Could London Lose its UNESCO Status?

New high-rise towers spreading throughout central London are threatening the character of the city's most important historic sites, reports Martin Bailey.

UNESCO, the United Nations organization responsible for identifying and protecting the world's most important cultural and natural heritage sites, is criticizing the British government for allowing skyscrapers such as the 95-story "Shard" to be built so close to the world heritage listed Tower of London. The criticism is pitting preservationists against planners and developers in the English capital.

"Earlier this month, the former heritage minister John Penrose, who stepped down last September, admitted that the Shard 'nearly didn’t happen' because of its impact on the Tower. He is calling on English Heritage, with guidance from Unesco, to formulate a policy that would lead to 'selecting the best views of our city and townscapes' to be protected in a similar way that buildings can be listed for preservation."

"The present situation, Penrose says, lacks clarity, which makes it difficult for developers and offers insufficient protection for the most important views."

"The Greater London Authority, however, is reluctant to bow to Unesco pressure. Edward Lister, London’s deputy mayor responsible for planning, said that he would 'fight' for growth, which means new buildings. 'We understand [Unesco’s] concerns, but have to balance them with the demands for an expanding city,' he said."

"Despite the recession, the capital is currently witnessing a boom in the construction of tall office blocks. If this continues in the vicinity of the Tower and around the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey (London’s other World Heritage Site) there is a concern that Unesco would consider adding them to the “Heritage in Danger” list. In 2009, Dresden lost its status as a World Heritage Site when a new bridge over the Danube was erected at a sensitive spot near the city’s historic centre."

Full Story: Battle lines drawn to protect views of old London


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