In its Decision 32 COM 7B.74, adopted at its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008), the World Heritage Committee repeated its concern that the level of co-ordination and the priority given to the protection of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value had been insufficient to halt the progressive loss of its fabric and traditions in the face of development pressures. The commitment of the State Party to improve the state of conservation of the property was recognized in recent measures to begin the revision of the Urban Plan and strengthen the Maison du patrimoine (Heritage House) and coordination with local stakeholders. The World Heritage Committee nevertheless urged the State Party to implement all the recommendations made by the November 2007 joint reactive monitoring mission.
In response, the State Party provided its state of conservation report on 1 October 2008, addressing the World Heritage Committee Decision in the following terms.
a) Revision of the Urban Plan for the province of Luang Prabang and definition, in this context, of a buffer zone for the property
The State Party advised that the Master Plan developed between 2002 and 2006 was approved by the Provincial Governor on 29 August 2008 and is being implemented. The State Party conceded that the Master Plan does not contain a buffer zone for the property and therefore does not meet the UNESCO/ICOMOS recommendation. However the State Party assures the World Heritage Committee that the buffer zone will be defined in the context of a new urban plan. Responsibility for directing the development of this new plan has already been given to the Ministry of Public Works while the Institute of Urbanism has been charged with its technical preparation, with assistance from ADUC, the urban planning agency of Chinon, France. Funding has been assured through the French Development Agency (FDA) and the work of defining the buffer zone will commence in March 2009.
The report indicates the State Party’s intention to submit the revised urban plan containing the buffer zone to UNESCO in February 2010. In the interim, necessary background studies have been conducted to establish an inventory of ponds and hydraulic networks within the inscribed area and around it, and to gather data on the use being made of land plots in the zones threatened by urban sprawl and in the zones offering the best economic potential. A third survey – of buildings in the zone around the property – has yet to be conducted but will enable determination of the priority zones for future urban development, the form of which, the State Party’s report notes, will draw inspiration from the traditional urban patterns of the inscribed property.
b) Imposition of a moratorium, pending the approval of the revised Urban Plan, on major development projects
The State Party assures the World Heritage Committee that while there continues to be lively discussion about the possibility of a new town being constructed in the Chompeth Valley, no decision has been made. If the concept of a new town is eventually endorsed, its location will be determined in the context of the revised Urban Plan and its implementation will be subject to a number of specialised studies and carried out with prior negotiation with and approval by UNESCO.
The State Party’s response indicates that the airport realignment is required to cut the number of flights over the town and reduce noise and risk, while the airport extension is needed to handle the increasing flow of tourists. Assurance is given that the Lao Government does not envisage an extension that would cater for airplanes larger in capacity than the Boeing 737.
The State Party further assures the World Heritage Committee that the primary school, being of great architectural and historic significance, will not be transformed into a tourist facility but kept as a school. The Fine Arts College has historic significance and is protected under the current heritage regulations (PSMV) although it is now in a degraded state. Both the primary school and the Fine Arts College are included in the list of buildings that will be restored with FDA funds.
The provincial authorities have asked the Maison du patrimoine to undertake a feasibility study for the construction of a permanent bridge across the Nam Kham that will be a light structure using natural materials for pedestrians and motor cycle. The eventual proposal will be in conformity with existing heritage regulations and will be submitted to UNESCO. The potential noise and visual impacts referred in the joint reactive monitoring mission report are not specifically addressed in the State Party’s response.
c) Strict application of the Luang Prabang conservation plan (PSMV) and preparation of an updated inventory and maps of the property
The State Party recognises that strict application of the current heritage regulations is one of the most important concerns of the Maison du Patrimoine and assures the World Heritage Committee that the Maison du patrimoine will work to catch up on the two-year backlog of applications and will provide a table showing changes in permit application numbers and a series of maps showing changes in listed buildings, new constructions, building materials, vegetation and fences.
d) Draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value
The Lao Government reiterates its request for assistance in this task. The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies will be able to provide assistance to the State Party with a view to meeting the requirements of the World Heritage Committee’s Decision 32 COM 7B.74 and within the framework of the forthcoming Periodic Reporting exercise for Asia and the Pacific.
e) Press reports of an alleged planned Mekong mainstream dam at Luang Prabang
The State Party advised that the river level after the dam, which will be 60 km upstream, is constructed will be no higher than occurs in the rainy season but that, in any case, an environmental-social impact assessment is being prepared, the results of which will be sent to UNESCO.
f) Other problems identified by the State Party
The State Party is acting to stop further cutting of trees and filling of ponds in the protected zone. It notes that the development of large scale hotels in the surrounding zone remains a problem but it has firmly decided to control their location and orientation in future.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies note that a technical assistance mission was carried out from 16 to 26 November 2009 in the framework of the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement, which confirmed the launching of the urban plan and of the updated inventory of the safeguarded areas. This mission found that the governance of the Heritage House has significantly improved following reorganization measures taken by the State Party, including the appointment of a new Director and the recruitment of technical and administrative staff.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies note that funding is now in place to allow the commencement of the revision of the Urban Plan. They also note that reassurance has been given that no decision has been made on the location of the new town, that the final College and Primary School would be restored, and that a study has been undertaken to design a lighter structure for the pedestrian bridge. However, they note that the State Party has decided to proceed with the realignment of the airport. There is also concern that a baseline inventory and updated maps have not yet been established, which would allow an assessment of changes in listed buildings and of new construction that has taken place since the inscription.