Culture Meeting - comment piece by Michael Russell
12 March 2009
As Scots we are right to be proud of our country and its outstandingly rich and diverse culture. From the earliest examples of human hand to the iconic landmarks of Scotland’s great industrial heritage, our historic environment is second to none.
And it is a heritage that enjoys world acclaim. Scotland’s five World Heritage Sites of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, Edinburgh Old and New Towns, New Lanark, St Kilda and now the Antonine Wall are a clear demonstration of how highly regarded Scotland’s heritage is by the international community.
The nomination by UNESCO of the Antonine Wall as Scotland’s fifth World Heritage Site is a celebration of partnership. As part of the transnational Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site, the Antonine wall crosses many international boundaries, but it also crosses local boundaries. From the first steps in 2003 to have the wall recognised as a World Heritage Site, the five local authorities along the length of the Wall, Historic Scotland, and many other people and organisations have worked together to achieve this success.
Achieving World Heritage status means much more than the simple act of recognising the international value of our heritage. There is a real sense of pride and enthusiasm, not just at a national level, but among those who live and work there.
When I visited the Antonine Wall yesterday with Barbara Follett it was wonderful to see our young people learning about their history and celebrating it. There is a passion in the local community for their World Heritage Site; I believe that is something we can all share and enjoy.
Our historic environment is a tangible link to the generations who came before us and shaped what we see around us. It gives us a sense of community and place; it is how we identify with where we live and it is right that we value and respect that. But it is also right that we see it as an opportunity and a resource which makes a significant contribution to economic growth through tourism and sustainable development.
We have committed £13.5 million through Historic Scotland’s Conservation Areas Regeneration Scheme which is beginning to bring new life to town centres like Kilmarnock. We can see the benefits of public bodies working together in schemes like the former meat market in Glasgow where our leading architects have worked within the historic setting to create social housing, and in the east end of Glasgow where investment is bringing empty buildings back into use.
This Government is creating the environment in which this is possible. Our planning reforms together with the joint working agreements with local councils and delegation of local decision making to a local level taken forward by Historic Scotland are working to build a positive attitude to the historic environment. It is an opportunity which can contribute to the Government’s central purpose, to make Scotland a more sustainable country.
Of course we must sustain the correct balance between protecting those aspects of our historic environment that we cherish and the need for Scotland to secure its place in the world as a modern and dynamic nation.
We have a duty of care to safeguard our historic environment for future generations. Our touch should be light, but it must also be effective.
Michael Russell MSP
Minister for Culture, External Affairs and the Constitution