The battle to gain World Heritage Status for Newport's Transporter Bridge is set to be a long and hared one, as FRAN GILLETT discovered.
FOURTEEN years ago Blaenavon was put on the world map after being awarded Unesco World Heritage Status, leading to what councillors have called a “regeneration of the area”.
Now Newport’s most iconic structure, the city’s transporter bridge, is seeking similar recognition after the Friends of Newport Transporter Bridge revealed they are drafting an application for heritage status.
If successful, the Grade I listed bridge could be as internationally recognised as the Taj Mahal, the Egyptian Pyramid Fields at Giza and the Statue of Liberty.
But the application, which has to be approved by both the Welsh Government and the UK Government before being submitted to world organisation Unesco, has a lengthy process to go through yet.
The road to being deemed a World Heritage site could also be prolonged even further after the UK Government told the Argus they may not be receiving any more nominations until 2020.
But councillors, MPs and fans of the bridge have come out in support of the application, calling the structure “deserving” of worldwide recognition.
The Friends of Newport Transporter Bridge (FONTB) organisation, which is run entirely by volunteers, first revealed it was getting the ball rolling with its World Heritage Status application in December last year.
Since then registered charity FONTB has met with representatives from Newport Council, Cadw and the international Bureau for Industrial Archaeology to discuss drafting the submission.
Chairman of the group, David Hando, said he has travelled to Middlesbrough and Rendsburg, in Germany, for conferences relating to the application.
Mr Hando said: “We are currently preparing a submission which will go to the Welsh Government for approval. It’s a document outlining the merits of the bridge and how unique it is, but we are still in the draft stage.”
Newport Transporter Bridge’s submission for heritage recognition is part of a serial application along with eight other transporter bridges worldwide, from Argentina to Middlesbrough.
Because of this, Mr Hando and the FONTB are liaising closely with bridges around the world as they all prepare submissions to their national governments.
But the process is extensive with numerous stages. If approved by the Welsh Government, Newport’s submission will be transmitted to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in the UK Government.
Then, if deemed a worthy enough site, the department will add the Newport Transporter Bridge to a ‘tentative list’ of up to 20 possible UK sites to be considered for world heritage recognition.
Only then, if the UK Government picks the Gwent icon, can the bridge be considered by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
Toby Sargent, spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, said: “A submission has to make the case the site is important and all the local authorities involved are supportive and ready to go.
“It can take a number of years, but UNESCO is fond of sites with a connection and in some ways a serial submission, like with the transporter bride, is easier.”
The Head of Economy, Enterprise and Environment at Torfaen Council, Cath Thomas, was involved with Blaenavon Industrial Landscape’s application for UNESCO world heritage status.
She said: “You have to produce a management plan which covers the next 10 years. Getting world heritage status doesn’t just affect the site itself, but also the surrounding area.
“Sites applying for recognition don’t always need it for economic benefits, but in the case of Blaenavon, it was a catalyst for regeneration.
“Big Pit was in the situation where every year it wondered if it was going to survive. But the award from Unesco secured jobs in the area.”
Ms Thomas also spoke of the benefits of the world recognition for people living in the area.
She said: “It brings a pride for the residents of the place. Perceptions have changed and residents are very proud of their history, whereas before some were almost ashamed of it.
“It would be lovely if the bridge was awarded the status. It would bring even more visitors to South East Wales and Wales as a whole.”
Blaenavon has clearly benefitted from the award, which was announced in Cairns, Australia on 27 November 2000 and presented to Councillor Bob Wellington, leader of Torfaen Council.
The Deputy Mayor of Blaenavon Town Council, Councillor Gareth Davies, said: “Blaenavon has attracted significant infrastructure investment as a result and is now able to offer a four star hotel and other high quality accommodation.
“Another World Heritage site in South East Wales would be particularly welcome, giving an opportunity to enhance the area’s tourism value. Because of the historic link between Blaenavon as a production centre and Newport as a port, iron reached markets all around the world.”
It is clear those in Newport are extremely fond of the bridge, which is considered not just an icon but also a structure deserving world recognition.
MP for Newport West, Paul Flynn, said “Any Newportonian worth his salt loves the transporter bridge. It is something that quickens the pulse of people when they see it.
“It’s a beautiful, audacious structure that has been the icon of Newport for more than a century. There’s very few left in the world and the Newport Bridge deserves world recognition as a wonderful example of early 20th century engineering.”
Mr Hando and the FONTB group had originally hoped an application could be made to coincide with this year’s 100th anniversary of the Puente Transbordador, a transporter bridge in Buenos Aires in Argentina.
Submissions have already been made to French and German governments for the Rochefort-Martrou Transporter Bridge in France, and the Rendsburg High Bridge in north Germany.
But Mr Hando said because Newport’s transporter bridge is no longer in use as a traffic route, unlike the bridge in Bilbao, Spain, the submission must be based entirely on its intrinsic value and tourism.
He said: “It is a feat of engineering genius and to have world heritage status would certainly help tourism and attract more people. Everyone who’s come to see it is very impressed.
“But unlike other transporter bridges, it serves no purpose. So for Newport our challenge is we have to justify it on tourism grounds and its intrinsic value. Tourism is all it has.”
For Newport to be granted its own UNESCO World Heritage Site, joining the other 981 around the world, will certainly be a challenge, but one the FONTB is willing to undertake. Another small step on a long journey,” wrote Mr Hando in his recent update about the campaign for heritage status, but however long, the rewards look set to be significant.
HERE are just some of the other sites the bridge would join on the UNESCO list ifi its application proves successful:
* Great Barrier Reef, Australia
* Sydney Opera House, Australia
* Historic Centre of Brugge, Belgium
* Brasilia, Brazil
* The Great Wall, China
* Old Havana and its Fortification System, Cuba
* Memphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur, Egypt
* Paris, Banks of the Seine, France
* Cologne Cathedral, Germany
* The Taj Mahal, India
* Church and Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie with “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci, Italy
* Petra, Jordan
* Pre-Hispanic City of Teotihuacan, Mexico
* Medina of Fez, Morocco
* Kremlin and Red Square, Moscow, Russia
* Archaeological Site of Carthage, Tunisia
* The Tower of London, UK
* Statue of LIberty, USA