By Sofia Jesus

Further demolitions in Lai Chi Vun’s old shipyards have been suspended, as Macau’s Cultural Affairs Bureau (IC, in the Portuguese acronym) opened today a procedure to assess whether the whole area should be classified and protected due to its cultural value.

The procedure — during which no demolitions or construction works can take place at the site — follows some petitions launched by citizens asking for that heritage to be preserved. The Macau Heritage Protection Law allows citizens to request the opening of a classification procedure aimed at deciding whether a certain site should be under protection.

Those petitions came as authorities announced the intention to demolish many of the structures in those old shipyards for reasons related to public safety.  Structures in two of those old shipyards have already been demolished, and others would follow if IC hadn’t started the classification procedure now.

The procedure includes the hearing of the owners of the properties under assessment, IC’s evaluation on the matter and the opinion issued by the Cultural Heritage Council.

“First of all, we need to further investigate into the details, the data, the historical facts about this site,” IC’s President Leung Hio Ming told reporters today. He added the issue would be taken to the Cultural Heritage Council in April.

A public consultation will also be launched, according to the Macau Heritage Protection Law. “We welcome all the public, if they have any thoughts or suggestions […] about this site, to contact us. We are going to organise some seminars and workshops — some public sessions — to listen to those opinions,” Mr Leung explained.

“After we get all the information from the committee [Council] and the public, and we have [gathered] sufficient professional data and information, then, we are going to make the […] decision,” Mr Leung added.

According to the Macau Heritage Protection Law, IC has 12 months to conclude that assessment process.

Mr Leung said he could not speculate on the outcome of the procedure. But he admitted “many concerned groups and people have very firm opinions about this site” and the Government has the duty to listen to them.

“As a responsible SAR Government, we can’t just ignore the voice of the society,” Mr Leung told the media. “More importantly, after we consult the professionals, including the professionals on the committee [Council] and in our departments, I think we need to trust their professional opinions and decisions. And I’m quite positive on this. I’m certain they are going to perform capably, as professionals,” Mr Leung told the media.

Regardless of what will happen after the assessment is completed — whether the site will be protected under the law — Mr Leung insisted IC believes “the art of shipbuilding,” “the old village living style” and the people’s connection with nature, “the hill or the sea,” in that area have to be preserved.

Last year, Macau’s Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Alexis Tam announced the Government planned to turn a section of the Coloane shipyard cluster into a museum. More recently, this month, IC told mART it would take part in the planning works for the overall area, which involve several government departments. It said it would “carry out revitalization works, aiming to showcase the art of the shipbuilding industry and village life in the past, integrating cultural and creative elements”.