Scotland’s pre-eminent historian, Sir Tom Devine, has joined forces with best-selling authors Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith to back a campaign for more protection of Edinburgh from overtourism, “unregulated” development and climate change.
They have filmed messages of support for the Edinburgh World Heritage charity to help promote a 20th anniversary drive aimed at persuading more people in the city to support its “great crusade”.
A short film created for the charity includes warnings from McCall Smith that the people of Edinburgh “cannot rely” on public bodies to safeguard the future of the city.
Sir Tom claims the role of the world heritage body is more “critical” than ever and that the city is facing the “potential destruction” of some of its most important sites.
Rankin described the heritage body was “Edinburgh’s champion” for its efforts to look after the city and “making sure that the fabric of the city is well maintained but also that is a fantastic place for visitors and its inhabitants”.
Speaking on the short film, McCall Smith said: “Edinburgh is a lived-in city and it has to be looked after. We can’t rely on government bodies and public bodies of various sorts. We actually have to do it ourselves. That’s the way cities have been looked after in the past – we must do the same.”
Sir Tom said: “This great city is Edinburgh is basically a treasure trove. But there is the threat of unregulated tourism and the potential destruction of eminent sites that can occur through unregulated development. There’s also, of course, the difficulties of climate change. Acting in the role as guardian, as Edinburgh World Heritage has done, is even more critical today than it was in past years.
“There’s two things that people who support their mission can do – be aware of the continuous need for legacies, donations and the like, but also to give the organisation your own personal drive and commitment to join in its great crusade for the city.”
Rankin said: “Every great city like Edinburgh needs its champions and Edinburgh World Heritage is Edinburgh’s champion. With your help, it’s looking after the city – its future as well as its past – making sure the fabric of the city is well maintained, but also that is a fantastic place for visitors and its inhabitants.”
The new campaign has been triggered two years after the charity warned that the city centre was being over-run with tourists and that “commercial exploitation” was posing a long-term threat to the “authenticity” of the city’s Old and New Towns.
Its intervention has partly inspired a new direction for tourism in Edinburgh which pledges more action to protect its historic environment, greater scrutiny of new developments and measures to tackle overcrowding hotspots.
Edinburgh World Heritage director Adam Wilkinson said: “Edinburgh is a beautiful historic city, but it is also a living, breathing one, facing future challenges such as the effects of climate change and mass tourism.
"Edinburgh needs its ambassadors to advocate for the conservation of its heritage today, and for generations to come.
"We hope to commit as many people as possible to this cause through our membership.”
City council leader Adam McVey said: “It’s great to see love for Edinburgh and our World Heritage Site shining through in the video. We’re fully committed to preserving our world heritage status.
“Last year we signed up to a management plan with our partners, Edinburgh World Heritage and Historic Environment Scotland, which includes the need to address the challenge of balancing our visitor appeal with the lived experience of all residents.
“We’re working with Edinburgh World Heritage and the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group to create a new tourism strategy which puts residents front and centre of our efforts.
“We are also creating ‘place briefs’ for redevelopment sites to set out the city’s expectations in terms of quality and ‘fitting in’ with their historical context.”