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TT behind in landmark preservation

By ANDRE BAGOO Sunday, March 2 2008

click on pic to zoom in
Queen’s Royal College ...
Queen’s Royal College ...

WHILE steps were taken this week to see the historic Boissiere House possibly listed as a “property of interest” under National Trust Legislation, the fact remains that Trinidad and Tobago still lags far behind its Caribbean neighbours in how it protects its landmarks, according to conservationists and architects.

Unlike Jamaica, Barbados and Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago’s National Trust is not as well-established and does not have as much power as it should, conservationists say. Further, legislation in this country designed to protect landmarks is too weak, in addition to being under- utilised in this country.

The Jamaican National Heritage Trust traces its origins back to the formation of a National Trust Commission back in 1958. In Guyana, the National Trust of Guyana was established by Act of Parliament back in 1972. The Barbados National Trust was formed since 1961. By contrast, Trinidad and Tobago’s National Trust Act was passed by Parliament only in 1991.

To date, not a single property has been listed as a “property of interest” under the Act and placed on a readily-available public register of heritage properties after being gazetted.

Yet, in Guyana there are already nine national monuments that were publically gazetted after Cabinet approval. They include Fort Zeelandia and the Court of Policy on Fort Island, and the Red House on High Street, Kingston.

The Barbados’ National Trust has already acquired eight major visitor attractions in that country, including the Gun Hill Signal Station and the Bridgetown Synagogue, the first synagogue built in the Western Hemisphere.

And in Jamaica, there are already more than 200 properties listed as heritage properties and controlled by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, classed into different categories such as: aqueducts and bridges, cemeteries, churches, court houses, clock towers, forts, plantation houses, lighthouses, parks and botanical gardens, railway stations and historical districts. Any member of the public can apply to the Trust to have a landmark listed. The procedure to do so is readily available on the internet and involves simply writing the Trust.

In Trinidad and Tobago, on the other hand, the procedure by which a property can become listed has only now been reportedly ironed out and agreed to by Cabinet. Yet, it has not been made public, prompting Ramesh Maharaj, the Opposition Chief Whip, to this week in Parliament ask Government –without success– what its position on the sale of Boissiere House is.

And while all of the trusts in Guyana, Barbados and Jamaica have websites where the public can readily access information about their trusts and national heritage landmarks, the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago does not have one. In fact, as acknowledged this week by Vel Lewis, the Chairman of the Trust, the Trust is not even listed in the phone-book.

Lewis told Sunday Newsday that while not a single landmark amidst a short-list of important heritage sites such as the Red House, President’s House and the Magnificent Seven, has ever been listed, many of these properties are “not at risk” because they are government-owned. He said the Trust is currently working with public agencies to ensure that these properties are protected, noting, “we have a very close working relationship with those agencies to ensure that they (the properties) are treated in a way that they are preserved.”

Lewis said that the Trust is currently guiding restoration on Mille Fleurs, Queen’s Royal College and Stollmeyer’s Castle.

“We agreed in principle with all ministry officials ...that those are going to be preserved,” he said.

Under Section 15B of the 1991 National Trust Act, the body may “initiate consultations with other government and non-government entities performing various functions pertaining to the preservation of any property...with the objective of formulating memoranda of understanding...for the preservation of monuments.”

But pressed on whether the Trust would put its foot down if, by some chance these properties were not being properly treated he said the watchdog body, “would not be afraid to exercise its power.”

But just what exactly is that power, under the National Trust Act, and is it enough?

Renowned architect Colin Laird, who designed Queen’s Hall, with its famous corrugated roof and more recently the National Library Building, this week questioned whether the penalties under the National Trust Act are steep enough to prevent destruction to our national heritage.

Under Section 8 of the 1991 National Trust Act, the Trust may prepare a list of buildings and sites for listing on a public register.

Once listed, it will be a criminal offence for a person to then alter, damage, demolish or deface the property. Such offence attracts a fine of $5,000 or any further compensatory sum the court thinks fit. If an order issued to stop someone from damaging a property is violated, the fine is similarly $5,000. But according to Laird this penalty is too low, coming as it does after the fact of the damage already being done.

“I think that’s quite wrong,” he said, before calling for the current National Trust Act to be amended.

“It doesn’t really give government the power to stop a demolition...the Act should be changed to make it more difficult to even touch the property at all,” he implored.

Who owns what


PRIVATELY-OWNED AND UNLISTED

1.Boissiere House (private family)
2.Archbishop’s House (the Roman Catholic Church)
3.Queen’s Royal College
4.Haynes Court (the Anglican Church)
5.Ambar’s House (private family)
6.Rosary Church, Port-of-Spain (RC Church)
7.Tranquillity Methodist Church (Methodist Church)
8.Lion’s House (private family)

STATE-OWNED UNLISTED PROPERTIES
‘NOT AT RISK’:

1.Red House
2.Whitehall
3.Mille Fleurs
4.Stollmeyer’s Castle
5.Fort Picton, Laventille
6.Banwari Trace archeological site, Siparia
7.President’s House
8.Old Library Building,
9.National Museum Building
10.The Five Islands, including Nelson Island
11.Fort King George, Tobago (owned by the Tobago House of Assembly which has agreed to restore and maintain it)
12.Fort San Andres, Broadway, Port-of-Spain
13.Count Lopinot House
14.The old La Brea Magistrates’ Court
15.Old Mayaro Post Office (state owned, with a community group strongly lobbying for its use as a community museum)

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