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Heritage sites slip into further disrepair - ‘Trinis too indifferent’
Historian Gerard Besson says historical preservation in T&T reaches far beyond the National Trust or its chairman, Vel Lewis.
In a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian, Besson said: “The problem is basically beyond Vel’s struggle or beyond the legal apparatus that is put into place to enact the trust.
“The problem really lies in the indifference that we Trinis have about our environment in the broadest sense, both the built heritage and actual environment.”
Besson was responding to claims made by Lewis in a T&T Guardian article on March 7. In the article, Lewis said it was “no fault of the (national) trust” that there were currently no legally protected heritage sites or buildings in T&T.
The National Trust Act was passed in 1991 to ensure the legal protection of heritage sites. After 22 years, however, the trust still has not met its mandate.
Besson added that he believed Lewis, who has been chairman of the trust for 11 years, was a hard worker. The battle for heritage preservation was very difficult, he pointed out.
“The built heritage of this country has been in terminal neglect for the last 50-odd years. A good example is the collapse of President’s House. Another good example is the dilapidated state of the Red House—and those are government buildings.
“Its not only a case of the various governments neglecting to do things, but we who don’t make a fuss about these things. Could you imagine if part of Buckingham Palace was to fall in? The whole British public would be in uproar,” he added.
Besson was on the National Trust board for a year between 2005 and 2006.
In the March 7 report, Lewis also said there were no legally protected sites because the process for listing took long to finalise. He said the process went back and forth with the Attorney General’s office.
Citizens for Conservation president Rudylynn Roberts said the request for the listing process was with the AG for years after the initial request was made.
Roberts was a member of the trust’s board for nearly two years in the early 2000s. When the list was first submitted, it became clear, said Roberts, that the Cabinet and relevant ministers did not understand what the trust was about or the process of listing.
She added: “Citizens for Conservation National Trust members then suggested that the trust mount an aggressive lobby with the Cabinet to explain the process and terms and the advantages of listing, but this was vetoed by Mr Lewis who said, ‘The National Trust is not a lobby group.’”
Roberts also said there seemed to be little interest from the political directorate in heritage preservation and that buildings should have been listed already.
The trust should be working towards active restoration projects, tax incentives for preservation projects and a resource centre for the public, she added.
Another Citizens for Conservation member, architect Geoffrey MacLean, said the National Trust should heed guidelines outlined by the organisation in the T&T Guardian article on March 2.
• The minister and his staff should make themselves acquainted with the National Trust Act and speed up the listing process for already proposed buildings and sites.
• The composition of the National Trust executive membership needs to be studied, to ensure that it complies with the act.
• In accordance with the act, the National Trust Council should establish standing sub-committees to advise it. It should ensure that members of the trust are given notice and nomination forms for AGMs so people from the floor can be nominated to the council.
• The trust must be given appropriate offices and treated with the dignity and respect that goes along with its status.
• Any restoration work carried out by the trust should be done to international standards and follow international guidelines.
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