SINGAPORE - A nationwide survey will be done to identify sites of archaeological interest, possibly allowing archaeologists to step in early to survey and excavate in future before developers swing in.
Such sites could include the mouth of the Singapore River - home to an early settlement and later a thriving harbour - and others with ancient settlements and trade activities.
The National Heritage Board (NHB), which will carry out the survey, will also collaborate with organisations such as the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute and the National University of Singapore to establish an archaeological framework.
Archaeologists and experts had previously pointed out gaps in existing legislation - for instance the lack of clarity on the ownership of artefacts dug up in Singapore. It is also not compulsory currently for landowners or developers to notify NHB of proposals to redevelop sites of significant size, to allow for mandatory archaeological investigations.
The survey was announced on Tuesday (Jan 9) at a roadshow at Raffles City Shopping Centre. It is one of the updates on the first five-year phase of the Republic's first holistic blueprint for the heritage and museum sector, which will be published in April.
The blueprint has been divided into four categories: our places; our culture; our treasures; and our community.
On places, NHB said it will work closely with planning agencies from "an early stage". This follows calls by experts and the public to incorporate heritage considerations into early development plans.
Mr Alvin Tan, NHB's assistant chief executive of policy and community, said planning agencies will be able, for instance, to check against its inventory of tangible heritage. They can then get in touch with the board to work out mitigation or commemorative measures if a site has heritage features.
This inventory will be made public by the end of the year.
Mr Tan said: "Heritage issues are becoming increasingly complex. A lot of these issues cut across agencies and involves very different stakeholders.
"We felt that it is timely to put together a masterplan that actually brings together all the different agencies and all the stakeholders to co-develop these strategies and initiatives to effectively address most of these issues."
NHB said the aim is to achieve a balance between meeting Singapore's development needs and maintaining the history and character of its places and buildings.
Under the "our treasures" component, NHB said it will focus on presenting more exhibitions to showcase local stories, artefacts and exhibits, as well as Singaporean curators.
NHB will also be ramping up support for ground-up heritage projects through its Heritage Participation and Project Grants. It will introduce showcases to profile community projects and conduct clinics to equip its partners "with the necessary knowledge and skillsets to develop and implement heritage projects successfully".
Under the "our culture" component, Mr Tan said the board will be completing its ongoing survey of intangible cultural heritage in June (2018).
Intangible cultural heritage includes things like oral traditions and social practices.
NHB plans to introduce a scheme to recognise practitioners of intangible cultural heritage to ensure that traditional crafts are passed on.
Singapore's first heritage blueprint was first announced last year by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu.
NHB's travelling exhibition on the heritage plan will run till Feb 4. After its week-long run at Raffles City Shopping Centre, it will go to Toa Payoh HDB Hub, Lot One and Our Tampines Hub. Visitors can give their feedback on the spot.
The heritage blueprint will be updated every five years, with the long-term aim of setting out goals for 2030.
Mr Tan said: "Ultimately, we hope this masterplan is something we co-develop and co-create with Singaporeans so that it's something they can be proud of and something we can leave behind for future generations of Singaporeans."