You might be surprised that York doesn’t have UNESCO World Heritage status. Given its Viking, Roman and church history, its city walls, York Minster and its remaining buildings you would have thought it was a shoe-in. But no the city has never applied for the status before. This year it has and is one of 38 places in the UK that have submitted proposals to the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport. It is this body – or rather a panel of experts appointed by it – that will recommend which 2 names should be forwarded to UNESCO for their consideration. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that they will accept them on the nod.
Last week in the House of Commons there was a brief debate initiated by Hugh Bayley, the MP for York Central which was supported by a number of other Yorkshire MP’s although such was the time available that only 5 and the minister spoke. Some of the comments that were made are well worth repeating as I don’t think they are widely known. The first is that it wasn’t a politician that began or even led the attempt to get UNESCO status. According to the MP it was a citizen, Janet Hopton, who was behind it. This demonstrates that the role of the volunteer, the individual and the concerned can create such a groundswell. In future years if you think an area is worthy of UNESCO status, you can start work yourself; you don’t need to wait and interest a politician.
The next point is that more than one speaker pointed out that UNESCO wants to see a balance or a change in its listings. Why? If a place is deserving, it is deserving regardless of whether they have listed similar sites. Any organization that takes the attitude that just because they already have a dozen amphitheaters, a dozen cathedrals or dozen walled cities and won’t take another because it has too many is culpable in heritage cleansing, not preservation. If UNESCO has been misinterpreted, then it would help to understand its attitude and CD-Traveller will talk to them and report their comments.
Unusually for a UNESCO applicant, York is applying for status not wholly based on what is in the city. Figures quoted suggest that 98% remains to be found either by archaeological excavation or analysis and thus, only 2% of what is there has been discovered. Because the ground underneath York is waterlogged, the soil conditions preserve items that would normally rot such as wood, leather, and cloth. If York is given the status it will be the first lace listed because of what might be there.
Yorkshire has a UNESCO site, Fountains Abbey, and Strudely Royal and the local MP, Julian Smith, says that UNESCO status gives it huge economic benefits. Doesn’t York already receive these anyway? Will status give greater economic benefits?
The MP for Outer York, Julian Sturdy, said it was a travesty that York didn’t already have UNESCO status. That must be due to a lack of interest in applying before now or at least the lack of individual gumption like that displayed by Janet Hopton