York to bid for UNESCO World Heritage Site status for first time since rejection back in 2011

York is to try once more to join the likes of Edinburgh and Bath in becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The city’s last bid to be listed as a place of “outstanding universal value to humanity” was rejected in 2011 by the UK government, when only its subsurface archaeological deposits were put forward for consideration, but it is hoped a more “holistic” approach this time round will lead to success.

A report from York World Heritage Steering Group, approved by the City of York Council’s executive on Thursday, noted that - despite their belief York has “a very strong case for designation” - that actually achieving the status will be “difficult, though not impossible”.

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This is because the World Heritage list is now “biased against Western European sites”, the report adds, with a number of medieval walled cathedral cities already on the list.

York city centre

York would have stood a better chance of success in the 1980s and early 1990s, the report adds, when “inconclusive discussions” were held about the idea.

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Janet Hopton, a former York councillor who began looking into York’s bid as Lord Mayor in 2006, told councillors: “World Heritage status would support the council’s policies and ambitions for York, in particular by raising York’s international profile – by helping to protect the heritage, both important for itself, but also for York’s economy.”

The fresh bid focuses on all of York’s historic centre, which includes 22 scheduled monuments, more than 2,000 listed buildings and 35 conservation areas.

John Oxley, York’s former city archaeologist, said: “The proposal identifies York’s outstanding universal value as being the outstanding example in northwest Europe of urban development that commences in the Roman period and continues from 71 AD as a living city, down to the present day.”

The UK is preparing a new tentative list of sites from which it puts forward one for consideration to UNESCO every two years.

York was encouraged to apply again with a nomination for the whole city, above and below ground, by an independent panel in 2011.

The UNESCO criteria for assessment include: a place which represents “a masterpiece of human creative genius”; an “outstanding example of a traditional human settlement”; and exhibits “an important interchange of human values over a span of time”.

If York makes it onto the UK tentative list, a full bid to UNESCO could cost up to £250,000, for which funding would need to be found.

The council’s executive member for culture, leisure and communities, Coun Darrryl Smalley, welcomed the more “holistic” bid.

“I think many visitors to York would be surprised to hear York does not already have world heritage status,” he added.

The World Heritage list currently includes 1,154 properties around the world.

Bath was the last UK location chosen in 2021, as part of a Europe-wide bid encompassing ‘the great spa towns of Europe’.

There are already two World Heritage Sites in Yorkshire - Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, near Ripon, and the mill village of Saltaire, near Bradford.