Cornwall struggles with World Heritage status

Cornwall Council’s relationship with its own World Heritage site inscription https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1215 has not been an easy one. There are lessons to be learned from the debate that has ensued, for other areas thinking of an application to be considered for World Heritage Status. Explaining UNESCO’s values in terms of engagement and Public Relations is not easy.

In 2006 along with Sydney Opera House and the Royal Botanical Gardens Kew, The Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape officially became World Heritage Site inscription 1215. The World Heritage Site was welcomed by campaigners who had lobbied vigorously for many years to see Cornwall ‘s rich history of tin mining, foundries and ports recognised for it’s role in the 19th century which transformed Britain as a world economic powerhouse.

The traditional debate between those living in a heritage area and those wishing to preserve its valuesis magnified many fold by the introduction of a World Heritage Site.

Outstanding Universal Value, which is at the heart of any World Heritage Site, is a difficult enough Public Relations challenge if there are physical assets on the ground, to explain the heritage argument. Where the assets have been destroyed or removed, it becomes far more theoretical and more difficult for the local communities to understand the concept of heritage vs day to day life. https://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/

The kind of retail and residential development, which local communities now take for, granted in most areas, is something, which creates huge, extended debate and discussion in areas within a world heritage site. Too many times communities feel disengaged, and therefore don’t put their views across, as the subject matter is too difficult to understand.

Stakeholder engagement is crucial

Consultation and public relations is the key to the process. Communities do not understand how a world heritage inscription will add to the economic influx of visitors. There is still considerable misunderstanding about world heritage sites and a view that they ignore the views of local communities.

This was not helped by the UNESCO Budapest declaration on World Heritage in 2002, which delivered four core objectives credibility, conservation, capacity building and communication.

It took five years for these core objectives to be updated with the further word “Community”, which it said linked the previous four objectives together.

The fundamental difficulty that Cornwall has had in relation to the Cornish mining world Heritage site is that the local communities had very little input pre 2006, as the bid was put together.

UNESCO

Therefore thousands of residents didn’t realise that they lived in a World Heritage Site and what that meant in terms of future development and investment. It created an uneasy misunderstanding that still exist in parts today despite significant efforts by the Cornish World Heritage Team who have been working hard to make up for lost time.

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Many other areas in the UK are promoting themselves as candidates for world Heritage sites. There needs to be far more communication and explanation at the early stages to explain the benefits and the challenges that will need to be resolved by council officers, developers and the community going forward.

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