State of Conservation (SOC)
Old and New Towns of Edinburgh (2003)
UNESCO Extra-Budgetary Funds
International Assistance granted to the property
Total Amount Ap proved:0USD
Factors* affecting the property identified in previous reports
Current conservation issues
A blaze affected a part of the Old Town area of Edinburgh (Cowgate) on 7 December 2002. On 19 December 2002, a letter was received from the Minister for the Arts of the State Party indicating that the fire affected only 13 out of the World Heritage site's nearly 4,500 historic buildings. It was considered that the overall quality of the World Heritage site has remained intact. Historic Scotland, that has been working closely with the local authority to give assistance in developing a remedial action plan for the area affected, transmitted a more detailed report on 20 January 2003. This report underlined that the impact of the fire was limited to less than 1% of the whole area of the World Heritage site, and that the most important historic buildings in the area escaped damage. Only 2 listed buildings (buildings identified by the State as meriting particular individual protection) out of some 3,500 listed buildings in the World Heritage site were directly affected.
However, the report stated that the fire did destroy an important part of the Edinburgh townscape at the junction of the two streets, an area that had been the subject of significant 18th and 19th century urban design projects. The report underlined also that the re-development of the site very quickly became a subject of public debate. To date, the reconstruction of some of the demolished buildings or reinstatement of the frontage to an earlier appearance are among the options that may be considered in the development plan. Yet, redevelopment will not commence until a proper assessment of the remaining structures and the archaeological and architectural significance of the site has been carried out and a development plan agreed with the City Council.
The State Party also informed that the City Council is committed to ensuring that any redevelopment of the area will take full account of the character and the surviving medieval street pattern of this part of the World Heritage site. The Edinburgh City Council assumed control under its powers in relation to unsafe structures and public safety. Its aim was to keep demolition to a minimum, however, in view of the considerable structural damage caused by the fire, unlisted buildings were demolished.
ICOMOS stated that the challenge was now to address the consequences of the fire in the light of the designation of the area as part of the World Heritage site. ICOMOS also agreed that stating that a significant part of the Old Town was destroyed did not correspond to the truth, since only 13 buildings were involved and the loss of structures of particular architectural interest remain modest. However, the fire has resulted in the destruction of a highly important sector of the city and that buildings which contributed to the strong character of the streetscape and fabric of the Old Town, for which Edinburgh was inscribed as a World Heritage site, have been lost. ICOMOS also informed the Centre that a full archaeological survey would take place as soon as the site is safe. ICOMOS expressed the hope that, in due course, a conservation plan or equivalent will be put together to guide the redevelopment of the site through informing debate on options to be considered, and that the approach will take account of ICOMOS International Charters, such as the Charter of Krakow of 2000 on Historic Towns.
Link to the decision
The World Heritage Committee ,
1. Expresses its appreciation to the national authorities as well as the local authorities for their prompt and brave action undertaken during the blaze and immediately after;
2. Takes note of the actions taken by the Edinburgh City Council and Historic Scotland in close co-operation to develop a remedial action plan for the area;
3. Takes note that involved stakeholders are studying a conservation plan for the property and that any re-development of the area affected will take full account of the character and medieval pattern of this part of the World Heritage property;
4. Requests the State Party to provide to the World Heritage Centre by 1 February 2004, a report on this matter and on any significant development proposals in the boundaries and buffer zone of the property in order that the World Heritage Committee can examine the state of conservation of the property at its 28th session in 2004.
 Decision adopted following written amendments proposed by the State Party.
Draft Decision: 27 COM 7 (b) 81
The World Heritage Committee,
1. Thanking the national authorities as well as the local authorities for their prompt and brave action undertaken during the blaze and immediately after,
2. Takes note of the actions taken by the Edinburgh City Council and Historic Scotland in close co-operation to develop a remedial action plan for the area,
3. Takes note that involved stakeholders are studying a conservation plan for the site and that any redevelopment of the area affected will take full account of the character and medieval pattern of this part of the World Heritage site,
4. Requests the State Party to provide, by 1 February 2004, a report on this matter and on any development proposals in the boundaries and buffer zone of the site, for examination by the Committee at its 28th session.
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
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The threats indicated are listed in alphabetical order; their order does not constitute a classification according to the importance of their impact on the property.
Furthermore, they are presented irrespective of the type of threat faced by the property, i.e. with specific and proven imminent danger (“ascertained danger”) or with threats which could have deleterious effects on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (“potential danger”).