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Botanic Gardens a step closer to become UNESCO site

SINGAPORE – The Singapore Botanic Gardens cleared the first hurdle in its bid to become a Unesco World Heritage Site when the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos) gave the garden its endorsement yesterday (May 15).

SINGAPORE – The Singapore Botanic Gardens cleared the first hurdle in its bid to become a Unesco World Heritage Site when the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos) gave the garden its endorsement yesterday (May 15).

The non-governmental organisation is recommending the Botanic Gardens for inscription without reservation – the best recommendation possible – so it stands a good chance of being inscribed by the World Heritage Committee (WHC).

But WHC will still assess the recommendation and make the final decision, which is expected to be announced in Bonn, Germany in July, said the National Parks Board (NParks) and National Heritage Board in a joint media release yesterday.

Speaking to reporters after the School of the Arts Awards Day yesterday, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said that while he was delighted at the recommendation, it was “not time to pop the champagne”.

“But this positive recommendation by Icomos will be a very positive step forward for our bid, and we will go into the World Heritage meeting in Bonn in July with much greater confidence.

“We certainly hope to come back with a birthday present for Singapore’s Jubilee year,” said Mr Wong, who noted that the Icomos process took about one and a half years, half the average time a country takes to go through it.

This shows that the Botanic Gardens has “intrinsic value” not only for Singapore but also for the world, and attests to Singapore’s commitment to preserve and manage the garden, he added.

A feasibility study was first conducted in 2010 before Singapore ratified the World Heritage Convention and submitted its World Heritage Tentative List to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Having indicated its interest in inscribing the Botanic Gardens as a World Heritage Site, Singapore held a four-month public consultation and submitted its nomination dossier to Unesco in January last year. In September, Icomos came for an on-site inspection.

To be successfully inscribed, sites have to meet at least one of the 10 selection criteria.

Icomos found that the Botanic Gardens fulfilled two of the criteria used by the WHC in determining which properties should be inscribed as heritage sites, stated the joint media release.

For one, it exhibited an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture of technology, monumental arts, town planning or landscape design.

The Botanic Gardens had helped change the rubber landscape through its experimentation with techniques for scoring tree trunks for latex, noted Singapore Botanic Gardens director Nigel Taylor in an earlier media briefing.

The other criterion the Botanic Gardens fulfilled is that it is an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape that illustrates a significant stage in human history.

According to Dr Taylor, the 156-year-old garden could be one of the last examples of the 18th-century English Landscape style, which was not typically found in the tropics.

Despite the positive recommendation, Mr Wong noted that Icomos also suggested the Botanic Gardens look into strengthening conservation efforts and the protective buffer zone. The site for inscription is 49 hectares, with a buffer area of 137 ha.

“So even if we were to get the World Heritage Site inscription, it won’t stop there. We’ll continue to do whatever we can to strengthen our conservation efforts in the Botanic Gardens and to strengthen our heritage efforts in Singapore,” he said.

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