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Letter: Consultations needed on preserving built heritage in St. John's


As our communities progress through the current municipal election, it would appear at least in the City of St. John’s, that the topic of heritage preservation has been profiled in the election campaign platforms of many candidates.

Some individuals have declared their support of heritage and culture but the proof will lie in their tenacity to follow through for meaningful action results. There is an urgency to succeed in protecting all the things that make us what we are proud to call our own as Newfoundlanders. Potential new political leadership on this front is promising and will hopefully lead to strengthened protection for our valued historic architectural and landscape legacies. Voters will expect to see that these initial overtures are translated into timely strategic execution for constructive change.

Once the dust settles from the election results, and the new council begins work on sustaining this built heritage, they will need effective tools for preservation to sustain the building and spaces that make the city so special.

As I write this letter today, there are 3,000 cruise ship visitors wandering around the downtown core and adjacent neighbourhoods with their historic site maps admiring our uniqueness. Amid the boom and bust of the fishery and offshore oil and gas industries, heritage tourism is something that we can preserve as a sustainable resource as long as we have the proper protection in place.

Currently, the Engage St. John’s Municipal Plan states the protection of heritage and culture as one of its main vision principles for the community. The concern of many however is that the municipal plan as mandated by the Provincial Urban and Rural Planning Act, is silent on issues of heritage preservation affecting all communities in Newfoundland and Labrador. Recognizing this vacuum, the city has chosen to create a new set of heritage area bylaws under the more prescriptive and better defined, City of St. John’s Act to be an effective legislative tool for heritage preservation here in the city.

As the municipal plan and associated development regulations near completion, the new council will need to ensure that the public continues to be engaged and have important input into the final documents. The development regulations still require lots of work prior being ready for use and will require public input to see how the new municipal plan will be implemented through them. Likewise, there has been no public consultation or involvement in the creation of the new heritage bylaws.

Given the number of unfortunate heritage building loses in the recent past, any astute councillor would encourage public debate and discussion before any new rules are put into place to sustain this valued resource.

Without proper legislative standards to prescribe heritage preservation we will remain rudderless in advancing positive results. As a citizen I will be looking for all councillors to share the value of public debate for constructive change that will contribute to making St. John’s a better place and preserve our built heritage and spaces.

 

Tom Horrocks

St. John’s

 

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