SLNT: RE­NEWED FO­CUS NEEDED ON ST LU­CIA’S BUILT HER­ITAGE

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

The Saint Lu­cia Na­tional Trust (SLNT) is sad­dened by the de­struc­tion of the colo­nial-era his­toric ‘Glas­gow’ town­house and other nearby prop­er­ties, which were burnt by fire dur­ing the early morn­ing of Tues­day Oc­to­ber 30, 2018. The Glas­gow House was lo­cated at the north-eastern cor­ner of the junc­tions of Mary-Ann and Broglie Streets, in Cas­tries. It was one of a small and dwin­dling num­ber of pre-1948 struc­tures found in the Cas­tries City Cen­tre.

This year, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Cas­tries Con­stituen­cies Coun­cil, the Cul­tural De­vel­op­ment Foun­da­tion, Min­istry of In­fra­struc­ture, Ports, En­ergy and Labour, Me­di­a­zone and Min­istry of Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment, Hous­ing, Ur­ban Re­newal, Trans­port and Civil Avi­a­tion Sur­vey & Map­ping Sec­tion, the Trust put on an ex­hi­bi­tion memo­ri­al­iz­ing the 70th an­niver­sary of the great Cas­tries Fire of 1948 and cre­ated a doc­u­men­tary record­ing mem­o­ries of a num­ber of those who lived through the ex­pe­ri­ence. This fire led to the loss of much of Cas­tries’ colo­nial era-built her­itage, de­stroy­ing over 24 acres of the city and dis­plac­ing scores of city res­i­dents. Now, 70 years later, a build­ing which sur­vived that Great Fire has suc­cumbed to yet an­other fire.

Through the work of the Saint Lu­cia Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal & His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, es­tab­lished in 1954, and the Na­tional Trust, es­tab­lished in 1975, nu­mer­ous ef­forts have been made at at­tempt­ing to con­serve our is­land’s her­itage, in­clud­ing its build­ings of ar­chi­tec­tural merit. Sadly, how­ever, the con­tin­ued rede­vel­op­ment of Cas­tries and many of our built-up ar­eas has hap­pened at the ex­pense of our tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­ture. This ar­chi­tec­ture has im­mense value in terms of defin­ing our sense of place and iden­tity but is also im­por­tant in pro­vid­ing value and char­ac­ter to the places in which we live, work and re­lax.

A very early at­tempt at list­ing such build­ings was en­cap­su­lated in the Na­tional Trust’s pub­li­ca­tion of Saint Lu­cia His­toric Sites in 1975, au­thored by the Trust’s found­ing Di­rec­tor, his­to­rian, Mr. Robert De­vaux. In 2014, the Trust in­jected new life into its Built Her­itage Pro­gramme by bring­ing on­board a full-time Built Her­itage Of­fi­cer. It com­menced the Wal­cott Place & Grass Street Ur­ban En­hance­ment Project, which had as one of its broader man­dates the catalysing of ur­ban re­newal around the Lower Chaussée, recog­nis­ing the value of con­serv­ing what is es­sen­tially Cas­tries’ His­toric Quar­ter. One of these struc­tures in­cluded in that area was the Glas­gow House.

Con­cur­rently, the SLNT col­lab­o­rated with the Tech­ni­cal Depart­ment of the Sir Arthur Lewis Com­mu­nity Col­lege in which sec­ond-year stu­dents car­ried out risk as­sess­ments of 250 his­toric build­ings is­land-wide to de­ter­mine what was left of our Built Her­itage. Stu­dents car­ried out mea­sured sur­veys and his­toric re­search on these build­ings to de­ter­mine whether they were suit­able for be­ing in­cluded on the List­ing of Build­ings reg­is­ter. As a re­sult of this as­sess­ment the Glas­gow House was in­cluded in the Trust’s reg­is­ter of his­toric build­ings, based on its age and rar­ity, his­toric sig­nif­i­cance and ar­chi­tec­tural merit. The house was a rare ex­am­ple of a 2-level early 20th cen­tury wooden town­house and show­cased sig­nif­i­cant char­ac­ter­is­tics of this con­struc­tion such as the dou­ble dormer win­dows, fret­work and wooden shut­ters.

The im­por­tance of our coun­try’s Built Her­itage and other tan­gi­ble her­itage in gen­eral has been brought to the fore­front of na­tional in­ter­est and de­bate in re­cent times with the tragic loss of the his­toric build­ing that housed the Folk Re­search Cen­tre at Mount Pleas­ant, on March 25 this year, and on­go­ing dis­cus­sions re­gard­ing both the fate of spe­cific build­ings in Cas­tries and the re­vi­sion of plans for the over­all de­vel­op­ment of the cap­i­tal. This new loss of the Glas­gow House has fu­elled these flames and shows the frag­ile state of our her­itage.

The list­ing of build­ings, mon­u­ments and sites is an on­go­ing and open-ended process. As time passes, build­ings cur­rently not con­sid­ered of suf­fi­cient merit to be listed, may be­come so and oth­ers may be lost. The list­ing process alone will not en­sure that these tan­gi­ble as­sets are pro­tected, par­tic­u­larly from aban­don­ment. Long-term con­ser­va­tion re­quires a suite of poli­cies and leg­is­la­tion that pro­motes use, par­tic­u­larly adap­tive re­use of these prop­er­ties, to ful­fill the coun­try’s de­vel­op­ment needs. There must be in­cen­tives and other ben­e­fits to en­cour­age and as­sist the prop­erty own­ers and de­vel­op­ers of prop­er­ties with his­toric value to main­tain and de­velop such prop­er­ties. There is a need for guide­lines to as­sist prop­erty de­vel­op­ers in con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing suit­able de­vel­op­ment schemes that in­cor­po­rate the built her­itage. This should also be sup­ported by ac­cess to gen­er­ous con­ces­sion­ary fi­nanc­ing, as build­ing con­ser­va­tion of­ten re­quires spe­cial­ized skills and ex­per­tise and can be quite costly. Such a frame­work for Built Her­itage con­ser­va­tion would en­gen­der pos­i­tive so­cio-eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, par­tic­u­larly in the his­toric cores of our towns and vil­lages.

In 2016, the SLNT pre­pared and sub­mit­ted to gov­ern­ment draft leg­is­la­tion to strengthen the pro­tec­tion of build­ings of his­toric and ar­chi­tec­tural in­ter­est. We await the next phase to en­gage the Min­istry of Phys­i­cal De­vel­op­ment and other stake­hold­ers as we look to­wards a surer fu­ture for our Built Her­itage. The loss of the Glas­gow House high­lights the ur­gency that must be placed by all con­cerned in fur­ther­ing this cru­cial as­pect of a sus­tain­able, bal­anced de­vel­op­ment agenda. De­spite all the losses and chal­lenges, the Saint Lu­cia Na­tional Trust be­lieves that our is­land can profit from the cur­rent na­tional con­cern if it com­mits to re­build­ing and re­newal that is in­spired and in­vig­o­rated by the valu­able ar­chi­tec­tural and his­tor­i­cal qual­i­ties of the past.

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