Nationwide survey to get better grasp of Singapore's heritage

A NATIONWIDE survey to assess Singapore's heritage by mapping out its historic sites, structures, traditions and cultures will soon be under way.

The aim is to gain a more complete understanding of historical sites across the island and their heritage value, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

The survey will factor in the age of buildings, places where significant historical events took place as well as the architectural, social and cultural merits of certain landmarks to the community.

It will be led by the National Heritage Board (NHB), which will call a tender in the next two months. The survey is expected to last two years. The NHB said more details on the survey's methodology will be revealed after that.

The NHB will use the survey's findings to work with the Urban Redevelopment Authority to "enhance heritage considerations" at each stage of land planning. This includes the 10-year Concept Plan or the five-year Master Plan, Mr Wong told Parliament.

During the debate on the budget of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, Nominated MP Tan Tai Yong and Mr Chen Show Mao (Aljunied GRC) had raised the importance of implementing a heritage impact assessment framework.

Both asked if the Government would be formalising a framework and addressing gaps across the various agencies that deal with heritage issues.

In response, Mr Wong said the Government has been stepping up its investments in heritage research and assessments, and plans to do more.

He cited environmental impact assessments in planning and building new infrastructure projects, and said a similar approach can be applied to heritage through the nationwide survey.

The study will also rely on information from archives, field visits and research, and working closely with the community, he said. Key findings will be shared with the public.

Some heritage experts have been asking for a more holistic approach to the field, citing a hodgepodge of rules on heritage and conservation matters, and conflicting development priorities.

Yesterday, Mr Wong also announced a new heritage advisory panel comprising members from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and experts across disciplines.

They will help contribute to the survey and advise on best practices, including those used in other countries, he added.

The NHB said the panellists could include experts such as historians, architects, anthropologists and sociologists.

A new grant will be launched to fund heritage research by NGOs and institutions of higher learning. Their findings will be included in the survey.

Singapore Heritage Society president Chua Ai Lin hopes more details about the nationwide survey can be made public through each stage of the process. She described it as a good idea, but a "huge undertaking".

"It is important to understand what methodology will be used and who exactly will be carrying out the survey," Dr Chua said.

This article was first published on Mar 13, 2015.
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