IN the past week we’ve heard much talk, a lot of it nonsense, about the need for Britain to wrest control of its destiny from the grip of unelected, faceless European bureaucrats.

A war on prawn cocktail crisps (we’re still eating them), a ban on safer lorry cabs (they are being introduced), and the standardised Euro-condom (nothing to do with the EU) were all cited by Boris Johnston as examples of Europe’s crippling effect on our democracy. All typically entertaining, hyperbolic Bojo tosh.

At least in June we will get our say, but meanwhile in Edinburgh the grip of unaccountable international pen-pushers on major decisions is steadily tightening.

Ever heard of Mechtild Rossler? Neither had I, but as director of the Unesco World Heritage Centre she is the Angela Merkel of the conservation world. Based in Paris, at the end of last year she wrote in alarming terms to the UK Government to warn of dreadful things happening to Edinburgh’s historic city centre.

In fact Fraulein Rossler went further than just asking questions about the existing Old and New Town World Heritage site and laid claim to a wider “buffer zone” which would effectively extend Unesco’s involvement in development decisions beyond the designated area to other parts of the city.

Expressing her “strong concern” about “urban conservation in Edinburgh in general” the clear inference is that she and her organisation should have a say in any proposal they see fit anywhere within the city boundaries.

Somewhat haughtily, she wrote: “Kindly provide the World Heritage Centre with information on the necessary measures to mitigate the impact of the inappropriate developments that will be taken to protect the Outstanding Universal Value of the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh.”

As a result, Edinburgh City Council has had to supply detailed information about planning applications to the Scottish Government, which will pass it to the UK Government, which will then seek to address Fraulein Rossler’s concerns.

I have no idea if she has ever been to Edinburgh, but we know she was reacting to a report from a trio representing one of her branch organisations, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos), which conducted a brief series of meetings with Edinburgh councillors, planners and conservationists last year.

At the time Edinburgh Council was strangely unable to confirm the group’s membership, but a report to today’s planning committee helpfully confirms what we already knew, that the group included James Simpson, who as well as being an Icomos vice-president is an Edinburgh-based conservation architect with a professional interest in several recent developments.

Working in tandem with Adam Wilkinson of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Trust, Mr Simpson and his Icomos cronies have been raising the spectre of losing World Heritage status because of developments they feel are inappropriate, in particular the new St James Centre and the now-rejected Royal High School hotel plan.

Their list of complaints includes Caltongate, the disused India Buildings registry office and Donaldson’s School. Caltongate is under construction and is so far not proving to be the carbuncle the conservationists claimed it would be. There were hardly any objections to the housing plan for Donaldson’s while the main objection to the India Buildings scheme is, conversely, that it’s not houses.

These developments are not threats to anything except the sensibilities of Mr Simpson and his mates, but with the help of their direct line into Unesco, it is as if they are attempting to manipulate the planning process to suit their own tastes.

The city council could, of course, just ignore them, but in the many recent planning debates I’ve listened to there is no suggestion it wants to risk the coveted Unesco title. Planning convenor Ian Perry said this week that “our Unesco world heritage status is something that the council is immensely proud of.”

Further, today’s report reveals Unesco will be involved in reviewing the city’s heritage management plan. Icomos recommends that “conservation of Outstanding Universal Value should be formally recognised as the primary objective in the development consent process for projects within the Old and News Towns”

This means that Fraulein Rossler and Mr Simpson, unelected and appointed by the unaccountable, will have a key role in the way decisions affecting Edinburgh’s historic core are taken.

In a flourish of bureaucratic gobbledygook, Fraulein Rossler writes: “Urban heritage conservation concerns in areas such as Edinburgh….due to insufficient urban conservation integration in planning indicates a greater need for a global holistic vision for city development in the UK.”

Whatever you say, Mechtild, but holistic (whatever that means) or not the conservation wrangling, which means getting permission to build in central Edinburgh takes years, suggests otherwise.