Conservation of Heritage Buildings REF#6470

26 Sep 2023 | Tourism & Hospitality Issue Tackled

Last modified date: 26 Sep 2023

Issue Description

From the ancient temples of Angkor to French colonial-era mansions, Chinese shop houses and the New Khmer Architecture movement during the Golden Age of Cambodia, spearheaded by renowned Cambodian architect, Vann Molyvann, Cambodia is blessed with iconic heritage and culturally significant buildings across the Kingdom.

However, with the rapid development of Cambodia since the 1990s many of these heritage buildings have been demolished, or are at risk of demolition, to make way for new construction projects.

Urban heritage and its conservation have become an integral part of urban planning processes; it is widely understood to contribute to a community’s well-being as well as boosting tourism and other economic activities whilst preserving cultural identity.

The Royal Government of Cambodia has acknowledged the need to prevent the demolition and altering of heritage buildings and on 12 October 2021 Samdach Techo Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a circular to prevent the demolition and altering of heritage buildings, the changing or damaging of religious structures, public and private buildings, villages and ancient houses.

In this circular, Prime Minister Hun Sen stated that in order for conservation work on the city’s heritage sites and religious buildings, public and private buildings, villages and ancient houses to be in accordance with the Law on Protection of Cultural Heritage, the government prohibits the alteration of exterior features or damaging the beauty of urban heritage sites.

The circular stipulated that heritage buildings that will be restored, redesigned, or demolished must be reviewed by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and other relevant ministries. Whilst the Law on Protection of Cultural Heritage 1996 sets out the overarching framework for the registering and protection of cultural property, there is no clear definition of what constitutes cultural property and no publicly available list of protected properties.

Impact on business

Cambodia’s heritage buildings are an important cultural and historical asset; failure to properly conserve them would have negative effects on both the economy and society.

The loss of heritage buildings can lead to a decline in tourism, one of Cambodia’s key industries. Tourists are often drawn to historical sites and cultural landmarks, and the deterioration or destruction of these buildings can deter visitors and reduce tourism revenue.

Moreover, the loss of heritage buildings can also result in the loss of traditional skills and knowledge, as many of these buildings are constructed using traditional techniques and materials.

Also, the destruction of heritage buildings can erode the cultural identity and sense of history of local communities.

Finally, the failure to properly conserve heritage buildings can lead to safety risks, as these buildings may become structurally unsound over time, posing a danger to both occupants and passersby.

Recommendation

  • Establish a public body for the conservation of Cambodia’s heritage buildings.

We therefore respectfully recommend establishing a public body of the Royal Government of Cambodia. Such a body would define, administer and maintain a register of heritage or listed buildings in Cambodia, to be provided to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and other relevant ministries.

The historical environment is intrinsically linked to economic activity, with a large number of activities occurring within it, dependent on it or attracted to it. The historic environment contributes to both the national and local economies and can play a vital role in the economic development of Cambodia’s key cities such as Phnom Penh, Siem Reap Kampot, Kep, Sihanoukville, Battambang, Kratie and Kampong Cham. A prime example of this is the conservation of shop houses in Singapore’s China Town within the Central Business District, which has become a major tourist attraction and source of national pride and cultural identity for many Singaporeans.

In addition to the long-established heritage conservation values (cultural, aesthetic, educational, environmental, social and historical), numerous studies around the world have established the economic value of heritage conservation. Studies over the last decade have identified five major measurables of the economic impact of heritage conservation: 1) job creation and increased household income; 2) city centre revitalisation; 3) heritage tourism; 4) property values and demand for real estate; 5) small business incubation. It is therefore recommended that the Royal Government of Cambodia takes further action to ensure the conservation and preservation of the Kingdom’s heritage sites and buildings.

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