporated into our heritage. Nowhere do I see any evidence that such an approach has been explored.

Great learned men and women have honoured this country in developing ideas. I am thinking of the Cavendish laboratory at Cambridge, a great institution where James Clerk Maxwell, Ernest Rutherford,
14 Dec 2005 : Column 470WH
James Chadwick and Nils Bohr made great contributions. They were great learned scholars in science. That is one institution that we should consider in terms of great world heritage sites. Matter was explored and the structure of the atom was investigated, as were all the forces of the universe, over a long period.

Many other institutions could be included, such as Manchester university, where great pioneering work was done in physics, discovering the nature and depth of the universe. They are great world heritage sites, which we ought to promote in our discussions from now on. I    could suggest many other institutions, such as Woolsthorpe manor, which was the Lincolnshire home of Sir Isaac Newton. It is not on the list. He was a great pioneer, who broke frontiers of science. Newtonian physics lives with us to this day. There is an opportunity for us to explore that and to put it in the relevant category somewhere along the line.

It would be a great credit to UK heritage and world heritage if we could explore that theme. After all, the theme of this Government has been to promote science and technology and our great achievements. We have a great heritage. That is a further suggestion that the Minister can take away and perhaps explore. I am not saying that he must give me the answers today, but I am outlining an approach.

The Minister could also involve the scientific and engineering institutions—the Royal Society, the civil engineering organisations, the Institution of Chemical Engineers, of which I am a member, and other institutions—in considering whether such sites could be recognised in this respect in the future. I am not looking out for my constituency on the issue, because it has no world heritage sites, but the theme needs to be explored.

I know that time is limited. Perhaps the Minister can take some of those ideas away and, some years down the road, there might be some success.

3.15 pm

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I shall be as brief as possible because other hon. Members wish to speak.   I   congratulate the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) on securing this important debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) said, we all appreciate greatly his work on the all-party parliamentary group.

World heritage sites are places of international importance for the conservation of our cultural and natural heritage. Examples include the great wall of China, the pyramids, the great barrier reef, Venice, the Tower of London and the Palace of Westminster. In Shipley, we are proud of the fact that Saltaire, including Salts mill, which hosts the Hockney collection, is on the list. I recommend all hon. Members to visit it. It is a fantastic place.

World heritage sites face several problems, which I hope the Minister will deal with in his response. I shall be parochial, stick to my patch, as my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury stuck to his, and discuss Saltaire. It was designated a world heritage site in 2001. No central agency has overall responsibility for the site. In effect, the management relies on everyone with an interest in the village working together. That includes all owners and occupiers of properties in Saltaire. A number of people do a great job. The Saltaire project
14 Dec 2005 : Column 471WH
team is a forum for key stakeholders at the world heritage site and involves local councillors. There is also   the Saltaire village society, which is made up of   representatives from the village. They have an important role in enhancing the look and attraction of Saltaire. I pay tribute to their work.

I shall touch on some issues rightly raised by the hon. Member for Telford. As for the financial burden of local authorities, I am sure that all Members are aware that the world heritage convention places several duties on the Government in respect of the management of world heritage sites to ensure that they are identified, protected, conserved and presented to the public. The responsibility for individual sites falls often at local government level. Each site must now have a management plan. It is recognised by most people that a co-ordinator post is fundamental to driving the implementation of the plans.

The post at Bradford was funded partially for three years by English Heritage, but that funding ends in April next year. Fortunately, Bradford metropolitan district council has stepped in, taken on the responsibility for the post and made it permanent. Other sites throughout the country are not as lucky and often find it difficult to retain long-term funding for such posts, which obviously creates concern about the continuity of the work. Although funding can be obtained for certain projects within a world heritage site, the local council often has to contribute to it.

I hope that the Minister will accept that there is a danger that those responsible for nominating sites for inspection to be included on the world heritage list may decide not to because of resource implications. It would be sad if that were decided on the grounds of which authority had the resources, not the importance of the site. Surely that should be the most important factor when deciding whether something is a world heritage site or not.

The hon. Member for Telford made a good point when he said that being designated as a world heritage site probably brings no additional legislative protection for that site. All the buildings in Saltaire are listed, which means that they have a high level of protection. However, that probably is not the case with all sites. Some additional protection for those important assets would be beneficial for those of us who represent constituencies with world heritage sites.

I refer now to joined-up government, a matter that I want the Minister to address. The Government have a responsibility to raise awareness of world heritage, but I am not aware of anything in the school curriculum raising awareness of world heritage matters. Saltaire has focused on links with the Highways Agency, which is responsible for the roads in the area. One of the pavements needed resurfacing. As anyone who has been to Saltaire will know, its significance rests in its housing, and its street surfacing is vital to the character of the place. To ensure that stone paving was used, rather than a concrete alternative, the council had to supplement the work financially, as the Highways Agency had no special provision in its budget for world heritage sites. I hope that the Government will address that point.

Saltaire is one of the most congested places in the whole Bradford district. That is recognised by the Highways Agency, which apparently has no money to
14 Dec 2005 : Column 472WH
sort it out. The last thing that we want is for those visiting Saltaire to be stuck in queues of traffic. What incentive would there be for them ever to return? I hope that the Government will work with the Department for Transport to ensure that the Highways Agency makes special provision for places with world heritage sites, in order to attract people there.

My final point, which I   would like the Minister to address, is that some regulations seem to work against some world heritage sites. For example, signs cannot be put up on the motorway to promote Saltaire as a world heritage site, because the site is more than three miles from the motorway. Such regulation prevents world heritage sites from being promoted. It would be welcomed by people travelling on the M62 if there were something on that motorway saying, "Come to Saltaire, there is a world heritage site there."

Robert Key : I encourage my hon. Friend to challenge that ruling. It is a very important point. A long time ago, when I was Minister for Roads and Traffic, I received complaints from the dean and chapter of Ripon cathedral, because it was not allowed a sign on the motorway. Going to Dover on the motorway at that time, I discovered a brown sign for Rochester cathedral, which was further from the motorway than Ripon cathedral. So I tell my hon. Friend to challenge that ruling and really go for it.

Philip Davies : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that helpful advice. I am sure that my colleagues on Bradford metropolitan district council will challenge that ruling, but they were told that they were not allowed to put a sign on the motorway, because the site was more than three miles from it.

I again congratulate the hon. Member for Telford on all his hard work in the field, and on securing the debate. World heritage sites are an important part of our culture and heritage, and they deserve special protection. There are measures—often simple measures—that the Government could take that would do an awful lot to help those sites. I hope that the Minister can address some of those issues.

3.23 pm

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): We have had a useful and valuable debate, with tremendous contributions. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) told us the great and sad story of Stonehenge. As I listened to him, I reflected that it was a huge pity that when the hon. Gentleman held his two ministerial posts, Sir Humphrey laid such a heavy hand on his shoulder, because with his passion and commitment to finding a solution to the problems of Stonehenge, I am convinced that if he had been given the necessary freedom in those posts, he would have got on and done something about it.

I shall return to the contribution of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland (Dr. Kumar) in a minute, but first I congratulate the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who talked passionately about his patch and the world heritage site of Saltaire in it, but who also rightly raised a number of concerns that are shared by others in the House, and I want to touch on those. I join the hon. Member for Salisbury in urging the hon. Member for Shipley to
14 Dec 2005 : Column 473WH
go   back and have words about signage; I, too, am convinced that that problem can be solved. I notice that the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary is making detailed notes, so I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman talks to him afterwards, he will get some advice about that.

My greatest praise must be for the hon. Member for   Telford (David Wright), who made an extremely good and comprehensive introductory speech. I also congratulate him on his re-election as chairman of the all-party group on world heritage sites. I am delighted to be one of the two vice-chairmen of that group, and am particularly delighted that the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire), the other vice-chairman, is here. I    wish to take this first public opportunity to congratulate him on his recent elevation in the ranks of his party. I also put on record my thanks to English Heritage for the support that it now gives the all-party group, and add particular thanks to Sir Neil Cussons from that body for his inspiring contribution to our first meeting in this parliamentary Session.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak, because not only I am the vice-chairman, but I am proud to be the only Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom who can boast of having an entire city as a world heritage site in their constituency.

I want to begin my remarks, oddly, by making a few suggestions to the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland. I agreed with everything he said about reflecting the importance of science and engineering in the tentative list—and in the long term, I hope, in the actual list.

I hope that the Minister is listening to this next suggestion. Next year, 2006, will be the 200th anniversary of the birth of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. If we ask the question, "Who put the great in Great Britain?", we know from the recent poll that Churchill came first and I. K. Brunel came second. One of the best ways of reflecting that and meeting the hon. Gentleman's requirements would be to ensure that the Great Western railway gets the prominence that it deserves.

After all, it was Brunel's work on that railway that not only put Britain on the map, but showed the world how to set up mass transport. It is not Brunel's fault that on that railway there are some of the highest fares in Europe. Although many of the early railways have long since disappeared, the Great Western railway is not only still in operation, but able to carry the modern high-speed trains that, as the hon. Member for Salisbury said, enable us to travel to the south-west.

Robert Key : High speed?

Mr. Foster : The hon. Gentleman may doubt the speed, but he knows that with the new franchise, we have a commitment from First Group to provide better rolling stock on the line.

Perhaps the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland and my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who is no longer present, were guilty of trying to put too many sites on the tentative list. Now that we have the opportunity for only one key proposal, it will be even more difficult for GWR to be the one that we take forward.
14 Dec 2005 : Column 474WH

Wherever world heritage sites are—Saltaire, Telford or anywhere else—we are proud of them, we know about their importance, we recognise their economic potential and we know that they are attractive to businesses and investment. After all, they have been singled out as the best examples in the world of places that people inhabit, visit and so on. I recognise the enormous benefit of that status, but it does not alter the fact that there are a number of problems, which other hon. Members have already described.

Bath, for example, has a large number of listed buildings. The people in listed buildings automatically have to apply for listed building consent to make any changes, but they do not have to pay for that, which puts financial pressure on the local authority. Because Bath is a world heritage city, if there is a major development and the developers come in, our local council planning department must do a huge amount of additional work. However, there is a cap on the amount of money that it can charge developers, which creates a huge strain.

Throughout the country, there is inconsistency in the    funding, back-up and support for our 26 world heritages sites. Sadly, there are gaps in the conservation legislation and the listed building and scheduled monument legislation, down which we can fall.

There are huge pressures. The South West regional assembly, in developing its regional spatial plan, wants to create a huge amount of growth in Bath. There are huge consequences for the way in which we manage that growth while retaining the uniqueness that entitles us to call ourselves a world heritage city. We must find a way of resolving that conflict.

Only in the past couple of days, I received a letter from Bath's conservation officer with responsibility for world heritage. She writes:

She is absolutely right. We must find solutions to that problem.

As the hon. Member for Telford said, management plans are part of the solution. This country led the way in putting them in place. Now, nearly all our world heritage sites have one, and soon all of them will. They are part of the way forward. However, unless we find resources for implementing them, we will be in difficulty, as the hon. Member for Shipley rightly said.

We must also take forward some of the other ideas that have been suggested. The Government are currently conducting a heritage protection review. Many of us would urge the Minister to provide statutory protection in one form or another for world heritage sites, and to ensure that it is the right sort of statutory protection. This cannot be done on some sort of consensual basis. A mandatory system must be put in place to get real protection. Perhaps the Minister will respond to those points.

As has been mentioned, there have been opportunities in respect of the register of historic sites and buildings and so on, but there are models—for example, areas of outstanding natural beauty and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000—that we could pick up and run with quickly.
14 Dec 2005 : Column 475WH

I am conscious that time is tight, so I must finish soon. In his extremely valuable contribution, the hon.   Member for Telford discussed the need to start promoting the brand in this country, and he is absolutely right. My suggestions build on what he said. There are five key steps that we could easily take.

First, we should work hard to get all the United Kingdom's sites to use and prominently display the official world heritage symbol. Secondly, Ordnance Survey maps should show world heritage sites with the appropriate symbol on all its maps. Thirdly, VisitBritain should promote our world heritage sites much more effectively, particularly when it advertises overseas. Fourthly, let us persuade every site to distribute a leaflet that describes what is offered at the other sites in the rest of the country and overseas. Finally, let us find better ways of providing links between the sites—perhaps route maps and so on.

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Telford that the 2012 Olympics will provide a target date for putting all those ideas in place. World heritage sites are    fantastic. They are wonderful. We should be enormously proud of the 26 in this country, but they need more help, and I hope that in few minutes' time the Minister will describe how he will provide it.

Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Bill Olner (in the Chair): I call Mr. Hugo Swire.

3.33 pm

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Olner. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne) will find me very forgiving if he seeks to intervene during my few remarks. In the spirit of consensus, I should like to join the universal gratitude of the House to the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright), who manfully continues the job that he started. I take this opportunity to congratulate him    and the vice-chairman, while simultaneously apologising for not being able to make our meeting yesterday.

I would also like to take the opportunity—with your indulgence, Mr. Olner, lest this become a sort of end-of-term party—to thank the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) for congratulating me on my elevation to the shadow Cabinet. My only message to him, given the current questions over the leadership of his own party, is that the sky is the limit. I also extend my thanks to the Local Authority World Heritage Forum, as I suspect that much of the work falls on its shoulders. It does an excellent job.

It is appropriate that we are meeting here this afternoon. The hon. Member for Telford was right to point out that we are debating this topic in what is—although we often forget it—a world heritage site. As the chairman of the Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art, I know that that sometimes causes problems. Who has the right to decide what statues stand in the square outside? It turns out that the answer to that is not Parliament, or even Parliament as a world heritage site; it is the Mayor of London. The fact that the Mayor has the right to decide what statues should stand opposite Parliament fills some of us with as much
14 Dec 2005 : Column 476WH
confidence as the Trojans had on discovering too late that the horse was hollow and had people inside it. I ask the Minister to look into the whole question of the Westminster world heritage site at some stage in the future, and find out whether we can bring within the competence of that site—and, perhaps, within the powers of Parliament—the right to control the place that we inhabit.

There is much talk about sites in the United Kingdom—that is what the debate is about—but our responsibilities extend beyond our national borders. We have responsibilities around the world. In my party's manifesto at the last election, I specifically included a token sum of £5 million from the lottery funds to protect British heritage overseas; there are many remnants of British history overseas, such as Shackleton's Antarctic huts. That sum might have been tokenistic, but it was indicative of our thinking and our aspiration. Funds would also have been made available for heritage sites in Iraq, such as Babylon, which suffered during coalition activity and attacks in the recent war in that country. Therefore, although our responsibilities are domestic, they extend beyond our national borders.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) is my almost near neighbour; he would be my near neighbour if the trains were faster and the roads better between Salisbury and East Devon. He referred—rather poetically, I thought—to the world heritage site that is partially in my constituency as "Jurassic Park". No doubt many of us in our part of the world would do well as extras in the film of that name, but the correct term for it is the Jurassic coast—in fact, the technical term for it is the Jurassic, Triassic and cretaceous coast; were I allowed to refer to those sitting at the back of the Chamber, I would no doubt be able to state that several of them were nodding in assent to that.

As we are all being a little partisan about our own sites, I shall take this opportunity to congratulate everyone in Devon and Dorset who worked so tirelessly to get us world heritage site status. The day we got it was a tremendous day. I should like to point out that we got it in the same year as Saltaire did, and somewhat after the city of Bath, which was awarded that status in 1987. My hon. Friend's very own Stonehenge was awarded it in 1986, which pips us all at the post.

I am interested in what the hon. Member for Telford said, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments. That there is no statutory provision for protecting world heritage sites is extraordinary. I would welcome receiving any information that the Minister might have on that. I question whether the DCMS register goes far enough, and what it is intended to do. I would also like to know how we could go further.

The thorny issue of resources is dear to my heart. We should not do world heritage sites on the cheap. We are in a competitive environment; we are competing with the very best around the world. Places should not be given world heritage site status and then, bang, they are on their own—but that is what tends to happen. In Jurassic park—or rather, on the Jurassic coast—we are trying to set up a themed walk with visitor centres, some of which might be in my constituency. There might be one at the start of the walk in Exmouth, another in Seaton and others in Dorset as well. There would be interpretive centres linked together all the way down the
14 Dec 2005 : Column 477WH
coast. But we are finding it extremely difficult to access funding and to get any body—such as the ODPM or the DCMS—interested in developing these ideas.

To give credit to all who are working on the project, I must add that the Jurassic coast is already recognised nationally and internationally as leading on sustainable tourism and public transport initiatives. It won the winter 2005 Tourism for Tomorrow destination award, and the Jurassic coast X53 service got an excellence passenger transport award and a national transport award. People are doing things, but often without much support from central Government.

There is also the wider issue of entertaining and looking after all those tourists who come to see our world heritage site. Amazingly, we have a shortage of hotel beds in my part of the world. No great thought seems to be given to what should happen next. Yes, the award was won on merit, but what happens next? What about the necessary infrastructure, both for the people who live there, so that their everyday lives are not impinged on unnecessarily, and for the tourists whom we want to come here to make the sites economically viable and sustainable in the longer term?

Mr. Dunne : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Swire : Of course.

Mr. Bill Olner (in the Chair): Order. I recognise that it is your right to give way, Mr. Swire, but it is a bit of a cheek for someone who has been in the Chamber for only five minutes to seek to intervene.

Mr. Swire : I am between a rock and hard place, Mr. Olner; I am not sure whether it is Triassic or Jurassic. At the risk of incurring your wrath, I will give way to my hon. Friend, as long as his intervention is very short.

Mr. Dunne : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and to you, Mr. Olner; I am duly chastised. My intervention relates to my hon. Friend's new responsibilities, on which I heartily congratulate him, and to the point made by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). Those new responsibilities cover the lottery funding that will go towards the Olympics. In view of the National Lottery Bill, I urge my hon. Friend to put pressure on the Minister to ensure that funding is available for the heritage aspect through the lottery, which has been somewhat curtailed as a result of the imposition of the Olympics.

Mr. Swire : My hon. Friend is right. There is a residual nervousness about the heritage sector losing out to other sectors in connection with the Olympics.

Mr. Foster rose—

Mr. Swire : The hon. Member for Bath has been here, Mr. Olner, so I will give way to him.

Mr. Foster : The hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) may just wish to remind his hon. Friend that
14 Dec 2005 : Column 478WH
as a result of a joint amendment that he and I tabled to the National Lottery Bill, which we will continue to pursue at the beginning of next year, we may be able to solve that problem.

Mr. Swire : You see, Mr. Olner, the Lib-Lab pact is not the only one. The hon. Gentleman is entirely correct.

I now have only a few minutes left, as the Minister needs sufficient time to answer all these questions. Yes of course we need to promote the brand nationally. The Olympics provide us with a wonderful opportunity to do so. There is some nervousness that the Olympic games will be London-centric. That would be inappropriate, particularly given this debate, which is about sites all around our country. I urge the Minister, when discussing the subject with officials and colleagues, to bear in mind that there is life outside London.

World heritage sites at risk, and future sites that may be threatened, have been briefly mentioned. That problem needs to be examined. We also need to spend a little more time, energy and—dare I say it?—resources, on the conservation of existing sites. That may be required as a result of wear and tear from the increase in visitor numbers, or there may be a need for sensitive development to enhance rather than detract from the sites.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury spoke about Stonehenge. I know a little bit about that. He has been kind enough to brief me in the past. I have had visits from people involved in the visitor centre in my constituency. Stonehenge is a token in my everyday life in a way, because I travel up and down the A303. I have my own reservations about some of the plans. The Countess roundabout is quite far away for a visitor centre, and there are issues about how one gets people from there to the site.

I have a residual sadness at the thought that one day I will travel up and down the A303 and not even see Stonehenge—but I am prepared to sacrifice my desires for the benefit of all. I understand that something needs to be done. The Minister could make his name here, because this argument has been around almost as long as the stones themselves. If he comes up with a workable solution on which we can all co-operate—it may not be the ideal solution, but it must be one that can be undertaken and enforced—he will have my support and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury.

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland (Dr. Kumar) made some very good points about what he wanted, given his background in science and engineering. I urge him to consider that not everything can be a world heritage site. If anything is to come out of this debate, for goodness' sake let it be that we spend a little more time on making what we have better, rather than just coming up with new ideas. Otherwise, the entire country could turn into a world heritage site. None the less, I take the hon. Gentleman's point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) talked about Saltaire, which received the same award in the same year as us—and a very good thing, too. He talked about Saltaire's connection with David Hockney, who is perhaps not so popular in Government circles these days, as he is, as it were, rubbing salt from Saltaire into the Government's wounds over their plans to ban smoking. Saltaire is an important site.
14 Dec 2005 : Column 479WH

My hon. Friend made an important point about the school curriculum; the debate always returns to the school curriculum. The first people to whom we should speak about world heritage sites in the United Kingdom are our students, pupils and children, who are the citizens of tomorrow. If they do not take an interest, not only shall we not get many more world heritage sites but there will be no great hunger for them and no one to look after them. Therefore the school curriculum is incredibly important to preserving our heritage. I know that in his reply to the debate, the Minister will want to deal with each and every point that has been made.

3.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. David Lammy) : In the time available, I want to respond to all the points that were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright). I congratulate him on introducing an excellent debate on world heritage. It is important that we have the opportunity to discuss the issue, and it is    appropriate that we are having the debate in Westminster Hall. I accept the points that the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) raised about the Mayor of London, and those points will arise again during next year's heritage protection review.

My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland (Dr. Kumar) made important points too. I take those on board, even if I may not have time to respond to them. The same goes for what was said by the hon. Members for Salisbury (Robert Key) and for Shipley (Philip Davies).

The hon. Member for Salisbury will know that I    sympathise greatly with the case for Stonehenge. Stonehenge was the first heritage site that I visited, in my first few days in this post. The case to renew Stonehenge is well made, and we must work through the problems; I hope that I will have time to speak about them today. I sympathised with the hon. Gentleman when he spoke   about the position that he found himself in with Sir Humphrey. He will see today that I have with me not just one but five Sir Humphreys. That is why it has been difficult to get White Hart Lane on to the tentative list.

I can tell the hon. Member for Shipley that I have been to Saltaire. I was there in May to help the former Member for Shipley, and I hope to visit Saltaire again in the years ahead.

We have had a good debate. The world heritage convention, which the UK signed in 1984, has proved to be an enormously effective and positive force in bringing together nations from all over the world to act collectively to safeguard sites of outstanding universal value. An inscription as a world heritage site, of which there are now more than 800 worldwide, is the highest accolade that a place can receive. An inscription brings with it real international prestige.

One of the first steps that this Government took was   to rejoin UNESCO. We played a full part in supporting UNESCO and the world heritage committee's implementation of the world heritage convention. From 2001 to 2005 the UK was, for the first time, a full member of the world heritage committee. We left this year only because our term of office came to an end.

The work that we did has gained us huge international standing. During our time on the committee, we have supported developing countries as they put together
14 Dec 2005 : Column 480WH
their own nominations for world heritage inscription. We have participated in a full revision of the operational guidelines—the rule book that governs how the world heritage convention is implemented. We have supported the process for periodic reporting on world heritage sites across Europe and contributed funds for bilateral programmes to support world heritage in other parts of the world, including support for Anguilla and St. Lucia. We are now discussing a further programme based on sub-Saharan Africa with UNESCO.

We are delighted that through our membership, we have encouraged the world heritage committee to develop a strategy to manage the impact of climate change on world heritage sites. Next year, the UK is to host a meeting of experts to consider specifically the effect of climate change on our world heritage sites. Our aim is to pool expertise and develop management strategies across all regions of the world so that that important issue, which is bearing down on our sites, can be resolved.

I now turn back to our track record at home. The year 1997 saw the start of the review of the tentative list of sites recognised as having potential for future nomination as world heritage sites, and that redefined how we look at candidates for world heritage nomination, which now include not only iconic monuments—world-class though they are—but sites that epitomise Britain's achievements in leading the industrialisation of the world, and our global influence, as well as sites that reflect everyday life and industry. That goes to the heart of the contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland, notwithstanding the fact that some of the sites that he wants to be included are not on the list.

The UK currently has 26 world heritage sites. As we have heard, there are 16 in England, four in Scotland, two in Wales, one in Northern Ireland and three in our   overseas territories. They represent a tremendous spread, both geographically and in terms of type. They range from the town of St. George in Bermuda to the frontiers of the Roman empire, represented by Hadrian's wall, and from St. Kilda to the Blaenavon industrial landscape in Wales. They include, of course, the Ironbridge gorge. Eight sites from the tentative list have been inscribed since 1999.

The Government take seriously their responsibility for world heritage. Protection for world heritage sites is enshrined in the planning system; in England that is set out in PPG15 and the associated guidance, specifically for the home counties. Management plans for world heritage sites are an essential part of how we manage them; that approach has been adopted throughout the world, and is encouraged by UNESCO.

The management plan should govern how we bring about consensus among all the stakeholders involved in a world heritage site. Essentially, it is the partnership contract that enables all participants to work together. In 1997, one management plan had been completed; now, 22 have been, and work is in hand on the remaining four sites.

As a country, we have achieved a great deal, but the route to world heritage status is not easy. Such status brings advantages: prestige, recognition, public awareness and local pride. More weight is given to conservation and
14 Dec 2005 : Column 481WH
protection, and the status can bring economic advantage through increased tourism as part of an economic regeneration plan.

However, the status also brings questions about how the sites are to be managed. Increased visitor numbers can jeopardise the sustainable development of a site. A few months ago at Stonehenge, I saw how the flow of people was being managed. Particularly during the summer solstice, work with the police ensured that the volume of people coming to the site did not disrupt it for    future generations. The Government are not complacent about those responsibilities, and today's debate has highlighted some of the issues that we face and how they relate to aspects of what the Government are attempting to do. We believe that there is more we can do to develop partnership by working even further at the national level through my own and other Departments and with agencies and non-governmental organisations such as English Heritage, the UK National Commission for UNESCO, the Local Authority World Heritage Forum and the all-party parliamentary group.

I shall now turn to some of the specific issues raised in the debate. I have said that I will announce the start of a review of the tentative list next spring. That will be a major lengthy undertaking on which we shall work   closely with the devolved Administrations and the Crown dependencies. The points raised by my hon.    Friend for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland are on the record, and he will no doubt want to play a role in that.

What has been said about statutory protection for our    world heritage sites is important, and I totally understand the need for that as we move forward with the heritage review. A balance needs to be struck. Any new system must take account of the nature of world heritage sites, and enable them to extend across a wide area. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) raised that issue in the context of almost his entire constituency, and we will have to ensure that there is
14 Dec 2005 : Column 482WH
flexibility. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman would want to ensure that the entirety of Bath town centre was not included under some new system. We want to work through such issues, and we want hon. Members and the all-party group to help us as we begin to work out how inclusion of world heritage sites might look in a new unified register.

I fully recognise the important points that my hon. Friend the Member for Telford made about promotion and marketing of our heritage sites. I recognise the importance of world heritage sites in attracting visitors to the UK. That is the key reason for the heavy involvement of VisitBritain in promoting heritage sites, and I am pleased that it is launching its Enjoy England 2006 campaign tomorrow. That will play a role in promoting world heritage more widely, particularly after the problems that we had in London this summer, which affected tourism in this country to some extent.

As for the pressure that is rightly placed on local authorities and the funding issues that arise from that, there is a quid pro quo. Designation as a world heritage site means that in a fairly competitive field—we have heard about some of the other places that could be world heritage sites—people are attracted to a particular place. They want to come to it, and that in itself benefits the local economy. During the next few months, my officials are discussing further with English Heritage the central support that might be needed for world heritage sites in the light of information coming out of the recent periodic reporting exercise.

It is important to emphasise—this has not been mentioned so far—the huge role that the Heritage Lottery Fund plays in supporting our world heritage sites. It has given more than £85 million towards them since 1994, and as I examine the list of the money that it has provided, there is not a site mentioned in the debate that has not received some money from the fund. It stands ready to receive applications if there are particular needs—

Mr. Bill Olner (in the Chair): Order. The clock has beaten us, and we must move on to the next debate.
14 Dec 2005 : Column 481WH

14 Dec 2005 : Column 483WH

Next Section IndexHome Page