Heritage status for Old Town?

Hastings Old Town 7/2/11
Hastings Old Town 7/2/11

WHAT do the Old Town, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids have in common?

Nothing, yet, but if councillors have their way Hastings’s historic heart will join these international tourist attractions as a World Heritage site.

This week Hastings Borough Council leader Cllr Jeremy Birch revealed the authority’s priorities for the coming year, the most eye-catching of which is to apply to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for the Old Town to join the 911 other World Heritage sites recognised for their outstanding significance.

Cllr Birch told the Observer: “This is something that has been raised before so it’s not just off the top of our heads, but we think the Old Town fits the bill.

“It’s about getting much wider recognition, not just that Hastings is a nice place to visit but the quality of the heritage here is outstanding and should be appreciated by a much wider group of people.

“We need to investigate the criteria further but we think this is a legitimate aim for us.”

If successful, the Old Town would join the 28 other sites in the UK with World Heritage status, including the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and Stonehenge, as well as maritime Liverpool and Edinburgh Old Town.

And Cllr Birch believes it would be a fitting way to mark the town’s continuing improvement.

“The Jerwood Gallery and the restoration of the pier will put us in a new league. Getting World Heritage status would mark the beginning if a new era.”

Joining the prestigious list is far from straightforward though. First the Old Town would need to get onto the Tentative List, managed by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. It then needs to be nominated by the Government, pass two rigorous assessments from United Nations cultural bodies and then be ratified by a UNESCO committee.

There are 10 criteria for judging whether a site has “universal value” - these include representing a masterpiece of human genius, bearing a unique or exceptional cultural tradition and containing outstanding examples of a type of building.

But despite the tough process the Old Town would need to go through, Amber Rudd MP - herself an Old Town resident - added her support.

“I would welcome anything that puts Hastings on the map,” she said.

Other plans outlined in Cllr Birch’s address last week included a new anti-poverty strategy for the town, reviewing how it is marketed to visitors and new businesses, helping first-time buyers get on the property ladder and improving the town’s recycling record.