The Difficulties in Conserving Built Heritage in Taiwan and Suggestions Based on the UK’s Case

In Taiwan, more than 200 historical buildings, registered as official historic heritage or not, were destroyed by human acts or natural disasters despite having a unique value in presenting and conserving local history. The phenomenon may be seen in many parts of the world, but in Taiwan, it is mainly caused by the passive procedure in defining and listing official built heritage, the legislation system that prioritises private property rights before public cultural rights without attempting to achieve benefits for all, the lack of willingness in the owners of historic buildings caused by the high property price, and the difficulties the owners face in meeting requirements for register and maintaining the buildings. However, the difficulties in conserving built heritage in Taiwan could possibly find their solutions in the relative laws in the UK, where the regulations have developed more thoroughly to take care of the nation’s heritage in the spirit of respecting the collective cultural right. 

Da Dao Cheng

Under the currently executing Cultural Heritage Preservation Act in Taiwan, the fact that the architecture that is of historic value because of its age or background is mostly not protected by laws before being listed and that the owners have the right to reject the decision of listing the structure as official heritage both make the preservation work tough. Only after being discovered and nominated, could the status of 4 types of buildings start to be evaluated in the legal process while the Bureau of Cultural Heritage in the Ministry of Culture conducts general investigation every 8 years, while in England, anyone can simply nominate structures in 20 categories on Historic England’s web page. In Taiwan, after the professionals’ decision, the owner of the listed buildings can still go into the legal process to reject the listing of the structure, whereas, in the UK, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has the right to decide if the structures are listed. Other than the difference in the listing procedures and the owners’ rights, the Taiwanese government’s right to purchase the buildings is also rear to the inheritance under the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act. However, according to the Town and Country Planning Act of the UK, the authority has the right to conduct compulsory acquisition when the heritage is considered in need of repair after professional assessment. The effectiveness in protecting the built heritage between the two countries are therefore significantly different due to the activeness in the listing processes and the approaches to the private property right and the public culture right.

Another major problem in the preservation of historic heritage in Taiwan lies in the low willingness of the owner to let the structure be listed for the public’s benefit due to the unreasonably high value of the property, the limit forced upon the changes allowed to be made to the structure, and the responsibility to maintain the listed built heritage. As reported by Numbeo, Taiwan’s ratio of house price to income in 2020 is ranked the 9th highest in the world, and the fact that the property can generate more benefit for the owner if kept private and renewable than listed has made most of the historic structure’s owner unwilling to cooperate with the government to list their property. Moreover, the unbalanced responsibility and punishment for the owners also drive the owners of the structure further away from making the building official heritage. Based on the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act in Taiwan, the owner is the first one to be responsible for proposing a repair plan when any accident happens to the listed heritage, and the fund for the repair work is only partially provided by the government “if needed”. The regulations have caused the owners plenty of difficulties to meet the professional standard in maintenance and repair, furthermore, the owners can face fine or even limited terms of imprisonment. Whereas as stated in Monuments Protection Act in the UK, the cost of maintenance shall be defrayed by money provided by Parliament. The owners can also apply for English Heritage Grants or seek help from Heritage Lottery Funding (HLF) to support the maintenance works that need to be done. Other than the financial aid, heritage owners can also be qualified for tax relief, which could be another factor that increases the owner’s willingness to conserve the historic structure.

Oxford, England, photo by Matthew Waring on Unsplash

It is obvious that in terms of the measures to conserve and protect the built heritage in Taiwan, there is much room for improvement, but learning from the example in the UK could be beneficial for the future of the heritage in the long term. Changes can be made starting from amending the laws that prioritise the private ownership to the authority and public cultural right regarding private-owned heritage, simplifying the administrative process for listing and maintenance, re-delimit the responsibility and punishment, to the financial aid and privilege that can balance the appeal of the profit from renewing and selling. Only by creating a positive intention of the owners could the authority’s benevolence and responsibility in conserving the country’s history be put into practice.