The State Party submitted a state of conservation report on 30 January 2008, providing information on the actions taken to address the issues raised by the World Heritage Committee in its Decision 31 COM 7B.69, as well as “preliminary responses” to some of the recommendations of the January 2008 mission.
The State Party report notes that the Shanghai Tongji Urban Planning and Design Institute and its National Research Centre of Historic Cities are preparing a draft Conservation Master Plan for the property, and an updated management plan for the Old Town of Lijiang, and that these will soon be entering legal review and approval processes.
Concerning the provision of support to “local homeowners in their efforts to maintain their houses in accordance with traditional building practices”, the State Party notes the publication in 2002 of a Manual on Conservation and Maintenance of Local-style Dwelling Houses of the Old Town of Lijiang which provides guidelines for “maintenance, repair, renovation and re-building” of traditional houses, and as may be required, their adaptive re-use. Since 2003, the Global Heritage Fund, in agreement with the Administration of Conservation of the Old Town of Lijiang, has funded work on 299 traditional dwelling houses and 236 courtyards, in accordance with the above mentioned manual. The excellence of this project has been recognized by the UNESCO Bangkok Office Asia-Pacific Cultural Heritage Conservation awards programme of August 2007.
The report also documents a series of current major planning and infrastructure projects in the buffer zone and surrounding areas, focussed on “environmental improvement, scientific research and tourism”.
Finally, the State Party report comments on measures undertaken to address the stresses coming with a three fold increase in tourism since inscription in 1997. These measures have included accurate monitoring of tourism characteristics, behaviour and numbers, efforts through an “assessment system for business operations” to limit and control numbers, types and image of commercial outlets in the Old Town of Lijiang. In the context of a scientific research initiative, a “Special Plan on the Management of Traditional Business Culture Conservation in the Old Town of Lijiang” has been prepared which focuses on the location and presentation of Old Town businesses and formulates standards for their operations.
However the State Party report does not make clear the links between these planning efforts and the overall conservation master plan and management plan mentioned above.
The January 2008 joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission focused particular attention on the impact of tourism-related activities and other proposed development projects on the authenticity and integrity of both tangible and intangible heritage attributes of the site, and assessed the adequacy of current management mechanisms to protect the outstanding universal value of the property.
The mission report while noting the “great efforts and commitment” of concerned stakeholders and authorities at local and national levels and the significant improvements made, also suggested that “the scale of the threats to the townscape of Lijiang and its surrounding landscape from conservation/new development projects, other new buildings and services requires urgent action for the development of a Site management plan for Lijiang to be integrated into the Comprehensive Conservation Master Plan for the property”, and that these “need to address tourism services, infrastructural development, housing etc. in a holistic way and respect the authenticity and integrity of all three components of the World Heritage site”.
The mission’s recommendations were based on the recognition of “the persisting lack of institutional coordination, accompanied by clear conservation policies/strategies and procedures guided by a single agreed vision for the property.”
The mission’s recommendations focus on the following points:
- Need to re-define the statement of outstanding universal value of the Old Town of Lijiang, including the “relationship and social significance between the tangible heritage and intangible heritage values”;
- Need to complete the Comprehensive Conservation Master Planin conjunction with the local regional development plan of Lijiang, providing overarching principles for regional development and tourism control as well as conservation guidelines;
- Need to elaborate the Site management plan on the basis of careful monitoring of tourist activities, and in close coordination with local communities;
- Need to consider the extension of the buffer zones of Baisha and Shuhe in order to safeguard the integrity of the entire area;
- Need to clearly demarcate the boundaries of both core and buffer zones of the three areas. l>
The joint mission also draws attention to the Hoi An Protocols for Best Conservation Practice in Asia, which note that “unlike historical monuments or archaeological sites, living urban settlements often have no institutional custodian. It is therefore important that an administrative and decision-making body be formed which combines local government, business and community representation with professional conservation and planning expertise. The function of this body is to plan long-term integrated conservation and urban improvement”.
The mission report also notes that, in line with the above, the World Cultural Heritage Lijiang Old Town Protection and Management Bureau, established in October 2005, is “responsible for the implementation of the rules and regulations as well as the development and implementation of conservation master plan and Site management plan”. The mission report further notes that while the Bureau “has been doing a very good job “, its “responsibility remains physical restoration and improvements work and the coordination with the tourism and city planning departments seems not to be sufficient”.
With regard to the last recommendation, the State Party has submitted proposals for the boundaries of core and buffer zones, which will be examined by the World Heritage Committee under Item 8 of the Agenda (Document WHC-08/32.COM/8B.Add).
While commending the State Party for its efforts, the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS consider that it is essential to strengthen conservation and tourism planning for the Old Town of Lijiang, to co-ordinate the various initiatives under way and to ensure that the planning mechanisms in place give highest priority to preserving the property’s outstanding universal value.
The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS further consider that the State Party should ensure that the World Heritage Management Bureau is provided with the authority to carry out its responsibilities and to provide the needed co-ordination to protect the property.