SINGAPORE - A panel of experts from the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos) has recommended that the 156-year-old Botanic Gardens be inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
This is the best of four possible results from a technical assessment of the historic site, and it means the Gardens has a high chance of becoming Singapore's first World Heritage site when the Unesco committee makes a final decision at its 39th session in Bonn, Germany in late June or early July.
The results were released early on Saturday, just after midnight.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said he was "absolutely delighted" by the recommendation.
He said: "This is a very positive step forward for our bid, and it goes to show that in the eyes of international experts, the Gardens has a strong case to qualify as a Unesco World Heritage Site."
Mr Wong said it attests to how the Gardens has intrinsic, outstanding universal value not just for Singapore, but the whole world.
There were three other possible recommendations that Icomos, which is appointed to provide the World Heritage Committee with expert evaluations of properties proposed for inscription, could have given to the Gardens.
It could have given a referral of nomination, which means that the Republic would have to provide more information for the bid. A deferral would have meant that a more in-depth assessment or a substantial revision was required, which would likely take one and a half years before the bid will be re-evaluated. The worst result would have been a recommendation not to inscribe.
Last September, an Icomos technical assessor spent three days in Singapore to evaluate the Gardens. This came after the Republic submitted its nomination dossier in January last year.
The recommendation report by Icomos also detailed how the Gardens' conservation efforts and buffer zone can be strengthened.
Mr Wong said: "And these are things we agree with because we feel that we too want to continue to make the effort to improve our heritage and preservation efforts."
If the Botanic Gardens is successfully inscribed, it will join two other Unesco-listed gardens: The 1759 Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England, and the 1545 Orto botanico di Padova in Padua, Italay.
Members of the heritage and conservation circles hailed the recommendation.
Singapore Heritage Society honorary secretary Yeo Kang Shua said the Gardens has all the qualities to be a World Heritage Site. For one, it is the best preserved example of a British tropical colonial botanic gardens, laid out in the English landscape style.
"The dossier Singapore put together is fairly comprehensive and a lot of effort went into its preparation. I do believe it will eventually be listed as a Unesco site," said Dr Yeo.
Mr Nigel Taylor, director of the Gardens, said an estimated 20 per cent increase in visitorship is expected if it is successfully inscribed. More than 4.4 million people visit it annually.
Senior tourism lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Mr Michael Chiam, described an official inscription as "another feather in our cap".
He noted that the Gardens is already favoured among locals and visitors, but added: "Just like any Unesco site, tourists would deliberately include the Gardens as part of their itinerary and it will become another avenue to promote Singapore if the bid is successful."
The recommendation is recognition of the Gardens' rich cultural heritage, said National Parks Board chief executive Kenneth Er.
"It also played an important social role as the venue where our founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew rallied the multi-racial nation towards social cohesion in 1959. We hope that the World Heritage Committee's decision later this year will be a favourable one," he added.
The Gardens has been a prominent centre for plant research in Southeast Asia since the 19th century as well. Today, the 74ha space houses more than 10,000 types of plants.
Henry Ridley, who was director of the Gardens from 1888 to 1912, also perfected rubber cultivation and extraction there, which in turn catalysed the rubber boom in the region and later, the world.
Techniques developed at the Gardens ensured that the rubber tree, which takes seven years to mature, is not damaged in the process of extracting latex.
The Gardens is also home to the National Orchid Garden. Since 1956, more than 200 orchid hybrids have been named after distinguished guests including heads of state.
The orchid collection programme was started by Mr Ridley in 1888, and expanded by his successors I. H. Burkill and R. E. Holttum.