Shropshire Star

Green light for Ironbridge consultation amid concerns it could be stripped of Unesco heritage status

Shropshire Council has given the green light to a consultation over one of the county's most stunning tourist attractions amid concerns it could lose its Unesco World Heritage status.

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Close-up of the famous Iron Bridge

The council's cabinet approved the consultation on a new draft supplementary planning document (SPD) for the Ironbridge Gorge, which aims to further protect and conserve it.

Around a quarter of the 550-hectare site lies within the Shropshire Council area, while the rest sits in the administrative boundary of Telford & Wrekin Council.

Councillor Richard Marshall, Shropshire Council's portfolio holder for highways and regulatory services, said the steps the authorities have taken are necessary, or Ironbridge Gorge could suffer the same fate as Liverpool, and be stripped of its Unesco World Heritage status.

"It is important that the site is conserved for present and future generations," he said.

"It is worth noting the dangers of not having an SPD in place. Liverpool was stripped of heritage (status) due to inappropriate planning."

Aerial view of the Iron Bridge in Ironbridge. Photo: Ian Harvey.

Mr Marshall said "robust discussions" had taken place between the two authorities, and now they have a document ready to go out to consultation. Telford & Wrekin Council will also seek approval from its cabinet on Thursday.

If approved, a six-week public consultation period will commence early in 2023, where the public, including residents of the Ironbridge Gorge, will be encouraged to share their views.

Unesco awarded the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site status in 1986, in recognition of the area’s record of innovation during the Industrial Revolution.

The Ironbridge Gorge is an historically significant area and, as such, is also a conservation area and contains several scheduled ancient monuments, including the iconic Iron Bridge itself and listed buildings. It is also home to many residents and businesses and welcomes a significant number of visitors every year.

The document has been created to provide guidance and information to support the implementation of policies within the adopted and future local plans for both councils. The document also outlines how the site will be protected and managed, and includes preventative measures to avoid deterioration of its heritage value.

Sustainability and conservation are key features within the document, and it also seeks to support sustainable development, including improvements to the energy efficiency of buildings, while recognising the need for the protection of the historic character of the World Heritage Site.

Last week, Councillor Richard Overton, Telford & Wrekin Council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for housing, enforcement and transport, said: “Ironbridge is an internationally-recognised area of outstanding universal value, and one of seven designated conservation areas in the borough which we are extremely proud of.

“The World Heritage status has helped the area maintain a strong visitor economy for decades and promote the wider borough as a place to visit, live, work and invest – as well as securing investment into ground stabilisation works and conservation projects in the area.

“The council, residents and businesses are custodians of the World Heritage Site, and this document will ensure that the site is protected and that the history, conservation and sustainability of the area are top priorities for anyone wishing to bring forward a planning application.

“Through this guidance we want to underline the importance of Ironbridge in our borough and ensure it is protected for future generations in years to come.”