UNESCO won’t come to the rescue

The article titled ‘Fact-check: Is the Ġgantija development outside UNESCO’s buffer zone?’ said that “according to UNESCO’s rules, development cannot take place on the site unless a heritage impact assessment has been carried out and approved by its World Heritage Committee”.

This incorrectly gives readers the impression that UNESCO has the ability to enforce its rules regarding development inside the so-called “buffer zone” and could block the development if it is within that zone. Our company, through a subsidiary in the Netherlands, owns the UNESCO world heritage site called Van Nellefabriek, in Rotterdam. It is, just like the temples, surrounded by a “buffer zone”. As such, we have direct experience when it comes to what UNESCO does and does not do.

UNESCO itself does not enforce anything. It relies on the planning authority or ministry of culture, or other such government entity, as the member state has entrusted with the task of preserving the site in question, to do so.

The Van Nellefabriek, in Rotterdam. Photo: Shutterstock.comThe Van Nellefabriek, in Rotterdam. Photo: Shutterstock.com

In reality, UNESCO has only one sanction available to it if its criteria are breached and that is the removal of the site from the list of World Heritage Sites. On more than one occasion, authorities have decided that maintaining World Heritage status is less important than other considerations and have gone ahead with development regardless. Examples of this are the bridge in Dresden and the stadium on the waterfront in Liverpool.

I am not expressing an opinion on the Gozo project, including on the question of whether it is or is not inside the buffer zone - it is not up to me to do so. But Times of Malta and readers would be better served knowing that, even if it is inside, no outside intervention to stop the development will be forthcoming. The cavalry won’t ride to the rescue; it does not have horses.

Jordi Goetstouwers Virgata Group – Birkirkara

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