The Portsmouth Society - News

World Heritage Site Proposal

Earlier news

 Picture of Portsmouth Harbour from Portsdown Hill.

Portsmouth Harbour and Spithead as the world’s first Cultural Seascape to be inscribed on the World Heritage list

The communities around Portsmouth Harbour and Spithead are probably changing more rapidly that any time in their history. Their developing creativity and enterprise is moving forward in exciting new ways. A new proposal – to work towards inscription of Portsmouth Harbour and Spithead as a World Heritage site – promises to provide continuity from the physical and social legacy of the area's past towards a well designed, creative future, where new developments and enterprises are of the highest quality and distinctive aspects of the area's economy are enhanced, stimulated by what makes it worthy of world-wide recognition. There are clear gains in the myriad interests around the harbour and Spithead working more closely together, in what we all perceive as one place.

Why do it?

Portsmouth Harbour and Spithead are framed to the north and south by Portsdown Hill and Ryde, and it is the water – and parts of the coastline - which is the focus of the bid. The only other harbour on the World Heritage List is Willemsted in Curaçao, and our proposal – a ‘cultural seascape’ would be a world first. Our particular geography – a sheltered anchorage and a large harbour protected by a narrow entrance – has shaped the area’s history. The process of making a bid will achieve many important medium-term economic and environmental gains for the local communities, making the journey worthwhile whether or not the bid succeeds. It will help local people to value the rich legacy of buildings, history and traditions we have around the harbour, and to ensure their sustainable future. In particular we hope that it will result in forward-looking co-ordination of planning, transport and conservation policies, access, promotion and development – which does not necessarily happen at present.

Who's involved?

The steering group was formed in November 2006 when five local authority conservation officers, six civic societies, and representatives of Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust, the Mary Rose Trust, Hampshire and Wight Trust for Marine Archaeology, the Royal Naval Museum, Defence Estates and the Queen’s Harbour Master met to consider the merits of making a bid to inscribe Portsmouth Harbour and Spithead onto UNESCO’s World Heritage List. They have combined to form the Portsmouth Harbour and Spithead Steering Group. Two members of ICOMOS, David Michelmore and Chris Dobbs of the Mary Rose Trust are advising us.

The process

Sites can only be included on the tentative list if submitted by the State Party to UNESCO in our case: the DCMS. A one-page summary is required. The site has to be of outstanding universal value. The nomination dossier is prepared according to a fixed format. The DCMS has commissioned research on the effects of inscription at six UK sites, and is to issue new guidelines for applicants – of which there are quite a number - in 2008. Nine sites are currently on the UK Tentative List, including Chatham dockyard, but their bid is land-based. The key requirement for success is that the dossier must demonstrate the Outstanding Universal Value of the site in accordance with one or more of ten criteria for cultural sites.

Map showing the scope of the proposed World Heritage Site with key sites marked in red.

What categories do we fit?

Our proposal might fit categories (ii) for technology and architecture, (iv) or (v) as well as being a cultural landscape. These state that the site must:

(ii) exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;

(iv) be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;

(v) be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;

There is also a category for moveable objects eg historic ships. Only one category is necessary. Our bid would be the first to include objects: Mary Rose, Victory and HMS Warrior 1860. Authenticity is important: the Nara document refers to authenticity of materials, design and setting, which have to be of worldwide significance. The theme of the bid is defence heritage – to celebrate centuries of activity – from the Roman empire’s Fort of the Saxon shore, Portchester Castle – to the British navy’s continued operation in Portsmouth dockyard and its supporting establishments, defences and supply lines.

Why do it now?

The proposal addresses local conservationists’ particular concerns: the future of Haslar Hospital and HMS Daedalus in Gosport, potential development of Ryde’s seafront and skyline, lack of maintenance on key historic buildings such as Portsmouth City’s Southsea Castle, the Round Tower and Square Tower and Eastney Pumping Station, and the MOD’s Block Mills in Portsmouth dockyard – where a world technological first took place. Marc Brunel (father of Isambard Kingdom) led a team of brilliant engineers who developed the world’s first steam powered mass production factory to produce the thousands of wooden pulley blocks needed for the navy’s ships. After years of campaigning the exterior of Block Mills is being repaired, but it still lacks a sustainable long term use. Other issues which a long term management plan would be designed to address include the lack of local tall buildings policies, poorly designed waterside buildings, and decaying infrastructure such as Portsmouth Harbour station.

Medium-term benefits of the proposal are being identified. They include:
  • integration of planning around Portsmouth harbour and Spithead e.g. via local development frameworks, which will:
  • increasing co-ordination and collaboration between key harbour/waterfront authorities and agencies
  • presenting opportunities for join tourist marketing and promotion
  • facilitating appreciation and protection of marine industry/nature conservation/port matters
  • raising awareness of Portsmouth Harbour and Spithead heritage among regional and national agencies and bodies, e.g. DCMS, English Heritage, GOSE, SEEDA, Natural England etc
  • increasing opportunities for grants, project funding and inward investment by gathering interests under one over-arching cultural heritage theme
  • raising the profile of Portsmouth Harbour and Spithead waterfronts and maritime and marine heritage amongst residents and visitors, increasing visitor numbers and usage of attractions and local businesses
  • raising the level of civic pride amongst residents and businesses
  • cementing the primacy of waterfronts and harbour within the local communities’ identity.
Who do we need to persuade?

The Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust – of which I am a board member – is being kept informed of progress on the bid, which involves five local authorities: Portsmouth and Winchester City Councils, Gosport and Fareham Borough Councils and the Isle of Wight Council – as well as maritime and underwater interests. Following a boat trip to exploring the site at first hand during Architecture Week, a dossier and statement of universal value have been drafted, drawing on the knowledge of local historians and on documentation such as conservation area character statements, listed building and scheduled ancient monument lists, and relevant regulations controlling the maritime and marine environment. Support from the five local authorities is being sought and the many interested parties are being identified.

The launching symposium

On 28 January 2008, the many stakeholders with relevant interests and responsibilities will be invited to a symposium sponsored by the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust and Portsmouth Harbour Renaissance Company in the auditorium of Boathouse 6 to discuss the process and hear experience from Liverpool which has achieved World Heritage Status.


If you are interested in the proposal, please contact Dr. Celia Clark, 8 Florence Road Southsea PO5 2NE 023 9273 2912 CeliaDeane.Clark
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