Heritage survey can pave way for greater public say

Heritage survey can pave way for greater public say
The 150-year-old Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple is one of the historic sites marked by the National Heritage Board.

Understandbly, heritage buffs have welcomed last month's announcement that the National Heritage Board (NHB) will conduct a comprehensive survey of heritage sites and landmarks.

After all, at least one of their number put forward the need for such a survey 15 years ago. But now that its time has come, many in the heritage community wonder if the NHB's survey will go far enough in addressing the heritage needs of today.

The reason? NHB's focus on a "baseline survey" to create a list of sites, landmarks and traditions of heritage value.

But it did add that the survey is the first step towards a more long- term strategic plan for heritage planning. Its spokesman said: "With funding secured, it allows NHB to embark on this, which has always been in our plans.

The survey provides a stock-take on current heritage buildings and sites, a comprehensive inventory list, as well as a broad understanding of our heritage landscape."

NHB is expected to spend $1 million on the survey.

However, in the past few years, several heritage controversies have emerged, amid the lack of publicly inclusive, comprehensive and formal formulation of what "heritage" actually is, and what sites might have it and need protecting.

For example, last year's decision to raze the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) 1958 Dakota Crescent estate for new developments under Mountbatten's estate renewal plans raised questions of community heritage versus the need for infrastructure development.

Heritage experts see the two-year survey period as a time for NHB to work with interest groups, activists and the public, to create awareness and appreciation of heritage, and preservation and conservation issues.

They also hope NHB will be more consultative and less secretive in its selection of heritage sites.

The NHB survey

THE NHB will be introducing a heritage panel consisting of architects, anthropologists and historians, among others, to advise on best practice.

A grant will also be launched to fund heritage research by non-governmental organisations and institutions of higher learning. Their findings will be included in the survey.

The study will rely on information from archives, field visits and existing academic research as well.

The final list will include places where significant historical events took place, buildings with architectural merit, or social and cultural landmarks meaningful to a community. Key findings will be shared with the public.

NHB said more details on the survey's methodology and scope will be published next week.

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