UNESCO World Heritage Status for a site in Hastings and St Leonards: A Summary of the Issues
This document is in preparation for the discussion of a proposal to have an area in Hastings and St Leonards declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The discussion will be hosted by the Hastings and St Leonards Society (HSLS) at 6.00 pm on 19 October 2018. It covers the following.
1. The World Heritage convention and eligibility of sites
2. Lessons from Chatham’s experience
3. Steps towards the nomination process
4. The potential for a site in Hastings and St Leonards
1. Eligibility of Sites
The 1972 World Heritage Convention determined the need to protect cultural and natural heritage for the sake of posterity.
Any site nominated for World Heritage Status must demonstrate outstanding universal value (OUV). Beyond local and national worth, the site is important to the global community. As such its conservation and development becomes a responsibility of the state and the international community, as embodied in all signatories to the UN World Heritage Convention.
Potential sites (historic buildings, townscapes, industrial and natural landscapes) can combine built and natural environments.
The integrity and authenticity of the areas are crucial to their acceptance as World Heritage sites. Areas containing what may be deemed inappropriate development within or just outside their boundaries would be rejected.
If the site’s OUV can be established, in the final analysis other factors come into play including its uniqueness and comparability to existing World Heritage sites, and its capacity for on-going management and protection.
2. Lessons from Chatham Dockyard’s experience – they have been on the tentative list for at least 8 years.
They describe the process as follows.
a. Tremendously valuable
The nomination process served as a fantastic tool for securing people’s interest in their local heritage. At one stage they had over 1,000 people in the Chatham World Heritage Partnership – the community engagement vehicle set up to encourage support for, and participation in the bid process.
b. Incredibly time consuming
A technical evaluation document is required for the first stage. This is to get on to the UK government’s shortlist or ‘Tentative List’ of potential World Heritage Sites. The next Tentative List won’t be produced until 2021 at the earliest. There is an immense amount of evidence to prepare.
c. Stringent and robust
Chatham were strongly advised to introduce a new planning policy document to protect views to and from the proposed site. It requires long-term funds and endless energy.
d. Welcomed by funders
Being on the UK tentative list was both an attractive independent endorsement of heritage value, and a strong galvanising force to bring all local stakeholders together and provide a supportive framework for bid submissions and delivery.
It has united people of differing and sometimes opposing viewpoints in the common goal of achieving the nomination.
For example, the Chatham steering group successfully brought together the regional regeneration delivery body of the time (SEEDA) with the council’s regeneration delivery vehicle (Medway Renaissance), English Heritage and charitable heritage trusts, and the Ministry of Defence.
Early on, Chatham council commissioned a feasibility study on the viability of a bid, followed by a “Wider Impacts, Benefits and Synergies” study. These were central to initially uniting stakeholders who would otherwise have seen a bid as at best peripheral to their interests, and at worst in opposition to them.
f. The key to having a strong case is to be able to establish the universal value of a potential site as against similar locations. It is important also to establish what the real benefits of World Heritage status would be to the area and its community. If there is a strong case to be made for the site and for its value, then it’s worth progressing. However, be prepared for a protracted and expensive (feasibility studies, monitoring) process. Strong support from the local authority is essential.
3. Steps towards the nomination process
a. Interest groups work together under the leadership of the local council, and with the support of Historic England.
b. To work towards this a volunteer technical working group needs to be established to delineate the area, and define and assess heritage assets, consult with people and interest groups affected by inclusion or exclusion. This could be an informal study that presents its conclusions to the council, or it could be undertaken with the agreement of council, or in coordination with council.
4. A draft statement of OUV is drawn up. This should summarise the case for nomination of the site. For more details see the UK World Heritage Technical Evaluation Guidance document. The statement should comprise the following.
• A brief synthesis of the site’s nature and qualities.
• Justification of the criteria used to assess OUV.
• Integrity and (for cultural sites) authenticity, as well as
arrangements for the protection and management of the site.
5. A potential site in Hastings and St Leonards
The impetus behind this proposal has been to protect the precious RockaNore Cliffs and the Stade from the encroachment of unsympathetic development.
We hope that the citizens and council of Hastings and St Leonards can agree that UNESCO World Heritage status for this unique site would provide global recognition of the history and special culture of our area for generations to come.
Julia Hilton and Chris Saunders