Global recognition expected for iconic Forth Bridge

THE Forth Bridge looks set to join the Great Wall of China, Vatican City and the Taj Mahal on the United Nations list of globally important landmarks.

Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL

Plans for the 125-year-old Forth Bridge to become Scotland’s sixth world heritage site have moved a step closer after its inclusion on the agenda for the forthcoming meeting of the Unesco world heritage committee.

The final decision on whether the iconic crossing should be officially recognised for its cultural significance is due to be made in early July at the committee’s 39th session, which gets under way at the end of next month in Germany.

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But the draft recommendation is the strongest signal yet that it could be in line for a place on Unesco’s prestigious list.

World heritage sites are places or structures considered important for future generations, have internationally significant cultural or natural heritage and outstanding universal value that transcends national boundaries.

Places as diverse as the Acropolis in Athens, Mount Etna, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Kremlin are some of the best known of the 1,007 sites currently listed.

If accepted, the 100m-tall cantilever bridge will join Scotland’s five existing world heritage sites – St Kilda, Orkney’s Neolithic settlements, the Roman-era Antonine Wall, the old and new towns of Edinburgh and the restored 18th-century village of New Lanark.

The draft decision comes after a recommendation from official Unesco advisors at the International Council on Monuments and Sites.

The Scottish Government has been working with Network Rail and Historic Scotland to make the case for world heritage status.

Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said “a compelling nomination which presents a strong case” had been submitted.

She added: “To have the bridge inscribed as a World Heritage Site would be a tremendous accolade for the bridge itself, for the local communities it spans and for Scotland as a whole.

“The bridge was nominated by the UK for inscription last year – in itself that process was a celebration of our country’s incredible engineering pedigree and ingenuity.

“I look forward to Unesco’s final decision on the Forth Bridge bid in July.”

Scotland’s tourism chief Mike Cantlay, chairman of VisitScotland, said: “The Forth Bridge is one of the world’s most instantly recognisable icons and its inscription as a World Heritage Site would reinforce its status as a true marvel of Scottish engineering.

“Such international recognition would result in even more visitors flocking to see its famous cantilevers and, with 2016 being the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, the timing would be extremely apt.”

Edinburgh City Council transport convener Lesley Hinds also welcomed the news.

“It’s very exciting for the city, but particularly for South Queensferry and the status it gives it,” she said.

“If the bridge is confirmed as a World Heritage Site it will bring more visitors to see this iconic structure and put both the bridge and South Queensferry on the map.”

Construction of the Forth Bridge began in 1882 to a pioneering design by Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker. Work took eight years, using thousands of tonnes of steel and more than six million rivets.

The lives of 73 workers had been lost by the time the crossing was officially opened by the Prince of Wales on 4 March 1890.

It was the first major structure in Britain to be built from steel and at the time had the longest single cantilever bridge span in the world.

Today, more than a century on, up to 200 trains still cross its 2,528.7m-long track every day.

Network Rail, which is responsible for the bridge, has plans to create a new visitor centre that may include a viewing platform or climbing experience.

The 125th anniversary of the bridge was marked earlier this year in a week of celebrations that included a fly-past by a replica Spitfire and an RAF Typhoon fighter jet.

The theme paid tribute to the first air attack on the UK by the German Luftwaffe, which took place above the structure just weeks after the start of the Second World War.

Edinburgh-based spitfire pilots were the first to shoot down an invading bomber over Britain.