In June 2003, the Committee decided to consider the possibility of removing the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger at its 28th Session, on the basis of the progress made by the State Party in the completion and adoption of the Management Plan for the site and having taken into account all ICOMOS recommendations.
In August 2003, the Centre provided the Omani authorities with its comments on an on-going project for a new market near the Fort including proposals for the urban development of the area, and on a draft interim version of the Management Plan for the property. These comments indicated that the Management Plan should be completed before any major urban project such as that of the new market is developed. The Centre reiterated the importance of preserving the authenticity of the property, including the use of traditional building materials and techniques and emphasised the need to further develop the contents of the draft Management Plan with a view to achieving a comprehensive and operational urban planning instrument for the Oasis and a conservation and presentation plan for the Fort.
A revised statement of significance for the property is included in the draft Management Plan, advising that, in addition to criterion (iv), under which the site was inscribed in 1987, criteria (v) and (vi) be considered in a future re-nomination and ICOMOS recommended that criterion (iii) should also be taken into consideration. A re-nomination should provide an up-dated definition of the boundaries of the core area and buffer zone of the World Heritage property.
ICOMOS conducted an evaluation of the Management Plan and the project for the construction of a new market near the Fort. Their report confirmed that the use of reinforced concrete covered with traditional plaster, as planned for the new market, would be inappropriate for a World Heritage property. ICOMOS stressed the importance of further developing the conservation and long-term maintenance guidelines for the Fort and Oasis, with particular reference to the Aflaj system, in order to address the question of the re-use of traditional buildings. The guidelines should take into account the potential for sustainable development. ICOMOS also suggested that a Site Commission be established for the implementation of the Management Plan, together with complementary facilities such as a Documentation Centre, a Conservation Laboratory and a Training Centre.
During the Regional Seminar for the Conservation of the Earthen Structures, in December 2003, the Centre carried out another mission to the property. The visit provided an opportunity to review, with the Omani authorities and the British management consultancy firm Atkins, and in light of the recommendations by the Committee, a final draft version of the Management Plan and to examine possible solutions on how to move forward with the project for the new market. In a letter dated 22 December 2003 to the Permanent Delegation, the Centre presented its recommendations to the Omani authorities.
The Centre highlighted some areas that would still require improvement, including indications on the future use of the Fort and surrounding urban structures, traffic circulation within the Oasis, technical specifications for conservation of earthen structures in the Fort and elsewhere and the procedures for the monitoring of the state of conservation of the property. The Centre also stressed the need for the Omani authorities to give official endorsement to the Management Plan, as well as the necessary support in terms of institutional, financial and especially human resources, to ensure that, upon its completion, it would become operational as soon as possible. With that in mind, the Centre strongly recommended that a second stakeholders' Workshop be held to present the Plan and its conservation and development strategy for the property to the local community and other parties involved in order to integrate their reactions into the final document to be officially approved by the Government.
ICOMOS reviewed the final draft version of the Management Plan and observed that further research would be necessary, particularly on the development of conservation guidelines for the Aflaj system in the Oasis, and the finalisation of an Urban Conservation Plan.
Recognising the desire of the local authorities to overcome the current impasse with regard to the new market, the Centre, in consultation with CRATerre, recommended that the following criteria be adopted:
- The future market should not be increased in size with respect to the existing one;
- The original urban morphology (layout and typology) of the market should be maintained;
- The height and skyline of the built structures, as well as their architectural style and features should be in accordance with the character of the local surviving traditional shops in earthen material. New features inspired from recent markets built elsewhere in Oman should not be taken as a model.
a) the existing shops, including those severely damaged by the flood during spring 2003, should be restored using original materials and building techniques, and integrated into the new market. Modern materials may be used, if necessary and appropriate for sanitary and other reasons, only for those parts of the market which have completely deteriorated;
b) the restoration of the Bahla market could be an opportunity to involve local master masons and unskilled youth in a social programme aimed at conserving and restoring the market of Bahla and to develop awareness and pride among its inhabitants for the value of their earthen heritage. The Ministry of Heritage and Culture and CRATerre could be involved with the Ministry of Commerce in the initiative to transform what has been so far perceived as a "problem" into a model pilot project for the sustainable conservation of a World Heritage property;
c) the selection of an agent to prepare a new project, in line with the above suggestions, should be the subject of a competitive process to which at least three Consultancy Firms should be invited to bid for.