World Heritage sites vary greatly, from the symbols of Auschwitz and Hiroshima to the beauty of the Taj Mahal and the Great Barrier Reef. All sites are selected by the Conservation Committee at UNESCO. Even though the management of the sites is formally undertaken by the national state party (DCMS in the case of the United Kingdom), in practice it falls to local organisations. The chain of responsibility from international to local levels creates various tensions, the concept of World Heritage being understood very differently at the universal level (according to the 10 UNESCO criteria) than it is according to national and local aspirations. In order to rationalise this, statements of 'outstanding universal values’ are produced for each site, identifying the special qualities and also their ‘authenticity’ and ‘integrity’. The ‘attributes’ of outstanding universal values are defined. Attributes of national and also local significance are also identified. Management plans are produced for each World Heritage site and these need to assess changes and their implications for the protection of the attributes. Without a precise system of rules at international level, local agencies have to rely on national and local systems including town planning legislation for protection. At present this legislation in the UK does not wholly embody the inscription and management of World Heritage Sites. The result is that the simple, popular concept of world heritage is being challenged through its application and administration. Without the necessary clarity changes can occur, including disastrous development. This paper flushes out some of the areas of difficulty and identifies opportunities for a more satisfactory future.