There is currently no formal comprehensive legal framework, guidelines or processes for the management of change affecting Yangon’s urban heritage. This presents a unique opportunity to draft the first generation of planning controls to incorporate lessons learned from other comparable heritage cities. YHT works closely with the municipal authority, Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), the Department of Human Settlements and Housing Development (DHSHD), the various Union and Regional level ministries and the Association of Myanmar Architects (AMA) in undertaking this work.
Existing Heritage Law
The existing cultural heritage law which provides statutory protection for places of heritage significance is The Protection and Preservation of Cultural Heritage Regions Law  and the Antiquities Act  which were both designed for ancient monumental sites such as those found at Bagan and are administered by the Ministry of Culture. The 1998 law does not contain the necessary breadth or flexibility to ensure the proper conservation of Yangon’s diverse and evolving urban heritage. The 1998 law also appliesto places older than 100 years meaning that much of Yangon’s significant urban heritage would not fall under its purview.
Yangon Urban Heritage Conservation Law
In mid 2013, YHT was asked to assist in the drafting of Myanmar’s first urban heritage conservation law. This was submitted to the Regional Government in May 2013 and allows, for the first time, urban heritage places such as buildings, parks, streetscapes, conservation areas, moveable objects and archaeological sites to be considered as heritage items. It does not mandate an age by which a place can be considered valuable and instead acknowledges that Yangon’s urban heritage has an evolving and diverse value for the community.
YCDC Heritage List
After the 1988 uprising, the Tatmadaw undertook a series of economic reforms leading to a surge in medium-rise development throughout Yangon’s historic downtown. Several hundred of the city’s significant heritage properties were demolished during this time. In 1996, the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) responded by creating an official list of 189 heritage buildings. Today, this list provides the only statutory protection for urban heritage in Yangon and performs and important role. YHT sees this list is an important starting point which must go further in the future. The Trust hopes that the list will become part of its proposed Yangon Urban Heritage Conservation Law and be expanded to include not only individual buildings but several conservation areas where neighbourhoods and streetscapes have a collective heritage value. YHT’s work has shown that there are many thousands of individual heritage buildings in Yangon and that an area-based approach, providing protection for districts and neighbourhoods is required to properly manage Yangon’s unique urban heritage.
Yangon Zoning Plan
In May 2013, the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) established a zoning committee to consider a comprehensive height control and zoning plan for broader Yangon. YHT’s Director, Daw Moe Moe Lwin sits on this committee along with representatives from the Department of Human Settlements and Housing Development, the Ministry of Science and Technology, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Association of Myanmar Architects (AMA). For the Trust, having a low height control across the historic downtown is a vital tool to discourage high-rise in the small-scale, diverse and culturally rich neighbourhoods in those areas. Also vital is ensuring that areas of Yangon are designated for modern high-rise. The Trust and many other businesses and government figures support a “Paris Model” for Yangon where a historic central core is conserved and high rise is allowed in key surrounding areas.
National Building Codes
In July 2011, as a result of a joint initiative between the Ministry of Construction and UN-Habitat, the Myanmar Engineering Society organized a cooperative effort to create a National Building Code led by architects, engineers, and staff from government departments and professional associations. The development of a National Building Code is a three year project and is currently in the provisional stage. YHT has been asked to provide advice on the building code where it applies to existing and heritage buildings.
YHT has been asked by the Myanmar Investment Commission to draft a proposed set of investment principles for places with heritage significance in Yangon. These principles would be considered by the MIC when they consider an application which affects a heritage place. The principles are designed to ensure that Yangon’s unique urban heritage is given proper consideration and is conserved during development projects.
Special Development Plan
Several high level government figures and senior business leaders have recently expressed their support for the creation of a cohesive vision and action plan for Yangon which places the conservation of the city’s unique cultural heritage at its core. For government such a plan provides a basis upon which decisions about the appropriateness of new developments, their location, scale and impact, can be judged. For business people, particularly in the property sector, a plan would provide certainty about what will be considered as appropriate and confidence that their investments will be positioned within a city that enhances liveability and economic health though good planning.The Yangon Heritage Trust has started the process in 2015 by leading a multidisciplinary team of local and international experts to bring together a plan for wider Yangon with a focus on the downtown conservation area. The models and approaches to be put forward in this plan will form a solid and comprehensive foundation for the work of the Myanmar Government and Yangon City Development Committee as it moves forward with sound urban planning over the next 5 years.