International Heritage Conventions, Treaties and Charters
The UK is a signatory to a number of international treaties that touch upon or concern culture and heritage. They are not law and have no direct force in planning or other consent decisions.
Signing a treaty is effectively a promise by the UK government to adhere to the treaty's principles, doing so, if necessary, by making laws or policies that bring the principles to bear on life in the UK.
Conventions and treaties can be relevant to the interpretation of law and may help to resolve ambiguities in legislation (ref. 1).
The Paris convention of 1954
Formally known as the European Cultural Convention (ref. 2) its main relevant obligations are:
- Development of the national contribution to the common cultural heritage of Europe (article 1)
- Safeguarding objects of European cultural value placed under government control (article 5)
- Ensuring reasonable access to such objects (article 5)
The UK is a signatory.
The Granada convention 1985
Originally known as the European Charter of the Architectural Heritage, it was later turned into the "Convention for the Protection of the Architectural Heritage of Europe" (ref. 3).
It defines 'architectural heritage' and each signatory promises to maintain an inventory of it and to take statutory measures to protect it. There is also a promise to provide funding, but only within budgetary limitations, and to promote the general enhancement of the surroundings of groups.
Signatories (including the UK) also promise to adopt integrated conservation policies in their planning systems and other spheres of government influence that promote the conservation and enhancement of architectural heritage and the fostering of traditional skills.
The Valletta convention 1992
Formally known as the Convention for the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage of Europe (ref. 4) it was originally signed in London in 1969 but was revised in Valletta in 1992.
It defines archaeological heritage and the signatories promise to make and maintain an inventory of it and to legislate for its protection. The emphasis is on protection of sites for future study, the reporting of chance finds, the control of excavations and the use of metal detectors.
Signatories (including the UK) also promise to allow the input of expert archaeologists into the making of planning policies and planning decisions.
The World Heritage convention 1972
Formally known as the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (ref. 5), it was adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1972.
The UK adheres to the convention as a member state of UNESCO. The convention defines 'natural heritage' and sets out a framework for the identification and designation of cultural or natural heritage sites of outstanding universal value as World Heritage Sites. Find more information on World Heritage Sites in England.
The Hague convention 1954
The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict 1954 was adopted as a result of the massive physical destruction suffered during the Second World War and calls for a system of general and enhanced protection of cultural property in the event of international or non-international armed conflict. The Convention was followed by two Protocols (1954 and 1999). The UK signed the Convention in 1954 and ratified it on 12 September 2017. The protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict can be found in;
- Implementation of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of an Armed Conflict; its protocols and the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act 2017
- Guidance on the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act 2017
The Paris convention 1970
Formally known as the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (ref. 6), its signatories promise to legislate to prevent the trade in illegally obtained cultural objects. The UK signed the convention in 2002 and then passed the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003 (ref. 7).
The Florence convention 2000
Formally known as the European Landscape Convention (ref. 8), its signatories (including the UK) agree to recognise "landscapes" in law as "an expression of the diversity of their shared cultural and natural heritage, and a foundation of their identity".
(1) RV Secretary of State, ex parte Brind  1 A.C. 696