Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Meeting with new Governor

Dina and I met today with the new Governor of Damascus, Dr Bishr Al Sabban. It was very positive. Dina gave an overview of the project’s aims, the current outreach activity and the discovery centre. The Governor welcomed the project and expressed his desire to do everything possible to help it.

I explained the complexities of planning on the site, with three major new elements – discovery centre, park landscaping and the underground car park – requiring careful coordination. I explained that for the discovery centre there was a target to open in mid-2009. This date was achievable but only if all parts of the process worked smoothly together.

The underground car park was discussed, and the absence of any formal documentation of the agreement setting out the limits and flexibility of what was offered. I pointed out that it was not even clear whom the agreement to provide the car park was between.

Papers were sent for and Engineer Nwelati (part of the Governorate old guard) joined the meeting. He confirmed that the agreement was “parole d’honneur”. RCH suggested that on whatever basis the car park was to be provided it was essential that any conditions and assumptions relating to it were clear to the coordinating managers, and properly documented. He gave as example the income stream from car parking charges; was this to go back to Vimpex on a construct-operate PFI-type deal, or might it be allocated to fund the maintenance of the public park? Either alternative would have a significant impact on the functioning and therefore the specification of the park.

Mr Nwelati explained that this information would emerge as part of the work being done by a consultant Dr Youssef Diab in drawing up the terms of reference for the car park tender.

I explained the planning process for the discovery centre and the role of Cultural Innovations, and suggested that with the aim of ensuring both coordination and a well-managed process CI should organise and manage the competition to select architects and landscape designers as one process. This was agreed. CI had recommended a shortened selection process, identifying a limited long-list from which three practices would be chosen to work up detailed proposals for final selection. It was agreed that this would be acceptable for the landscape design competition. I undertook to send the Governor an indicative timetable for design and construction work for the discovery centre.

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