Directions for possible mitigation and problem resolution

Historic areas largely suffer from an overall environmental degeneration and declined urban fabric. To regain the charisma of such places the situation needs to be tackled at two distinct levels: environmental and individual property. Two possible means for achieving tangible progress in this regard is to first attempt street re-organization through community support, and secondly facilitate restorations through technical and financial support. It is important to understand the functional dynamics of active commercial and residential historic cores of cities, including various stakeholders and role-players such as, owners, users, administrators, decision makers and managers from formal and informal sectors. Uplift of streetscapes could include interventions for re-organizing traffic flow and pedestrian footpaths, initiating a dialogue with numerous street vendors who are the main cause of traffic disruptions but in high demand as a primary' need of the area residents as well as regular commuters. For individual properties, it is necessary to prepare inventories and databases serving as a primary tool for developing management mechanisms as well, playing an important role for information dissemination and participatory community involvement. For any real change, things need to be taken beyond mere listing notifications and invest in strategies that facilitate heritage owners in gaining some benefits from the enlistment process. Grants, awards, rebates, and loans for repairs and restorations, and technical support and guidance for economically viable usages can be possible incentives to encourage willing participation from heritage property owners for heritage conservation.

Incentives for heritage property owners

A major cause for the failure of conservation efforts in Karachi and other cities of Sindh is the lack of available technical support and the absence of proper incentives offered to listed heritage property owners to encourage them in taking initiatives for maintenance, management and protection of their properties, so that these could continue to contribute as an important asset of the city, portraying its historic, socio-economic and cultural developments.

The constraints imposed on heritage owners or other properties in conservation areas, such as ‘denial of full development value of site’ or restricted freedom for implementation of any desired changes or alterations gives rise to financial loss or economic burdens on owners. To compensate for these apparent losses, the government, in parallel to enlistment activities, must introduce incentives and programmes that encourage private owners to willingly participate in the heritage conservation process and at the same time gain economic benefits. Diverse arrays of such financial aids, to compensate any shortfalls for owners, are offered by municipalities and local governments internationally to support sustenance of conservation activities without monetary damage to heritage property owners. Some proposed directions for the GoS’s Department of Culture, in collaboration with other concerned departments/organizations responsible for heritage management in Sindh, include three principle categories; subsidies (grants/aids), loans (low interest or interest free) and tax relief (VAT/property tax).

Property tax waiver/relief

The only indication of tax benefit offered to heritage property owners is limited to non-commercial properties given protection under the Sindh Cultural Heritage Protection Act 1994, exempting them of ‘property taxes’ under section 4(h) of the Sindh Urban Immovable Property Tax Act 1958; a clause proposed to be added to the act through Sindh Finance Ordinance 2001. This, however, is not common knowledge and apparently not implemented. Such incentives need to be further enhanced by offering some percentage of relief to commercial properties as well, forming the larger percentage of enlisted properties. Request for incorporation of these amendments in legislation should be forwarded by the Culture Department to the Law Department. Tax waivers and subsidies related to services can also be negotiated with relevant service providers such as Water and Sewerage Board, Electric Supply Corporation, Land Revenue Department, etc.

Transfer of development rights

The concept of transfer of development rights (TDR) is a compensational scheme successfully practiced in several countries. It facilitates the sale, transfer or leasing of built area lost due to the need to preserve existing heritage structures by providing owners the authority to sell their unutilized floor area of allowed ratio (FAR) to a developer in another area giving them possibility to build additional space in their development scheme, over and above what is permissible within standard regulations. The Karachi Building and Town Planning Regulations 2002, a revised version of 1979 regulations, incorporated the concept of ‘transferable development rights’ through its section 15-3.2. This clause was, however, removed through amendments in 2005 and 2008, excluding all details mentioned in its four subsections and limiting the option for utilization of unused FAR by allowing construction on available open spaces around heritage buildings within the same property limits. This whimsical change has negative implications on the original setting of historic structures and their surroundings. Concerned authorities should be made to revert to the 2002 version of Building and Town Planning Regulations, whose jurisdiction extends to the entire Sindh.

Special grants/loans

For repairs, renovation and restoration of heritage properties at favourable rates of interest and period should be introduced through existing public sector financing institutions such the House Building Finance Corporation (HBFC), the National Bank of Pakistan, and other similar organizations. The conditions for such loans should be developed in consultation with the technical committee for heritage so that the repairs and renovations undertaken should be in line with accepted principles of heritage conservation. Similar programmes for grants and loans to support conservation activities should also be developed through public-private partnerships involving private sector organizations or multinationals for required financial support. These organizations in turn can be offered tax waivers on the income donated for heritage conservation activities. Governmental patronage through ‘revolving funds’ and ‘endowment funds’ should also be made available for heritage properties in disuse encouraging agencies or institutions wishing to undertake rehabilitation projects to carry out restorations and make use of these properties for economically viable purposes.

Façade easements

This is also a useful concept where part of the property (such as the façade) is taken under public ownership through an ‘easement agreement’ signed by the owner, allowing maintenance and repairs of their property’s façade through sponsorships or easement donations. This particularly works well in areas with officially recognized contiguous heritage streetscapes. The sponsorship for such easements can be achieved through public-private partnership where individuals or organizations are approached to donate for the upkeep of the historic façades. The Culture Department should develop a working module for such easement agreements, approach all heritage property owners to sign these agreements, and identify possible donors and sponsors to contribute towards maintenance of façades for which owners have signed the easement agreement.

 
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