South China Morning Post - Front page
Beijing acts on Macau lighthouse
Fox Yi Hu in Macau Nov 28, 2007
Cultural authorities in Beijing have sent a letter to Macau over threats facing a world heritage lighthouse, urging it to address the problem and ease public concerns, sources say.
The State Administration of Cultural Heritage attached a copy of a Unesco inquiry that was sent to it in September.
Unesco's World Heritage Centre is seeking "clarification" from Beijing or Macau about a high-rise building threatening to dwarf the 142-year-old Guia lighthouse.
The administration's World Heritage Department confirmed it had sent a letter to Macau last week, two months after Unesco alerted Beijing.
A department spokesman said it was understandable that the Macau government had difficulty scaling back building plans for the Guia Hill area.
"We believe the Macau government is making an effort," he said.
The tower is outside heritage areas as outlined in Macau's 2005 application for World Heritage status.
Unesco experts visited Macau in August to check on the lighthouse, said Jing Feng, an Asia-Pacific specialist at the world heritage centre.
"We've expressed our concerns over the projects and asked for clarification," Mr Jing said. "We are still waiting for a response."
The lighthouse was listed as a World Heritage site when Unesco conferred the status on Macau's historic centre in 2005. Standing atop the 91-metre hill, it was the first modern lighthouse on the Chinese coast.
But a 126-metre, 34-storey residential block being built by San Va Construction halfway up Guia Hill looks set to dwarf it.
Last month, the government backed down on a demand that the tower's height be lowered, saying the building was "acceptable" in regard to the lighthouse.
The new apartment building has risen to about five floors. Some units have been presold.
Macau is in a difficult position as it approved the building plan and has no legal grounds to reverse its consent. It relaxed a long-standing restriction last September on the maximum height of buildings near Guia Hill, opening the way for developers to plan buildings as high as 135 metres at the foot of the hill.
Mr Jing said Unesco had to deal with the matter through Beijing as Macau was part of China.
The spokesman for the administration's World Heritage Department also stressed the need for Beijing to respond to Unesco's inquiry as it involved foreign affairs. "We fully respect Macau's autonomy as a special administrative region," he said, "but Macau is part of China." Sources said the letter was passed to the secretary for transport and public works' office. The office did not respond to an inquiry.