During its 31st session (Christchurch, 2007), the World HeritageCommittee congratulated the State Party on submitting a management plan and a Master Plan for the property, and encouraged the State Party to implement the recommendations of the advisory mission of October 2006. The World HeritageCommittee asked the State Party to report on the state of conservation of the property and in particular on important development projects.
a) Information on current development projects
On 26 January 2009, the State Party provided a state of conservation report for the property, which addresses a number of current development projects.
In the inscribed zone, seven projects are reviewed:
· The Pfauengarten (Peacock Gardens)
· The Kastner and Ohler Department Store
· The Kommodhaus/ Boardinghouse, Burgasse 15
· The Brandhaus, Andreas-Hofer-Platz
· The Provincial Museum Joanneum
· Sackstrasse 28-30,
· The Castle Hill restaurant- Schlossberg.
In the buffer zone, three projects are described:
· New project for the planned Thalia Hotel, 5a Opernring
· Nikolaiplatz 5
· The Former White Elephant Inn.
The municipal authorities have provided project descriptions which show what stage each project is at and the steps taken by the municipality to guide projects to forms, uses and designs appropriate for their place in the property. Much emphasis is given to showing the ways in which the planning process takes into account heritage concerns.
While the State Party describes this process as transparent, ICOMOS has received information about potential conflicts of interest, for example, the architect of one of the projects examined above (the Brandlhaus) being as wellthe Vice-President of the Expert Commission on the Historic Center of Graz (the ASVK).
Concerning the design for the Kastner and Ohler Department Store, which was the object of the ICOMOS advisory mission of October 2006, the report notes the commitment by the Executive Board of Kastner and Ohler to follow the advice of the expert mission. Detailed planning in conformity with this commitment was recognized with issuance of a building permit in October 2007; construction, begun in spring 2008, should be completed by October 2010.
ICOMOS appreciates the efforts made by the State Party to report on these projects and their possible impacts on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. However, ICOMOS would require more detailed documentation than that provided in the report in order to be able to provide any comments on these projects.
The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS point out that the State Party report does not mention any potential impacts of the projects on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. Further, it should be noted that most of the projects are under implementation, and hence well beyond the stage at which the World Heritage Committee seeks an opportunity to review impacts on Outstanding Universal Value, in the context of Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines.
The State Party report also includes information on a number of other initiatives, including:
· The status of the World Heritage co-ordination office established in February 2007, within the structures of the Board of City Planning in relation to the World Heritage management plan of 2007. This office is assigned to act as an information and mediation interface to “find solutions to critical problem issues (prior to submission of projects)”.
· The coming into force of the new Graz Historic Centre Preservation Law (GAEG)
on 1 December 2008, updating the 1980 GAEG. The GAEG provides conditions for the work of the Expert Commission on the Historic Center of Graz (the ASVK). The objectives of the new GAEG acknowledge the importance of preserving the historic centre of Graz in its World Heritage role, and also provide for a “historic centre advocate” to protect the public interest in the preservation of the historic centre. The role of this advocate is to verify that ASVK decisions are fully implemented by public authorities.
· The establishing of an ICOMOS Austria permanent monitoring group for the historic centre of Graz, whose function is to provide advice during the early stages of construction and rehabilitation projects.
b) Review of the management plan of Graz (2007)
ICOMOS has also recently examined the management plan prepared for the property. While ICOMOS has previously described the management plan as a “strongly credible attempt to layer on planning mechanisms and measures that will improve the capacity of the existing planning system to protect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, and to move the municipality well beyond previous approaches”, ICOMOS has also noted a number of shortcomings:
· The management plan is described as ”advisory”. A management plan should provide “executive power” for implementation of actions focused on preserving Outstanding Universal Value. The management plan does provide that development conflicts or proposals which appear to harm the Outstanding Universal Value be raised to the appropriate political level for resolution, with the commitment to protect the Outstanding Universal Value strongly highlighted in the process.
· The role of the World Heritage office is described as primarily concerned with information sharing and co-ordination. This leaves decision-making to other bodies and with other levels who may not give ultimate priority to preserving the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage property.
· The criteria identified for assessing development projects in the World Heritage context are described as built on the need to respect the Vienna Memorandum, to improve quality of life and to foster identity and social cohesion. Within this overall framework, three general criteria are highlighted: location within the conservation zone, height and scale, and “outstanding value.” However, a World Heritage management plan should highlight respect for Outstanding Universal Value as its primary overall objective.
It is clear in relation to all of the above that the State Party is making important efforts to improve the transparency and quality of the decision-making process for new projects, including improving communication to the World Heritage Centre concerning emerging projects, and also providing opportunities for those with voicing contrary views on impacts and compliance.
However, ICOMOS considers that this process can still be improved:
· By giving the Graz World Heritage office sufficient independence from the planning functions of the City authorities in order to better advocate for the preservation of the Outstanding Universal Value in relation to project proposals;
· By ensuring that there are no conflicts of interest of those involved in project review and in executing projects under review;
· By providing state of conservation reports to the World Heritage Committee, which reflect the views of all entities in charge of monitoring compliance in the planning system (City planning office, World Heritage office, historic centre advocate);
· By launching efforts to establish the 2007 management plan as an executive decision-making document rather than an advisory document, built around ensuring respect for the Outstanding Universal Value of the property.