Thursday, 14 May 2009

A Message to Cesky Krumlov Townhall

The work has begun in earnest on the riverworks in Cesky Krumlov. As you can see two large diggers have been tearing up the banks. What you will not see is any sign of supervision by heritage professionals, no archaeologist with a watching brief ready to stop the process if something important is found. Indeed given the size of the mouthfulls these monsters take it is hard to see how any such watch could be effective. On Monday the works start under the Castle.

I fear that the Town Hall may think me an interfering Brit, a busybody, who puts her nose in their business. That's if they think of me at all. What they do not know is my background and why I care so much.

My professional background (in case the Town Hall is reading this) is one of heritage and protected landscape management. More recently (for the last eight years) I have been worked in economic and social development for Oxford City Council and my work has even received recognition from the British Government: last year I was invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen in recognition of my services to regeneration. And as a professional I am very worried about what is happening here and the potential for real harm to the Cesky Krumlov economy and heritage.

I know the community protest has focused on saving the island, which whilst valid might lead the Town Hall to think that that and not the heritage and economic issues are what is at stake. The two issues are intricately linked.

The UNESCO World Heritage status brings money and visitors. It is the main driver of the local economy, it has sustained a boom in property prices and it brings grants. What will happen if UNESCO were to remove that status or at least a black mark is placed against Krumlov? Was UNESCO notified of the works? It appears it was not. Has a proper archaeological survey been undertaken of the riverbanks and riverbed? Again apparently not. Has the structural impact of the change in the groundwater levels on the historic buildings been considered? Apparently not. If UNESCO had been consulted, then they could have ensured the right questions were asked and the right project chosen. Now that the works have started, it is almost too late for the Council to answer UNESCO's questions. I would be furious if I were an UNESCO official arriving here in June, that I wasn't involved in the process. But not half as furious as I would be if the works end up damaging the historic fabric of the town. Is the Town Hall confident that this will not happen and what are their grounds for such confidence?

There are other economic considerations: observing the behaviour of tourists as I have done over the three years I have lived here, I am convinced that the works will damage some of the tourism businesses in the town and with them local jobs. The riverside businesses will be badly affected, who wants to sit by a concrete channel? I know of at least one business which is losing its riverside terrace to the works and whose viability I suspect will be compromised. Then there is the income generated from the canoe and boat tourism in the town.

Let me clear, we are all trying to do what we think is best for the town and I would happily work with the Council to that end. I do believe that the people in the Town Hall are doing what they think and are advised is best. I have no doubt such works make sense in most towns, but this is not like most towns, this is a World Heritage site. Such a site is like the goose that lays the golden eggs, it is all too easy to kill it.

For a summary of what has happened and what is proposed go to my previous posts



Karen said...

But isn't the whole idea of naming something a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognition that this site has importance to all of humanity, not just the locals? Doesn't that empower non-locals with the right, indeed, the obligation, to ask educated questions like you are?

I wouldn't worry about giving offense. Sounds too me like they couldn't find a better professional to challenge conventional thinking and faulty assumptions. The people of Cesky Krumlov will see you have only good intentions. You go girl! Your questions are on behalf of all of us.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Well said, Karen. Educated comments like these are essential, and those entrusted with the care and upkeep of this wonderful town should taqke noticed of such informed advice.


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