One step closer: Botanic Gardens' bid to be listed as World Heritage Site

One step closer: Botanic Gardens' bid to be listed as World Heritage Site
More than 100 years ago, the Botanic Gardens was a popular pleasure ground and today it is still very much a draw, even if the animals now tend to be ducks and swans.

Unesco-appointed panel recommends gardens; Singapore taking more steps to protect site

Extra steps will be taken to ensure that the Botanic Gardens is adequately protected, even as the historic site took a major leap towards being recognised as a World Heritage Site. In a report published online just after midnight yesterday, a Unesco-appointed panel, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos), gave its recommendation to the gardens' bid.

This is the next-to-last step towards being put on the list. Now it is left to the Unesco World Heritage Committee to say yes.

The report also detailed how the gardens' conservation efforts and buffer zone could be strengthened, for instance by developing monitoring indicators for development and tourism. In a joint statement yesterday, the National Parks Board (NParks) and National Heritage Board (NHB) noted that a comprehensive management plan is already in place.

They said there are plans to increase the frequency of inspections of the gardens' historical buildings by a professional engineer from once every five years to once every two years.

They added that the buffer zone around the proposed 49ha heritage site falls under the Urban Redevelopment Authority's height control area, which ensures that no new development will be visible within a 1km radius from the heart of the gardens.

A site evaluation will be conducted as well at the end of next year to evaluate visitor impact, and fences will be installed around some of its heritage trees to reduce excessive trampling. Icomos also noted that while Singapore has well-developed planning and development systems, it lacks mandatory environmental impact assessments in the planning process.

The Icomos report has given Singapore's chances of having its first World Heritage Site a massive boost, since it got on the tentative list in December 2012.

A recommendation is the best of four possible outcomes from Icomos' technical assessment of the 156-year-old site. It means there is a high chance that the Unesco World Heritage Committee will approve the gardens' nomination when it meets in Bonn, Germany late next month or in early July, as the assessment outcome will have a major bearing on its final decision.

It is unlikely that Singapore will have to respond to the Icomos recommendations at the upcoming Bonn meeting since the final decision whether to list the gardens does not hinge on the implementation of these suggestions, said NParks and NHB.

Said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong: "This is a very positive step forward for our bid, and it goes to show that in the eyes of international experts, the gardens has a strong case to qualify as a Unesco World Heritage Site."

After Singapore submitted a nomination dossier justifying its bid in January last year, an Icomos technical assessor spent three days in Singapore last September to evaluate the gardens.

If successfully listed, it will join two other Unesco-listed gardens: The 1759 Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England, and the 1545 Orto botanico di Padova in Padua, Italy.

Nature Society president Shawn Lum described the recommendation as an endorsement of Singapore's natural preservation and heritage efforts by the international community.

Referring to the bid, heritage conservation expert Johannes Widodo said: "It's a statement from the state of Singapore that we are ready to take this responsibility forward. It's a commitment we are making, to keep the gardens for the sake of mankind."

A World Heritage Site would also boost the Republic's tourism industry. Dr Nigel Taylor, director of the 74ha gardens, expects six million visits a year in 2021, up from 4.4 million now, if the bid is successful.

Said Ngee Ann Polytechnic's senior tourism lecturer Michael Chiam: "Just like any Unesco site, tourists would... include the gardens as part of their itinerary and it will become another avenue to promote Singapore."

To be on the World Heritage Site list, sites must have outstanding universal value and meet at least one of 10 criteria. The gardens fulfils two, related to historical landscape and its role in the interchange of human values.

Singapore Heritage Society honorary secretary Yeo Kang Shua said the Icomos recommendations are constructive. "We can see that they are not only concerned with the protection of the site per se, but also potential external threats to the historic property in the future."

melodyz@sph.com.sg

For mankind "It's a statement from the state of Singapore that we are ready to take this responsibility forward. It's a commitment we are making to keep the gardens for the sake of mankind." - Heritage conservation expert Johannes Widodo, referring to the bid

Good chance "This is a very positive step forward for our bid, and it goes to show that in the eyes of international experts, the gardens has a strong case to qualify as a Unesco World Heritage Site." - Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong


This article was first published on May 17, 2015.
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