Hotel will not affect St George World Heritage status, ministry says
World Heritage Site status for St George is safe, the home affairs ministry has insisted.
Doubts were raised over the retention of the coveted status for the Olde Towne and related fortifications after the construction of the St Regis Hotel was carried out in an area ruled to be a buffer zone for historic forts.
Concern was also expressed over the delayed submission of a management plan to the British Government, which has responsibility for world heritage sites in Britain and the Overseas Territories.
But a home affairs spokeswoman said: "To date, there has been no official report from the UK state party or otherwise that the World Heritage Site status is threatened.
"Furthermore, there has been no notification of removing St George from the list or it being added to the Sites in Danger list.“
She added that the island’s Government kept the UK state party, its liaison with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, up to date on development activity in or around the world heritage site.
The spokeswoman said that a meeting was held with British representatives last September to discuss "all future developments the Department of Planning has knowledge of within the World Heritage Site and buffer zone“.
She added: "During this meeting, the UK state party confirmed the World Heritage Site status for the Town of St George and related fortifications was secure and not currently in question.“
Dr Charlotte Andrews, the head of cultural heritage for the Bermuda National Trust, a member of the World Heritage Site management committee, said: “The BNT would like to stress the importance of using and tracking the management plan, particularly in a World Heritage Site like St George’s and its forts where there are so many heritage sites, types of heritage, and cultural and tourism partners.
“Meeting the operational guidelines and other expectations of Unesco and its key advisers such as ICOMOS [International Council on Monuments and Sites] is crucial to maintaining our Unesco status.
“Monitoring and enhancing our heritage management will also maximise the social, economic and cultural value of the World Heritage Site for Bermuda.”
Ms Andrews said the BNT had secured funds and drawn up work plans for conservation and reinterpretation of BNT sites inside the World Heritage Site.
She added: “We hope the plan itself — as both a living document and a co-ordinated management system — can be transparently shared and tracked over time, so the Bermuda community can be more informed of and involved in Bermuda World Heritage management, besides updating Unesco and other oversight bodies.”
Cheryl Hayward-Chew, who stood down as chairwoman of the St George’s Foundation and also led the World Heritage Site management committee as of the end of last month, worked on drawing up the five-year management plan for the East End.
She said a draft 2020 to 2025 plan had been submitted to the Government to send on to Britain.
Ms Hayward-Chew said: “I would say that the delay of the management plan supports a pattern of lack of oversight and lack of priority. That pattern jeopardises our status.”
But the home affairs spokeswoman said that the comments were “unfortunate and unfounded”.
The spokeswoman added: "The Government is committed to the long-term success of the World Heritage Site and the multitude of benefits that it brings to the town of St George and Bermuda.
"It should be noted that the plan has gone through extensive internal and external consultation to ensure that it is fit for purpose and focused on what are considered to be the prevalent issues within the site.“
The spokeswoman said the preparation of the plan coincided with uncertainty over the future responsibilities of the municipalities, adding: “Critical to the successful delivery of the plan is the establishment of an appropriate governance structure, with clear responsibilities being attributed to the future stewards of the site.
“At this time it would be imprudent to establish a management framework for the site without a full understanding of the various moving parts.”
She added that an application was still to be submitted to the planning department for future work at the St Regis site.
The spokeswoman explained: "Once an application is received, the Department of Planning will liaise with the UK state party to seek guidance whilst processing the application as per the operational guidelines for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention.“
St George, along with nearby forts, was awarded World Heritage Site status in December 2000 in recognition of the area’s "outstanding universal value".