Greenwich strikes out for global status

World Heritage Site: Unesco application focuses spotlight on how the ravages of time have decayed a once-majestic area


Environment Correspondent

The Government today applies to the United Nations for the heart of Greenwich in south- east London to be designated a World Heritage Site.

If the application for the royal park and a clutch of historic and acclaimed buildings succeeds - and it is almost certain to - then Greenwich will join Stonehenge, the Tower of London, the pyramids, Taj Mahal and Auschwitz on the list of 470 world heritage sites.

All are judged by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organi- sation (Unesco) to have outstanding value or significance for all mankind. Greenwich is a contender because of the majesty of its baroque architecture, particularly that of Wren and Inigo Jones, its place in the history of a great maritime power, and its key role in developing navigation and time.

But the application, which was described as thrilling by Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, also shines a spotlight on the decay, poor setting and traffic problems that beset Greenwich and several of the other 16 British World Heritage Sites already designated.

"It's fair to describe Stonehenge and the Tower of London as national disgraces," said Philip Whitbourn, secretary of the British branch of the International Council of Monuments and Sites, which advises Unesco. Both are damaged by heavy traffic and ugly modern buildings are sited next to them.

He added: "Greenwich also has big problems. It is bedevilled by traffic and one hopes World Heritage Site will give a boost to the allocation of government funds needed to solve them."

Yesterday, two local conservation groups and the Civic Trust, which lobbies for better urban environments, wrote to John Major asking for the Government to provide funds - or allow lottery money - to divert the heavy traffic which goes through the centre of the proposed heritage site.

The A206, taking Kent and Essex traffic towards central London, cuts between Greenwich's two most important sets of 17th- and 18th-century buildings - The Royal Naval College and the Queen's House and National Maritime Museum. It also creates further pollution in an area visited by more than 2.5 million tourists each year. At present there is a six-month experimental lorry ban, which has brought some relief but diverted heavy vehicles on to other nearby roads.

The London Borough of Greenwich has proposed an ambitious bypass - a sunken tunnel one-mile long which would run along the side of the River Thames. But while nearby Lewisham and Bromley have recently had town-centre bypasses, Greenwich's plans have been shelved. It has no prospect of raising the pounds 110m it would cost and National Lottery funding has also been ruled out. Yesterday, Mrs Bottomley accepted there were traffic problems and no immediate prospect of a bypass.

Government advisers and pressure groups have other criticisms of Greenwich. There is only very limited public access to small parts of the Royal Naval College - two-and-a-half hours in the afternoon. The tenancy of the college is changing with the Navy moving out, and the University of Greenwich the most likely next occupant.

The concrete plaza surrounding the Cutty Sark tea clipper next door to it, where tourists emerge from the Thames foot tunnel or the boat landing pier, is bleak, shabby and unwelcoming. Greenwich council hopes to make major improvements next year.

Many of the lesser, government-owned buildings are shabby and peeling while they await new occupants. While public transport could be improved by a planned extension of the Docklands Light Railway from the north side of the Thames through Greenwich south to Lewisham, at the moment there is a dispute about whether there will be a station serving the core historic area itself.

There are also no firm plans on public transport links between the town centre and the huge millennium exhibition planned for 2000 on a derelict gasworks on the north Greenwich peninsula a mile away. Both Mrs Bottomley and the borough council said that becoming a World Heritage Site should help to solve those problems, although the title is a prestige one only - it attracts no extra funding for wealthy, developed nations.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living