Should Gloucester Cathedral become a UNESCO World Heritage site? That’s a £10,000 question that is about to be answered.
Gloucester City Council is about to splash out on a study to see how feasible it is to make an application for the renowned status.
The council is bankrolling the study after Liberal Democrat demands at a budget meeting last week were backed by the Conservative administration in return for the party’s support for their budget cuts.
But Gloucester’s MP Richard Graham has rubbished the idea saying that UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – does not want any more cathedrals on its heritage list and those cathedrals that are on the list haven’t seen any surge in visitor numbers as a result.
He said: “Other cathedrals with World Heritage status tell me it does nothing for their visitor figures and that the cost is prohibitive.
“Given that UNESCO are shifting away from cathedrals, I would drop the World Heritage idea now and especially now we know UNESCO are re-balancing World Heritage Sites away from cathedrals.
“So let the council decide how best to deploy the £10,000 – perhaps supporting the Cathedral’s Project Pilgrim bid for significant Heritage Lottery Funds to improve the visitor experience.”
The Cathedral has said that it remains focused on Project Pilgrim, an ambitious bid to revitalise the Cathedral with a new green and glass entrance.
Gloucester City Council has already committed £50,000 to supporting Project Pilgrim, but if applying for World Heritage status is not viable, the £10,000 fund could top up that existing fund, said council leader Paul James (C, Longlevens). He said: “World heritage status is not about aiding regeneration and if that is your aim then there are better ways to do it.
“We need to be clear about why we want to do this, what the cost would be and what the chances of being successful would be.
“I have been very clear that the £10,000 will support the Cathedral and one of those options is this study but a conversation with the Cathedral needs to take place first. I would fully understand if they said they wanted to focus on delivering Project Pilgrim.”
The Government nominates UK sites for consideration for World Heritage status from a tentative list. The current list is closed and the government is likely to seek expressions of interest for a new round in 2020.
The process can take several years, costing in the region of £500,000. Gloucester would typically be competing against almost 40 other sites which are then whittled down to just six or seven.
But UNESCO have warned Western Europe Governments to slow down the rate of nominations as they try to re-balance the list of protected sites with other parts of the world.
Successful properties on the list must have ‘outstanding universal value’.
But councillor Jeremy Hilton, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said it was still worth pursuing. He said: “The Cathedral is magnificent and there are many benefits to look at this. I’m surprised that the city’s MP is being so close-minded about it when 18 of his Conservative councillors supported the amendment.”
Cathedrals that have already made it onto the list include the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, in Belgium, and Durham Castle and Cathedral.