In response to the request from the World Heritage Committee at its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008), a World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS joint reactive monitoring mission to the property took place in November 2008. Its purpose was to consider the overall state of conservation of the Edinburgh Old and New Towns, and particularly the impact of the Caltongate development on the integrity and Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage property, as well as the outline proposals for Leith Docks, the St James Centre, and other current proposals. The World Heritage Committee also requested the State Party to submit a report on the state of conservation of the property, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 33rd session in 2009.
The State Party submitted its report on 30 January 2009 noting that it had yet to see the report of the reactive monitoring mission, and subsequently responded to the mission report on 13 March 2009.
The mission found that the overall state of conservation of the property is satisfactory and that inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger would not be required. However in spite of finding that the property is managed adequately in accordance with Scottish and British law, and the use of a consultative skyline study as a planning tool, the mission was concerned at the lack of a defined buffer zone. The mission report recommends that this be addressed as part of the State Party’s proposed forthcoming review of the management plan.
The mission report notes that management of the property would be improved by smoother co-ordination between the relevant agencies; greater involvement of stakeholders in master planning; the use of architectural competitions for key projects, and the awareness raising and information of all stakeholders about the clearly defined Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage property, its integrity and authenticity as a critical basis of all future developments.
The mission report makes a number of recommendations in relation to the development projects that have resulted from Edinburgh’s success in terms of its commerce, economy and population growth. It notes the need for careful planning for the increased traffic that the large development projects can be expected to generate.
Of the proposed projects within the World Heritage property the mission expresses some concerns about the detail of the Caltongate development. It concludes that to avoid the development having an impact on the Outstanding Universal Value, authenticity and integrity of the World Heritage property, it recommends the integration rather than demolition of two listed buildings, the total redesign of the town quarter Jeffrey street/Eastern Market Street to keep the interactivity between the urban structure and the open space and important views in the urban landscape, the redesign of public spaces to better respect social needs, and the review of any impacts on views from Carlton Hill.
St James Centre
The mission supports the proposed demolition of the 1970s St. James Centre, whose unfortunate impact on the Outstanding Universal Value and integrity of the property was already noted at the time of inscription.
Cowgate Fire site
The proposed re-development of Cowgate following the fire of 2002 is still in the design and consultation phase. The mission recommends carefully taking into account proper volumes and scale of this re-development and its integration into the town quarter through “translating” the historical pattern of the facades into contemporary architecture.
Of the projects outside the World Heritage property boundary, the mission report concludes that the Leith Docks re-development will have no major or direct impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property because it is 2.5 kilometres from its boundary.
The mission expressed considerable concern about the height of the proposed hotel in the Haymarket development. The Haymarket project is immediately outside the boundary of the World Heritage property. It was the view of the mission that the proposed 17 storey hotel would have a major visual impact on the property and dominate the St Margaret’s church towers from several key viewpoints.
The State Party’s response to the mission report agreed that the review of the management plan offers a potential forum for dialogue about the buffer zone, while indicating lack of conviction on the necessity of a buffer zone due to the statutory planning controls already in place. The State Party acknowledged concern over the proposed development at Haymarket and confirmed that the development had been called in for review by Scottish Ministers. A public enquiry will take place in May/June 2009. The State Party would like the views of the mission to be made available to the enquiry.
The State Party provided update information via letter of 13 March 2009 and will continue to work with developers and the City of Edinburgh to guarantee that projects respect the historic environment and avoid any adverse impact on the property. It also informed that Edinburgh Council resolved to approve the proposals for the Cowgate Fire site, and approved on 4 March 2009 the application for the planning Permission for St James Centre. On 24 April 2009, another letter was received from the State Party informing that the developer of the Caltongate site went into receivership on 23 March 2009 and that solutions are being sought.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider:
a) There is a need for a declared buffer zone in accordance with Paragraph 103 of the Operational Guidelines, particularly in view of the apparent failure of the current planning mechanisms to deter proposals such as the 17 storey Haymarket hotel in the area immediately adjacent to the World Heritage property;.
b) The recommendations of the reactive monitoring mission should be made available to the forthcoming public enquiry into the proposed Haymarket development;
c) There is a need for clear policies in relation to height controls within the World Heritage property to protect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property which should be developed on the basis of key views and vistas from within and outside the property;
d) There is a need to raise awareness among potential developers and stakeholders about the Outstanding Universal Value of the Edinburgh Old and New Towns World Heritage property, and what this means for future development. The section of the Statement of Significance which says: “The dramatic topography of the Old Town combined with the planned alignments of key buildings in both the Old and the New Town, results in spectacular views and panoramas and an iconic skyline” is particularly relevant in this regard.
e) There is a need to an overall smooth coordination and management of the property, by the City Council, Historic Scotland, and Edinburgh World Heritage;
f) It would be desirable to improve the involvement of stakeholders to ensure transparency and particularly best practice consultation in master planning approaches;
g) That in order to enhance design, quality and diversity, consideration should be given to using architectural competitions for certain projects.