Bath threatened with loss of World Heritage Site status

This is more about Georgian Bath than about the Roman Baths, but interesting none the less. Bath planners made a terrible decision in letting a huge hotel be built more or less in the city centre in the 60s, I think it was. I remember, too, hearing a radio programme a little later that pointed out that it was cheaper to renovate historic Bath houses than to pull them down and build new ones – and that was what saved them. If it’s a derelict site “dominated by a defunct 118ft (36m) high gasometer” that is to be developed, then fair enough – but nine storey buildings seem excessive. What has Prince Charles got to say about it?


By Emma Bamford
Friday, 7 November 2008

Bath’s famed Georgian architecture and Roman ruins have made it the only British city to be classed as a World Heritage Site. But today officials from Bath will be crossing their fingers that they can continue to hold on to their coveted status as details of a large and controversial new development are outlined to Unesco inspectors.

A team from the United Nations arrived in the city on Wednesday for a three-day visit to determine whether Bath still deserves its listing beside the Great Barrier Reef and the Serengeti Desert. Concerns have been raised after planners gave permission for the Western Riverside development to go ahead, which involves 2,200 houses, shops, a school and a park being built next to the river. The area has been derelict for years and is dominated by a defunct 118ft (36m) high gasometer. There are worries that the new development, which includes nine-storey buildings, will dominate the city’s skyline.

To be deemed a heritage site, a place has to be of “outstanding universal value”; although there are 27 places in the UK on the Unesco list, Bath is the only entire city included. Unesco says Bath’s significance is its Roman remains and Georgian buildings which makes it “one of the most beautiful cities in Europe”, reflecting “two great eras in human history: Roman and Georgian”.

The Bath Preservation Trust meets the Unesco inspectors today. The trust says the design of the proposed development will include tall and bulky buildings inappropriate to Bath which will encroach on important countryside. The trust also wants more investment in protecting the World Heritage Site title by reinforcing guidelines on new planning applications and celebrating Georgian architecture.

Caroline Kay, the chief executive of the trust, said: “Bath Preservation Trust has welcomed the visit by Unesco inspectors, in the hope that this will draw greater attention to the challenges facing Bath as a World Heritage Site.”

The city has been the location for countless television dramas and films including The Duchess, Remains of the Day and Vanity Fair.

The Unesco inspectors will write a report for the World Heritage Committee, which will meet in June to make a decision on whether Bath will retain its status. A spokesman for Unesco said: “It is extremely rare that a location gets struck off the World Heritage list – it has only happened once – so there may be more visits.” A Unesco conference in Canada this year decided that the official visit to Bath was needed in the light of the plans to develop the Western Riverside.

Members of the Preservation Trust will address the Unesco officials and express their fears that the buildings in the Riverside scheme are too tall for the city, and that government plans to encourage more houses to be built there would be damaging.

But the Austrian architect and academic, Professor Manfred Wehdorn, who, with colleague Richard Veillon makes up the visiting team, said: “A city which lives needs new architecture and new spaces. New buildings and new possibilities are absolutely needed.”

After visiting Bath, the Unesco team visits Edinburgh on a similar mission. Only parts of Edinburgh are on the Unesco list.

Colchester should look after its Roman remains

I haven’t been to Colchester for many years, so I don’t know if the charge of neglect is fair. It seems to me that these days it’s no good doing tourist things by halves. You have to present Roman ruins or whatever in a way that families on a day out will respond to. I once was interviewed by Angela Rippon about a marvellous machine we have here in Street that writes Latin hexameters. It was for a programme called Day Out, and when I offered to give a brief explanation of what makes  a hexameter, Angela said “No, the fun-loving families won’t want to know that.”
East Anglian Daily Times

COLCHESTER councillors should “hang their heads in shame” at the neglect of the town’s Roman heritage, it has been claimed.

The accusation comes from Dennis Willetts, himself a borough councillor, who is furious about what he says is the continued lack of funds being spent on the “exceptional” historic sites.

He has now demanded to know why Colchester Borough Council does not have a financial plan for preserving its Roman heritage which includes the only chariot racing track in Britain.

Mr Willetts told the EADT his criticism was motivated by a letter from the Association of Roman Archaeology which criticised the stewardship of the town’s heritage.

Among the town’s historical gems are its walls, the Temple of Claudius, Balkerne Gate and Gosbecks Archaeological Park, believed to be the location of the surrender of the leaders of the British tribes to Emperor Claudius in AD43.

The council is now considering re-establishing a heritage reserve so it can be more proactive in its approach.

Mr Willetts said other towns and councils would think themselves lucky to have just one of Colchester’s historical attractions.

He said: “We have to put our money where our mouth is – if we want the Roman Heritage to be a permanent tourist attraction we have to plan properly and work out how much we want to spend on it each year – there needs to be a strategy.

“This seems to get relegated to the bottom of the pile on every occasion other than once in a while and the funding it very much hand-to-mouth.

“The members of the council should be ashamed, they should hang their heads in shame at their neglect of our Roman heritage.

“Certainly, funds have been found from time-to-time for emergency repairs to the walls.

“But even the funding of the proposed information centre at the Roman Circus hangs in the balance because it is dependent on lottery and other grants rather than assured funding from the council’s own coffers.”

He called for each of the 10 historic sites to be assessed to help establish funding for a maintenance and preservation strategy.

Theresa Higgins, in charge of culture at the council, said she agreed the town needed to be more proactive in its approach.

“We are going to try to reinstate the heritage reserve, maybe in a slightly different way and we have to be more proactive so that we are like the Forth Road Bridge where the work is never ending and once at the end you start again.”

The council is now considering using interest from ring-fenced bank accounts towards the heritage fund.

“I think, ideally, it would be good to have a base of three to four million sitting there to gain interest on to do the work.

“People have to understand we are not Chester or York, much of our Roman heritage is under the streets,” she said.