Campaigners defend Abbey’s importance

MEMBERS of the campaign who were trying to bring World Heritage status to Arbroath Abbey have hit back at the view that the site did not offer “outstanding universal value.”

Despite years of hard work to try and get the site recognised by UNESCO, it was announced last week by a panel of independent experts working for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) that the Abbey had failed to make the list of UK sites.

As reported in last week’s Herald, the panel said that the Abbey, the site of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath, would not be on the list because, “the case was not adequately made for the global importance of the declaration and there was insufficient tangible evidence linking it to Arbroath.”

And Harry Ritchie, vice-chairman of the Arbroath Abbey World Heritage Campaign is angry with the suggestion by the independent panel of experts that the site is not of significant importance.

He said: “A report in the press states that the DCMS claim that the independent expert panel did not consider Arbroath Abbey had the potential to demonstrate outstanding universal value.

“I have reason to doubt this statement.

“The category under which our campaign was submitted was listed under section six of UNESCO’s criteria for assessment of Outstanding Universal Value.

“It said it must ‘be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance’.

“If the Declaration of Arbroath does not totally fit that requirement, when it is widely regarded as being the birth of democracy in Scotland, and is also regarded as being linked with the American Declaration of Independence, then I do not know what does.”

It was also reported last week that campaigners were shocked to find that their bid for World Heritage Status had failed only came through a press release from the Scottish Government.

And Mr Ritchie added that the campaign was even more stunned to find they had been left off the list, given a telephone call he had received from the DCMS a few weeks ago.

He added: “I received a telephone call a few weeks ago from the DCMS, saying that the department had received the proposed list from the expert panel, and the minister was asking, that before he went further, and due to the current economic climate, did we still want to be considered.

“If we were not on the list submitted by the expert panel, why did the DCMS ask us if we wanted to continue with our application.

“I cannot see a government department wasting time and money contacting all applicants who were not on the expert’s list. The reason for so doing seems pointless.

“It would appear that the DCMS are trying to wriggle out of the blame and are afraid to accept responsibility for their actions.

“Blame must also be accepted by Holyrood, as they were also involved in the final selection.”

Three Scottish sites which included The Forth Bridge, the Crucible of Iron Age Shetland and the Flow Country did make it on to the list.

The list was compiled by the independent experts before being agreed by ministers in London and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.