PROTECTION OF WORLD HERITAGE SITES - COMMENT 01/01/09
Protection of World Heritage Sites – consultation paper 2nd July 2008
Richard Coleman’s comments on the consultation paper:
The consultation paper aims to set out the Principles and Actions for the protection of World Heritage Sites (WHS) including their settings and buffer zones.
Setting of a WHS
The paper states that “the setting of a World Heritage Site is the area around it (including any Buffer Zone or its equivalent) in which development is capable of having an adverse impact on the World Heritage Site, including an impact on views to or from the Site”. It goes on to state that it “may be appropriate to protect the setting of the WHS in other ways, for example by the protection of specific views and viewpoints.”
It is implied in the above statements that the ‘setting’ of a WHS would also include ‘views to or from the site’, but it is important to recognise that the ‘setting’ of a WHS is different to ‘views to or from’ it. In determining whether a development affects the setting of a WHS it is first necessary to analyse what the setting is. The dictionary definition of setting states that: “[setting is] the place or type of surroundings where something is positioned or an event takes place” (The New Oxford Dictionary of English - 1998). Setting is also defined in the English Heritage Conservation Principles as ‘the surroundings in which a place is experienced, its local context, embracing present and past relationships to the adjacent landscape’
This last statement is the route of misunderstanding and confuses the effect of tall buildings on views, with an alteration to setting. While this may seem to be semantics, the difference between ‘setting’ and ‘views of’ is fundamental. The setting definition is to do with ‘the surroundings’ and is definable, even though it may change over time. It cannot be the case that a tall building ‘some distance away’ can change the physical dimensions of a setting. Essentially a setting is more of a physical relationship, whereas views are more of a visual relationship. It can be argued that the listed Millbank Tower is not part of the Westminster World Heritage Site’s setting, while it is part of the ‘setting of views’ of it. The subtlety of this difference is important. The fear brought about, for the physical setting of the Westminster WHS, owing to proposals for a cluster of towers at Vauxhall, is misplaced. The setting of that WHS is one of the most secure and well defined of all WHSs in the UK. What is at risk is the impact on views ‘through’, ‘out of’ and ‘alongside’ the WHS. This impact can be measured from imperceptible to significant by degree. The placing of a tall building ‘some distance away’ therefore does not change the dimensions of the setting. It is possible, therefore, to agree a boundary to the essential setting of a heritage asset if one accepts that views over it, through it, and alongside it are a different matter. For instance the setting of a garden pavilion is the garden, regardless of whether a neighbouring house is visible from its threshold or over its roof, from another part of the garden.
In analysing the setting of a WHS it is necessary to include all those buildings, which form a group with it, enclose open spaces which are adjacent to it, and which enclose streets that form important approaches to it. Conversely, where a heritage asset can be seen from, is not necessarily part of its setting. For example, in the case of The Palace of Westminster, although it is visible from Parliament Hill, no part of Hampstead Heath is part of its setting. It could be argued that a greater length of river, beyond both Lambeth and Hungerford Bridges, should be considered as part of its wider setting but this would not necessarily mean that buildings facing these waterscape extensions would also be considered as part of the setting.
It is contended, therefore, that a difference must be acknowledged, between a monument’s ‘setting’ and ‘views of it’.
The consultation paper states that ‘the UNESCO Operational Guidelines (paragraph 104) suggest the designation of a Buffer Zone around the WHS wherever this may be necessary for its conservation. A Buffer Zone is defined in the guidelines as an area surrounding the World Heritage Site which has complementary legal restriction placed on its use and development to give an added layer of protection to the WHS’.
The UNESCO Operational Guidelines make provision for the identification of buffer zones ‘where necessary for the proper conservation of the property’ (Para 103) to protect World Heritage Sites from threats beyond their boundaries. It was this provision that led to Land Use Consultants being commissioned by Historic Royal Palaces to develop a ‘sky-space model’ to protect the special visual character and ‘outstanding universal value’ of the Tower of London World Heritage Site (2003-2004). This device, however, expresses the physical geometry of the WHS and its surroundings, rather than being a protective measure. The Operational Guidelines (Paras 103-106) also set out the requirements for buffer zones, that they should ‘include the immediate setting of the nominated property, important views and other areas or attributes that are functionally important as a support to the property and its protection’.
It is evident from the above that different buffer zones need to be defined for different levels of intervention as opposed to a blanket buffer zone for all, in order to protect the ‘outstanding universal value, authenticity and integrity’ of the WHS. For example, a buffer zone that offers protection from transportation-related interventions cannot be the same as a buffer zone that offers protection to the visual character of a WHS.
The above ideas on the delineation of buffer zones to World Heritage Sites are founded on considerable experience in the field of visual assessment and heritage protection and are offered as a way of refining our heritage definitions so that future decisions are well founded and secure.