The extraordinary story and heritage of the Colonies of Benevolence must be preserved. Since 2012, three provinces, seven municipalities and a number of other organisations and governments from the Netherlands and Belgium have therefore been working together to nominate the Colonies of Benevolence collectively as World Heritage (link naar pagina met partners). In January 2017, the nomination file was formally handed over to the World Heritage Committee in Paris.
This is the path that led to the nomination being formally handed over to the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO in Paris:
In July 2012, the Merksplas Charter was signed. All stakeholders – fourteen partners in total – committed themselves to jointly preparing the nomination file.
Experts and stakeholders
There were various expert groups and consulting bodies. They investigated whether the Colonies of Benevolence were indeed unique worldwide, and why. People who lived or did business in the area were involved in the process. They were kept informed and could represent their interests in specially set up focus groups
The Dutch and Flemish candidates
In order to qualify for World Heritage status, the Colonies of Benevolence first had to win a place on the national list of candidates (tentative list) of both the Netherlands and Belgium. Because they believed in the file, the Rijksdienst of the Netherlands placed the Colonies of Benevolence at the top of the list of potential World Heritage sites in May 2015. Belgium did likewise in 2015.
From May 2015, a team worked straight through to the deadline for submission in January 2017. After several visits by and advisory sessions with international experts, the nomination file began to take shape. Answers were formulated to questions such as: What makes the Colonies of Benevolence unique? How does that uniqueness translate physically into the landscape? What are the exact boundaries of the World Heritage sites? How will the partners maintain the special value of the Colonies in the future? All this was poured into a hefty nomination file, which you can consult here (link nominatie dossier).
Approval of the Dutch and Flemish governments
The Netherlands and Belgium prepare a transnational nomination. The Netherlands nominate, also on behalf of Belgium (Flanders). On the 21th of december, the Dutch minister of culture, Dr. Jet Bussemaker, announced the desicion to submit the nomination file for placement on the World Heritage List of UNESCO, also on behalf of Belgium. She announced this during an event in Veenhuizen. Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois, also responisble for foreign plicy and site-specific heritage, decided on the 2th of december.
Submitted: What now?
On 20 January 2017, the nomination file was formally handed over to the World Heritage Committee in Paris. Experts from the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) will examine it in detail. They will also visit the Colonies and advise whether they deserve a place on the World Heritage list.
The final decision will be made at the annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee in the summer of 2018. At that time, 21 delegates from countries that signed the World Heritage Treaty will decide which areas or sites will be added to the World Heritage list in 2018.
Exactly two hundred years after the founding of the Society of Benevolence and twenty-five years after the abolition of the vagrancy law in Belgium (1993), the Colonies of Benevolence may be able to call themselves World Heritage!
What will change?
What will change if the seven Colonies of Benevolence become World Heritage? For the regions it is a step forward. Star status, so to speak. World Heritage status can attract more tourists, business, investors and a larger international network. It is also a sort of guarantee that the sites will be 'protected'.
But World Heritage status will not put the area 'under glass', as it were. These areas are not open-air museums in which nothing can ever change. However, it does mean that their exceptional universal value requires constant vigilance. New developments must be consistent with the character and capacity of the colony in question.