Edinburgh told World Heritage site status is safe

EDINBURGH'S Old and New Towns are set to hang on to their World Heritage site status even if the government decides to pull out of Unesco.

The UN cultural agency officially declared the historic heart of the Capital a World Heritage site in 1995, putting it on a par with the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids.

The UK Government was today expected to confirm it was putting Unesco "on watch" for two years and could then decide to withdraw its 12 million annual funding

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In an interview at the weekend, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said: "Most international organisations are doing a decent job, but some need to be shown the yellow card."

However, Unesco today confirmed that even if the UK did decide to quit the organisation, the move would not affect Edinburgh's status.

A spokeswoman at Unesco headquarters in Paris said: "The key consideration is a country's ratification of the 1972 World Heritage Convention. That means there is no change because you have ratified an international convention.

"Whatever decision the UK makes, the World Heritage status of sites in the UK would not be called into question."

She said Edinburgh's designation as the world's first City of Literature was also likely to be unaffected.

"None of the things that have been accredited would be withdrawn or taken back."

City council leader Jenny Dawe welcomed the reassurance. She said: "I would be quite disturbed if stopping paying some sort of dues to Unesco meant you then lost World Heritage status or the City of Literature. It would be a sad day if these were only awarded to countries that could pay to be a member of the organisation."

She said both titles were important to the Capital. "It's always good to be able to show there has been an external objective assessment of something you know is part of our heritage."

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Unesco - the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation - was set up in 1945 to promote peace through cultural and academic co-operation.

Britain was out of Unesco for 12 years after then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher suspended membership in 1985, accusing the organisation of poor management, excessive spending and politicisation. It rejoined in 1997.

Fears have been voiced that bids to secure World Heritage site status for various Scottish locations, including the Forth Bridge, would be derailed by threats to leave Unesco. But there was relief today that at least the Capital's status was secure.

Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage, said: "World Heritage status, along with the city's designation of City of Literature, recognises Edinburgh's immense cultural achievement, which is admired across the globe.

"These designations bring social and economic benefits to the city, as well as providing a broad framework to help visitors understand the magnificence of the city and a way of capturing the energy and enthusiasm of its residents for their history."