World Heritage Building Site

Thanks to everyone who sent me the news that Greenwich Hospital Trust have applied for permission to shift the market to the Old Royal Naval College’s grounds for a couple of years before the magic 2012.

I guess that in itself that doesn’t bother me too much – it’s temporary – and as long as they replace the turf afterwards, it probably won’t do much harm in the long term.

But Rod and I have been wondering about what all this concurrent building work – which everyone’s doing at the same time as nobody wants to be the one who waits until 2013 to spruce up their shop window – is going to do to us as a World Heritage Site.

As Rod points out, Dresden has just been stripped of its WHS status because it built a four-lane bridge a mile from the town centre. UNESCO points out that the city failed to preserve its “outstanding universal value as inscribed.” It’s only the second time that a site has been declassified (the other was in Oman) but it proves that however heavy-hearted it may be to do it, UNESCO is prepared to use the knife.

Whatever we think of World Heritage Sites, to be listed as one is a privilege and it does bring in revenue we wouldn’t have otherwise – not least from tourism.

Let’s just take a peek at what Greenwich will look like in 2010, and you tell me – if you were a foreign tourist, would you visit this World Heritage Site? (I’m not going to count anything outside the WHS, like the ‘new heart for East Greenwich,’ which in the past year has had nothing more than its signs replaced as the government department changed its name. Again…)

  • The Old Royal Naval College – partially closed due to building work. The creation of the new Discovery Centre (and brewery) has seen large amounts of scaffolding and hoardings in the grounds for some time now.
  • The Cutty Sark – in shreds – and, worryingly, with no end in sight.
  • Cutty Sark Gardens – apparently there is to be a refurb here too, which is why the market couldn’t move here.
  • Greenwich Pier – in a complete state of hideousness, having sold off a historic waiting room and a new, not-very-heritage-friendly building to be erected in its place. The sellers reckoned the Victorian waiting room was unusable and unsaveable. Try telling that to the guys at St Kitts. UNESCO might be tempted to agree with our friends in the Caribbean, who have bought it to restore.
  • Greenwich Market – closed, a total building site. Demolition of Edwardian buildings.
  • Greenwich Village Market – closed – demolition in progress for new building, which may or may not be a paragon of architecture.
  • National Maritime Museum – Demolition in progress of Victorian buildings in preparation for the new Sammy Ofer Wing.

Tell me – just how does all this add up to our being a strong contender for keeping WHS status? I know the building work itself is temporary. But I worry that each faction thinks it’s only them that’s pulling down old buildings, only them that’s making a mess of their little bit of Greenwich. We can only keep our fingers crossed for those 2010 horsey trials in the park…


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