Culture

Developing Orkney’s World Heritage Site: Share Your Views

Proposals have been put forward on the development of Orkney’s World Heritage Site – known as The Heart of Neolithic Orkney which comprises the Maeshowe tomb, The Standing Stones of Stenness, The Ring of Brodgar and the village settlement of Skara Brae.

A consultation document has been developed which asks people for their ‘feedback’ on the options being offered. The project developers say that the ‘feedback’ will be used to develop a final ‘Outline Business Case’ for ‘Islands Deal’ funding announced earlier this year by the UK and Scottish Governments for the Orkney World Heritage Site Gateway Programme – or “the Orkney Gateway”.

The 4 options as described by the developers are:

  • Option 1 – do minimal – refresh signage and introduce car parking charges.
  • Option 2 – Digital and Infrastructure – all the above, plus significant upgrades to ‘active travel’ paths and connections supported by digital orientation and interpretation, and improvements to Brodgar car park including toilets, disabled bays, and electric bike charging points. There would be no visitor centre – instead, transit hubs, drop-offs, cycleways, and paths would act as gateways and orientation points for guests.
  • Option 3 – Local Centre at Stenness Village – all the above, plus a small-scale centre with charged parking providing toilet facilities, orientation, ticketing and some interpretation, and possible small-scale/basic refreshment, with a seasonal shuttle and path network to access the sites.
  • Option 4 – Adjacent Centre – all the measures in Option 2 plus a welcome centre directly adjacent to and ideally within walking distance of one or more of the sites, on a possible greenfield site along the B9055. Design of the centre would require careful consideration to ensure parking is not visible from the attractions and building sits well within the World Heritage Site scenery and landscape.

There are also two in-person consultation events planned for early October:

  • Tuesday 5 October at Maeshowe Visitor Centre, Stenness from 17.00 – 21.00
  • Wednesday 6 October at St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall from 13.00 – 17.00

Comments and survey responses can be emailed to worldheritage@orkney.gov.uk

Link to the survey: Orkney World Heritage Site Gateway Programme

Closing date: Friday 15th October 2021

Detailed Information

What is World Heritage Status (WHS)?

World Heritage Status is granted by UNESCO ( United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) which can also remove the status from any place which it assesses no longer fits the criteria.

To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria. These criteria are explained in the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention which, besides the text of the Convention, is the main working tool on World Heritage. The criteria are regularly revised by the Committee to reflect the evolution of the World Heritage concept itself.

UNESCO

Click on this link to find out more about UNESCO World Heritage Status

The Orkney Gateway Project

The main partners in the Orkney Gateway Programme are HES (Historic Environment Scotland), OIC Orkney Islands Council), and HIE (Highlands and Islands Enterprise).

Others identified as key stakeholders in the project by the consortium are: NatureScot, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), landowners, farmers, and the local community, tourism businesses, and University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Archaeology Institute which manages the Ness of Brodgar archaeological dig (not listed in the WHS).

To pay for the proposed changes the Scottish and UK Governments, have allocated £6.5m in principle from the £335m Islands Growth Deal.

The developers concede that there has been “A largely unmanaged, poorly guided visitor experience” and ” Physical threats to the conservation of the sites themselves, including path erosion and environmental damage.”

The developers wish to improve the quality of the visitor experience and move towards ‘slow tourism’. ( The Strange Case of Orkney Islands Council & 200 Cruise Ships #ClimateCrisis)

Importantly if Orkney wishes to continue to have World Heritage Status the plan wishes to ” Safeguard the WHS addressing critical conservation issues and meet UNESCO obligations.”

As travel and tourism begin to recover following the COVID-19 pandemic, Orkney intends to reposition itself in the market, moving towards an offer with strong themes around slow tourism, wellness, escapism, active travel, and green and sustainable travel. This will encourage a broader range of visitors to the islands, facilitating longer, more engaged visits. The WHS Gateway project can help stimulate this transition, functioning as an exemplar for how attractions can maximise the benefits of tourism to local people while minimising negative impacts. In this context, a “small is beautiful” approach has been recommended for this project

WHS Gateway – Project Details
Image from WHS Gateway – Project Detail
Image from WHS Gateway – Project Detail

Also included in the documents as part of the consultation is a non-technical environmental report on “the Orkney Gateway Programme [which]will create a new tourism offer for the Brodgar / Stenness part of the WHS.”

It states:

we invite you to consider the following questions:
• Do you agree that our environmental assessment has identified the likely environmental effects of the options?
• Do you think there are any additional mitigation, enhancement or monitoring measures that should be considered?

Option 1: Do Minimum
As a result of the minimal interventions proposed under this option, neutral effects were identified for climatic factors; biodiversity; water; soil; landscape; and population and human health. Some potential positive effects were identified for soil if enhancement measures to design footpaths to limit erosion, in combination with effective management of visitors, were to be employed. Negative effects were identified for cultural heritage, largely due to the physical and visual impact of new interpretation. Mitigation and enhancement measures could reduce risk of erosion to heritage assets, and help avoid disturbance of archaeological remains, resulting in a residual positive effect. Positive effects were identified for material assets, due to minimal changes to infrastructure, and continued use of existing buildings and infrastructure. No significant cumulative or cross-cutting effects were identified for this option.

Option 2: Digital and Infrastructure
Neutral effects were identified for climate change. Negative effects were identified for biodiversity, with the potential for residual positive effects with the introduction of mitigation measures ensuring that new footpaths and infrastructure were sited away from sensitive habitats. Negative effects were identified for water in connection with the proposal to install toilet facilities at Brodgar, which could impact on the water quality of the Lochs. Mitigation measures ensuring that this aspect of the option only goes ahead if harm to water quality can be avoided through technological solutions should result in a
residual neutral effect. Neutral effects were identified for soil. Some potential residual positive effects were predicted if enhancement measures to design footpaths to limit erosion, in combination with effective management of visitors, were to be employed. Significant negative effects were identified for landscape and cultural heritage, due to the introduction of infrastructure and car park within and adjacent to the World Heritage Site. Whilst effective mitigation (careful consideration of location, design and materials, plus archaeological investigation) could reduce the significance of effect, there is the potential for some residual negative effects. Significant positive effects were identified for population and human health for the local population, through the provision of enhanced active travel opportunities and removal of tourist activity, with associated traffic and disruption issues. Negative effects were identified for material assets, due to removal of a physical visitor centre which would take the current building in Stenness out of use. Whilst alternative uses could be explored, it is uncertain if this could be secured within the scope of the Programme. No significant cumulative or cross-cutting effects were identified for this option.

Option 3: Local Hub
Neutral effects were identified for climate change. Negative effects were identified for biodiversity, with the potential for residual positive effects with the introduction of mitigation measures ensuring that new footpaths and infrastructure were sited away from sensitive habitats. Negative effects were identified for water in connection with the proposal to install toilet facilities at Brodgar, which could impact on the water quality of the Lochs. Mitigation measures ensuring that this aspect of the option only goes ahead if harm to water quality can be avoided through technological solutions should result in a residual neutral effect. Neutral effects were identified for soil. Some potential residual positive effects were predicted if enhancement measures to design footpaths to limit erosion, in combination with effective management of visitors, were to be employed. Negative effects were identified for landscape, due to the introduction of some new infrastructure. Effective mitigation (careful consideration of location, design and materials) could result in residual neutral effects. Negative effects were identified for cultural heritage, due to the introduction of some new infrastructure within the World Heritage Site. Whilst effective mitigation (careful consideration of location, design and materials, plus archaeological investigation) could reduce the significance of effect, the level to which this could be mitigated is uncertain at this point and there is the potential for some residual negative effects for cultural heritage. Mixed effects were identified for population and human health for the local population. Positive effects are expected through the provision of enhanced active travel opportunities, but negative effects are predicted if the enhanced Hub causes traffic and disruption issues for local residents. Negative effects are identified for material assets, due to added infrastructure maintenance requirements, and the potential for construction of a new Hub building, rather than continued use of the existing building. This option has also potential for positive effects through reuse of the existing Hub building. However, positive effects are uncertain, as they are dependent on the level of reuse of the existing building and infrastructure. No significant cumulative or cross-cutting effects were identified for this option.

Option 4: Adjacent Centre
Neutral effects were identified for climate change. Negative effects were identified for biodiversity, with the potential for residual positive effects with the introduction of mitigation measures ensuring that new footpaths and infrastructure were sited away from sensitive habitats. Negative effects were identified for water in connection with the proposal to install toilet facilities at Brodgar, which could impact on the water quality of the Lochs. Mitigation measures ensuring that this aspect of the option only goes ahead if harm to water quality can be avoided through technological solutions should result in a residual neutral effect. Neutral effects were identified for soil. Some potential residual positive effects were predicted if enhancement measures to design footpaths to limit erosion, in combination with effective management of visitors, were to be employed. Significant negative effects were identified for landscape and cultural heritage, due to the introduction of infrastructure and car park within and adjacent to the World Heritage Site. Whilst effective mitigation (careful consideration of location, design and materials, plus archaeological investigation) could reduce the significance of effect, there is the potential for some residual negative effects. The significance of these is uncertain and will depend on the degree of flexibility available in relation to location and design. Some residual positive effects are also identified for cultural heritage as a result of improved visitor management which should reduce erosion. Significant positive effects were identified for population and human health for the local population, through the provision of enhanced active travel opportunities and removal of tourist activity, with associated traffic and disruption issues. Negative effects were identified for material assets, due to closure of the existing visitor centre which would take the current building in Stenness out of use, and the use of resources required for a new centre and infrastructure. Whilst some mitigation measures have been identified, residual negative effects are likely. No significant cumulative or cross-cutting effects were identified for this option.

Link: Orkney Islands Council: Gateway Consultation contains all the documents and a link to the survey.

Commentary

This consultation is important and I would encourage as many individuals as possible to reply and all the organisations and groups in Orkney who have an interest not just in archaeology but our wildlife and other activities which take place on the lochs and seas around these sites.

I included quite a chunk of information above from the non-technical environmental assessment. There are both positive and negative effects of the options. Most concerning, considering we are supposed to be moving towards ‘greener tourism’ are the negative effects on water ” which could impact on the water quality of the Lochs” which should concern us all but in particular the Orkney Trout Fishing Association and the many hundreds who fish those lochs. These options will also negatively impact on the biodiversity of the area.

It is ironic to see such a document extolling the virtues of moving towards ‘slow tourism’ whilst the same OIC embraces a huge increase in cruise ships calling into Orkney. How those two conflicting directions of tourism policy fit together (if at all) is anyone’s guess.

All of the above options are also subject to the vagaries of financing them – none of which is certain as the economy continues to be hit by a combination of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit.

This image (below) was taken at the Ring of Brodgar during the 2021 snows when the roads became impassable for most vehicles and the big green gates which are so often closed to the inner ring were for an instance open. This moment in time was a magical one and one to be treasured because it could be one of the last times we can visit the Ring of Brodgar – freely open to Orcadians and visitors alike for 5,000 years. Fiona Grahame

The inner ring at Brodgar 2021

There are also two in-person consultation events planned for early October:

  • Tuesday 5 October at Maeshowe Visitor Centre, Stenness from 17.00 – 21.00
  • Wednesday 6 October at St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall from 13.00 – 17.00

Comments and survey responses can be emailed to worldheritage@orkney.gov.uk

Or in writing to: Orkney World Heritage Site Gateway Consultation, Development and Infrastructure, Orkney Islands Council, Council Offices, Kirkwall, Orkney KW15 1NY.

Orkney World Heritage Site Gateway Programme Survey

The closing date for feedback is 15 October 2021 at 5pm . The final Outline Business Case for the Orkney Gateway Programme will be submitted to the UK and Scottish Governments before Christmas 2021.

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