After more than 17 years in the making, numerous Government Ministers, a string of Heritage Trust chairmen and a handful of re-drafts, the Bill for creating a new Heritage and Antiquities Act was finally published on Thursday by the Gibraltar Government.
The new Bill, a 70 page document, sets out the protection and management of the Rock’s heritage not just on land but also the heritage within British Gibraltar Territorial Waters for the first time ever. Included is a list of protected buildings and monuments, historical conservation and archaeological areas.
Heritage Minister Dr John Cortes told the Chronicle he was confident the Bill would go before Parliament in May this year following the statutory six week period. A very complex Bill, he emphasised, which incorporated a whole lot of different elements such as the Heritage Trust, the Gibraltar Museum which will be renamed the National Museum, the National Archives and the creation of a Heritage and Antiquities Advisory Council.
In a statement yesterday the Government said a total of 235 sites had been included in the Schedule, approximately 80 more than in the existing Act, and which for the first time ever also included 12 submerged sites.
The Bill further provides for certain areas to be listed as scheduled historical conservation areas, although none have been included for the time being. This, together with the possibility of including further sites, such as those on private property, will now be one of the first tasks for the new Heritage and Antiquities Council to consider and advice on.
Listed are the Gibraltar Museum and Moorish Baths, places of worship, Royal Naval Hospital and the Garrison Library and Gardens. Included too is the Colonial Hospital, The Main Guard, City Hall, The Clock Tower and the Gibraltar Parliament building. Monuments included are the Sikorski memorial propeller and Queen Victoria Memorial, guns and mortors and coat of arms across Gibraltar. Also on the list is the Alameda Gardens and sites on the Upper Rock such as the Stay Behind Cave and fortifications such as Grand Battery and Engineer Battery.
Two buildings not included on the list, however, are The Mount and the Ince’s Hall Theatre. When asked why these had been omitted, Dr Cortes said that Government had taken the view that “by increasing the number of buildings and sites listed, others needed to be considered at a slower pace”.
“I did not want to delay the publication of this significant Bill in order to go through the different processes we had to go through to determine more, and I thought it was important to publish at this stage,” he said. But he added that as far as The Mount was concerned, a large part of it was already protected as part of the Nature Reserve. Although the building was not on the list, he assured, it would be on the agenda for the first Council meeting as would Ince’s Hall.
The new Bill, he further confirmed, allowed for additions to the list without having to “notice Parliament – we now have a process of discussion to see if we can list more”.
The Minister is confident the new act will ensure people understand further the value of our heritage, that it will be better managed and that more attention will be given to the value of heritage including documents into the future.
“We will have the ability to expand heritage protection in the future without having to draft a law,” he said. He was certain that it also set out a robust framework for consultation.
“This is a new and better way of dealing with heritage, and reflects Gibraltar’s interest in the subject and its sense of responsibility.”
The Heritage and Antiquities Council will be chaired by the Heritage Minister, the Curator of the Gibraltar National Museum, the Government Archivist; the Government Archaeologist; and five others representing the Ministry for Heritage; the Department of the Environment; Board of the Gibraltar Heritage Trust; Town Planning Department the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society.
The Bill spells out the functions and powers of both the Gibraltar National Museum and Gibraltar National Archives and the role of the Gibraltar Heritage Trust. Effectively the Gibraltar Heritage Trust Act 1989 will repealed by this Bill but the Trust will continue to exist and operate as if it had been established under this Bill instead.
Professor Clive Finlayson, Director of the Gibraltar, welcomed the fact that the Gibraltar Museum at long last was being recognised as a national museum “it gives due recognition to is significance and importance”.
Chairman of the Gibraltar Heritage Trust Ian Balestrino said the Trust welcomed the long awaited Bill and was a good way of helping to further the aims of heritage protection locally.