World Heritage Sites

The UK government is a signatory to the World Heritage Convention (ref. 1) which was established in 1972 by UNESCO. The convention initiated a list of World Heritage Sites.

World Heritage Sites are sites, places, monuments or buildings of "outstanding universal value" to all humanity – today and in future generations. The World Heritage List includes a wide variety of exceptional cultural and natural sites, such as landscapes, cities, monuments, technological sites and modern buildings. There are approximately 1,154 (October 2021) World Heritage Sites worldwide, including the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids, the Great Barrier Reef and Venice.

There are 28 cultural World Heritage Sites in the UK in 2022 including Stonehenge, Canterbury Cathedral, Saltaire, Hadrian’s Wall and the whole of the City of Bath.  

The protection of a World Heritage Site is the responsibility of national governments. Signature of the convention is a commitment by that government to identify, protect and conserve their World Heritage Sites for future generations.

It is UK government policy that each nomination of a new site to UNESCO must be accompanied by a World Heritage Site management plan to ensure that sites are managed in a sustainable way. All UK sites have management plans in place, which are regularly reviewed.

Designation of a World Heritage Site by UNESCO brings no additional statutory controls, but protection is afforded through the planning system as well as through the other designations (listed buildings, scheduled monuments and so on) that cover elements, if not the whole, of the site. The heritage significance of a World Heritage Site (its 'outstanding universal value') will inevitably be reflected, at least in part, in the significance of any listed building, scheduled monument or other heritage asset that forms part of it. The planning controls that apply to any such elements within a World Heritage Site will be an important part of the recognition and protection of the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage Site.

The NPPF (ref. 2) defines a World Heritage Site as a designated heritage asset. Accordingly, great weight should be given to its conservation and substantial harm to a World Heritage Site’s significance (the heritage aspects of its outstanding universal value) or total loss of the site should be wholly exceptional (ref. 2).

Further information is available in the Planning Practice Guidance and UNESCO has published guidance on how all those involved in the care of World Heritage Sites can comply with the requirements of the convention (ref. 3).  


(1) Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Heritage Cultural and Natural Heritage, 16 November 1972

(2) Schedule 2 and Paragraph 200, National Planning Policy Framework, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, July 2021

(3) Managing Cultural World Heritage, UNESCO, 2013