City conservation

Stabroek News
June 22, 2001

There is nothing more welcome at this stage of the capital's chaotic existence than the Greater Georgetown Development Plan 2001?2010. It is not perfect, but then it does not purport to be; it is intended as a draft into which the various agencies and the public can have an input. Encompassing all aspects of the city's development the plan confronts the thorny problems which have dogged the municipality over the years, and offers some novel approaches to solutions.

Those with an interest in preserving the character of Georgetown and more especially its historical sites will be happy to learn that there is a section in the document devoted to conservation. Noting the valuable heritage which the city possesses, the authors observe that the "rate of change is now such that careful planning is required to ensure the continued survival of this heritage."

In addition to individual buildings, it is proposed to designate conservation areas, i.e. those sectors whose overall appearance it is desirable to preserve. This would be achieved through the careful control of development in the said zones, and by the general support of "enhancement schemes."

To begin with, say the authors, it would be necessary to undertake a site survey which would enumerate all important features of a designated sector, including trees. Thereafter a layout plan would be drafted showing adjoining buildings and access, as well as street elevation, etc. Before there could be construction within conservation areas detailed plans and drawings would have to be submitted to the council, while approval would be contingent on demonstrating a high standard of design, and an emphasis on preservation and enhancement.

As an initial guide to what is in need of conservation, the document has relied on listings from the National Trust, which are by no means comprehensive, but which could be expanded. At the moment, of course, the legislative framework in which both the National Trust and the City Council would be required to operate is not ideal for the purpose envisaged by the draft, and clearly some amendment to the law would be necessary. In an appendix to the main text the authors do advert to the necessity of revamping the Town and Country Planning Act, but attention would also need to be given to drafting specific regulations for prohibiting the demolition or alteration of listed sites except in unusual circumstances.

In addition, it might be noted that the City Engineer's department currently does not have the skills which would be required to pass judgement ? either aesthetic or historical ? on proposed designs in conservation areas. It may be that where listed buildings and areas are concerned ? or even in the case of unlisted structures which nevertheless are recognized as being of historical or architectural interest ? decisions should be made only after reference to the National Trust. At a practical level it has to be acknowledged that there is a dearth of skills of all kinds in the country, and the City Engineer's department may not be in a position to make conservation assessments for some time to come.

The finer details, however, can be worked out; as it is, Professor Khan and his staff have made a valuable contribution to the rational development of the capital city, and have placed justifiable emphasis on retaining its unique character.