By Annie Riddle

SALISBURY should become Britain's next World Heritage site, says its MP Robert Key.

He has written to Culture Minister Margaret Hodge asking the Government to consider recommending the Cathedral Close and the medieval core of the city for the honour.

The move coincides with the 750th anniversary celebrations this year of the cathedral's consecration, and the city's tourism chief says coveted World Heritage status would be the crowning glory.

Mr Key - who grew up in the Close and is himself a former culture minister - explained that UNESCO, the international body which ultimately decides which sites qualify, is reviewing its list this year and the Government has to make proposals.

"The Civic Society started a discussion last autumn about whether it was time for the Cathedral and Close and the medieval city to be nominated," he said, "so I have written to the Minister saying I personally support this idea, and am waiting to hear from her."

There are currently two cathedrals in the UK, Durham and Canterbury, and two city centres - those of Bath and Edinburgh - which have World Heritage status.

" But Salisbury has something they don't," said Mr Key. "The Cathedral Close has the finest range of English domestic architecture anywhere in the country. The houses reflect evolving architecture from the 13th to the 20th century.

"We have something no other cathedral city has, and that's the original medieval chequerboard street pattern in the city centre.

"Then we have the Harnham water meadows, which are world famous because of Constable's paintings. That makes us even more special."

There is plenty of competition for World Heritage listing. Only one or two UK sites will be chosen for nomination, and other contenders range from areas of scenic beauty such as the Lake District to architectural or industrial treasures such as the Liverpool Waterfront Mr Key's campaign has support from Salisbury District Council.

Tourism manager Bryn Jones said World Heritage status - which is already enjoyed by Stonehenge - would reflect the quality of the architecture and the visitor experience around the Close.

"There is no question that the Cathedral and Close are in the same league as other World Heritage sites," he said. "We have a collection of buildings which are among the best in Britain."

Some concern has been voiced that the move might bring more traffic into the city centre and more tourists into the Close, which already attracts 600,000-plus visitors a year.

But Mr Jones did not think that would necessarily happen. Listing was more a question of bestowing a "seal of approval of the conservation and the quality of what is on offer," he said, adding: "It would be particularly appropriate this year,bearing in mind that we are celebrating the 750th anniversary of the Cathedral."