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01 World Heritage Status

The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. The site covers an area of approximately 4.5km2 and contains nearly 4,500 individual buildings as well as ancient monuments, designed landscapes, and conservation areas.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognises World Heritage Sites as places of outstanding cultural, historical or scientific value. For each inscription, the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the site is described. These are the attributes which make it exceptional from a global perspective.

Continue reading for more about UNESCO and other UNESCO sites in Scotland.

01-2 Edinburgh By Numbers

Edinburgh's Resident Population
Resident population

in the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh WHS

Business Register and Employment Survey (NOMIS) 2014 and Edinburgh by numbers 2017
working population

in the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh - 5 times the number of the Resident Population

Business Register and Employment Survey (NOMIS) 2014
Cockburn Street Constructed 1859 (Wikipedia)

of the total of Edinburgh’s population (507,000) resides in the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh

Edinburgh by numbers 2017
Edinburgh Fringe 2016

Attendance at Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2015

Edinburgh by numbers 2017

02 Edinburgh’s Outstanding Universal Value

Edinburgh has long been celebrated as a city of international importance: an ancient royal burgh, the medieval Old Town alongside the world renowned eighteenth and nineteenth century classical New Town, all situated in a spectacular landscape of hills and valleys beside the wide estuary of the Firth of Forth.

What makes Edinburgh exceptional in an international context? These are the qualities that led to it becoming a World Heritage Site:

03 Managing the Site

UNESCO requires those responsible for a World Heritage Site have a way to manage it. In the UK, this takes the form of a management plan. This should:

  • Include the vision and goals for preserving and enhancing Edinburgh’s OUV
  • Explain the special qualities and values of the Site
  • Lay out policies to protect the Site
  • Provide support for monitoring future developments planned for the Site

The three partners responsible for managing the site are The City of Edinburgh Council, Historic Environment Scotland and Edinburgh World Heritage.

The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site is protected in a number of ways.

The Council’s planning system identifies listed buildings and conservation areas. The Local Development Plan requires that all new development in the city considers the World Heritage status, and any potential impact on it.

© City of Edinburgh Council

Listed Buildings

Buildings of architectural or historical interest are listed as category A (national or international importance), B (regional or more than local importance), or C (local importance).

Conservation Areas

Protect the historic character of an area. Not only buildings, but also features such as trees, parks, paving and street furniture.

© City of Edinburgh Council

Listed buildings and conservation areas are not meant to stop change. They make sure that change happens in a managed way, so that the unique character of the World Heritage Site can be maintained.

The management plan provides guidance on how to achieve this – in a sustainable way that balances the needs of communities and visitors, protects the environment, supports a vibrant cultural scene and strengthens society.

04 Action Plan

In 2016, the management partners asked the public to reflect on Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site and the issues related to it. The themes that scored the lowest in the public’s eye have become the main focus of the five-year Action Plan, which is part of the main Management Plan. It covers the period 2017-2022.

4.1 Care & maintenance

Care & Maintenance

Older existing housing looks scruffy and little assistance is available to owners to carry out repairs and upgrading

- Max

Ensure ongoing investment in the conservation of the Site

Past achievements

Scotsman Steps
History of Street Lighting Report

Concern from public

Improve streets, stricter rules for public spaces, help with common repairs


  • Raise awareness of the availability of grants

  • Support research demonstrating WHS best practice in Edinburgh

  • Raise awareness of importance of space between buildings: ‘public realm’

  • Encourage the sustainable re-use of underused and unused buildings

  • Contribute to climate change agenda through energy efficiency programme

Control & Guidance

4.2 Control & Guidance


Improve tools for sustaining Outstanding Universal Value

Past achievements

Shopfronts improvement scheme
Inclusion of WHS policy in Local Development Plan

Concern from public

Enforcing planning laws, guidance for property owners, protecting skyline


  • Ensure OUV of the Site is taken into account in planning decisions

  • Raise awareness of actions and decisions taken in the WHS

  • Integrate WHS values in city-wide decisions on Edinburgh’s future

  • Promote and create opportunities for traditional skills events

4.3 Awareness of the World Heritage Site status

Awareness of the World Heritage Site status

There is good awareness in some quarters but the importance of World Heritage status is not necessarily that well known or understood

- Diana

Coordinate actions to ensure broad understanding of World Heritage Site

Past achievements

World Heritage Business Opportunity Guide
World Heritage Day events and materials

Concern from public

Better signage, promotion, information on benefits, significance, history of World Heritage Site


  • Clarify the qualities of the WHS to help understanding of the OUVs

  • Publicise and cross-promote actions taken around condition of the WHS

  • Produce a programme of themed events for residents and visitors

Adagio Aparthotel, Edinburgh - McAleer & Rushe
Contribution of new development

4.4 Contribution of new development

Edinburgh is a proud international capital city and should not be ashamed to demand the highest quality of new architecture, respecting the quality of the historic townscape

- Tony

Ensure development is high quality, architecture embraces WHS context

Past achievements
Concern from public

Better quality of architecture, new developments not in keeping with WHS context

Adagio Aparthotel, Edinburgh - McAleer & Rushe


  • Produce guidance on OUV use in the planning process

  • Advocate the importance of the skyline study, guide on how to use it

  • Produce research on appropriate materials for use in the WHS

  • Influence new development positively within the WHS

  • Produce place briefs for vacant sites in the WHS

© City of Edinburgh Council

4.5 Visitor management

Visitor management

While tourism is to be encouraged, there needs to be a balance between commercialism and character

- Susan

Advocate for sustainable tourism within the WHS and the city

Past achievements
Concern from public

Concentration of visitors on Royal Mile, tourist shops, informative signage


  • Explain the value of the WHS to tourism industry and business community

  • Encourage street cleanliness via Waste & Cleansing Improvement Plan

  • Understand what sustainable tourism is and promote best practice

© City of Edinburgh Council
Influence and sense of control

4.6 Influence and sense of control

More should be done towards encouraging education and participation in the planning and development process, to better shape our places and cities

- Kyle

Sustain effective partnerships that support WHS management

Past achievements
Concern from public

Confusion over planning decisions, consultations not widely advertised


  • Engage and involve businesses in the management of the WHS

  • Communicate with all sectors, coordinate with all stakeholders

  • Consult widely, provide clarity on how decisions were reached

Other themes

Other topics not covered in these six themes will be addressed in other ways, like the Council’s Locality Improvement Plan. It has similar aspirations to the Management Plan, and will be used to cover the remaining eight themes.

05 Previous Plans

Here are some of the key achievements under the previous plans:

2005 - 2010


Download the full management plan

Download the full Management Plan 2017 - 2022