UNESCO commends the new Penang State Government for maintaining the integrity of the George Town World Heritage Site and expressed regrets that the previous state goverment had not informed UNESCO of having provisions allowing buildings higher than 18 meters. These conclusions were decided by UNESCO in their 33rd session in Seville, Spain 22-30 June 2009.
The full text of the resolution on George Town were passed unanimously by UNESCO is as follows :-
The World Heritage Committee,
1. Having examined Document WHC-09/33.COM/7B.Add,
2. Recalling Decision 32 COM 8B.25, adopted at its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008),
3. Considering that the proposed developments within the inscribed area of George Town, particularly the AGB project near the clock tower, are in contradiction with the protective measures described in the Nomination File and would, if constructed, have a significant adverse impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property;
4. Also considering the potential impacts of the two approved developments in the buffer zone;
5. Futher considering that the introduction of a provision in the protective measures for George Town allowing for buildings higher than 18 metres in the World Heritage property and its buffer zone under certain circumstances, as well as the lack of legal mechanisms that would enable the Federal Government to exercise control on the property constitute a potential threat for the Outstanding Universal Value of the property;
6. Regrets that adequate information on these development proposals and the status of their approval, as well as on the modification of the protective regulations, was not provided by the State Party in the Nomination File and during the evaluation process;
7. Takes note with satisfaction of the offical letter dated 15 June 2009 and oral statement by the State Party of Malaysia during its 33rd session, informing the Committee that:
a) The height of the two proposed development projects within the inscribed area, Bousted and AGB, will be reduced to 18 metres;
b) The impact of the two projects in the Buffer Zone, E&O and Bintang, has been reduced through the implementation of the modifications negotiated between the Council and the developers;
c) The provision allowing building higher than 18 metres within the inscribed property under certain circumstances in George Town has been abolished;
d) The existing “Guidelines for Conservation Areas & Heritage Buildings” will be renamed “Regulations for Conservation Areas & Heritage Buildings”;
e) Special Area Plans for the inscribed property and its buffer zone that would provide planning controls and guidance at a more detailed level, will be prepared;
f) There will be no approval given for developments higher that 18 metres in the buffer zone until such time as the Special Area Plans are adopted;
g) A Technical Review Committee will be establised, including a representative of the Federal Government (Department of National Heritage) to review all major development proposals and propoased planning controls and policies that could impact adversely on the Outstanding Universal Value;
h) Other measures to support the conservation of Georgetown have been taken, including the creation of a World Heritage Office, the strengthening of the Heritage Deaprtment within the City Council of Penang, and the creation of a World Heritage Day in Penang;
8. Commends the State Party for its efforts to negotiate with the developers with an aim to identify alternative solutions to the approved projects and reduce their adverse effect, including by commissioning heritage impact studies, as well as for the spirit of genuine concern and cooperation manifested in its attempts to clarify the issues with the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS;
9. Requests the State Party to continue its efforts to implements the recommendations made by the joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS mission, and notably to:
a) Develop the above-mentioned Special Area Plans for the inscribed property and its buffer zone, based on a careful analysis of important views, typologies and the composition of the social fabric of George Town, and submit these to the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS by 1 February 2011, for review;
b) Introduce new legal provisions in the protection and management system for the World Heritage property that would enable the central authorities at the level of the Federal Government to review and, if necessary veto proposals for major development projects, draft Special Area Plans and other relevant planning controls and policies both for George Town and Melaka;
10. Also requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2011, a report on the progress made in the implementation of the recommendations contained in point 9 above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 35th session in 2011.
The new Penang State Government’s successful effort to rescue George Town from being inscribed as a Heritage Site in Danger list demonstrates the commitment to preserve, protect and promote heritage conservation.
Further, the deletion of Germany’s Dresden city from UNESCO World Heritage List only emphasizes how far the new state government has succeeded in convincing UNESCO of the difference in commitment to heritage conservation after the change of government.