What happens when Unesco finds out about this?


George Town building spree threatens world heritage site

The Pier project along Weld Quay

The Rice Miller Hotel project (Images courtesy of http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?p=22767668)

See poll at end of entry

Barely has the news about George Town’s listing as a Unesco World Heritage Site sunk in than we learn of a building spree in the heritage and heritage buffer zones of this historical city.

In fact, the three-day celebrations on 25-27 July to mark the heritage listing have not yet begun. But already, reports tell us that high-rise buildings and massive commercial development will be allowed in the historical zone. I am going to find it hard to celebrate for a single day, let alone three days.

Property development projects in the pipeline:

  • AGB Sdn Bhd’s RM500 million “The Pier at Weld Quay” project including the 100-room Rice Miller boutique hotel at Weld Quay: 100,000 sq feet commercial plaza, 160,000 sq feet retail podium, 23 small office-house-office (Soho) townhouses and 105 condominiums;
  • Low Yat Group’s 23-storey hotel project along Millionaire’s Row (Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah), said to be in the heritage buffer zone;
  • Boustead’s RM100 million Royale Bintang Hotel (4 star, 295 rooms) project behind the post office in Downing Street;
  • Extension of E&O Hotel.

Of course, the Chief Minister says, in a now familiar line, that once planning permission is given, legal complications may arise if it is withdrawn. He has referred the matter to the relevant state exco.

Surely that planning permission was given well before George Town was awarded World Heritage status. Surely, the new circumstances warrant a thorough review of all planning permisssions already given with stringent new conditions and regulations imposed.

Shockingly, The Star reports that the Low Yat Group is actually reviving the 23-storey hotel plan because it believes the present state government has “adopted a pro-active business stance“. The project has not yet been approved.

The Council president, for his part, compares the proposed high-rise buildings with other buildings in the zone and says, no problem. For example, he says the Rice Miller Hotel would be the same height as the Bangunan Tuanku Syed Putra in Downing Street, so it’s okay. And the other 23-storey hotel project, at 84 metres, is apparently the same height as E&O Hotel. (Huh? How is that possible?)

“It would be difficult to review them now as they have already been approved and we also believe these projects will help the local tourism scene,” he says.

It is “difficult to review” – but not impossible, right? Nothing is cast in stone. Where there is a will, there is a way. Come on, you think Malaysians and tourists come to a World Heritage site because they like posh hotels, fancy office blocks and huge commercial plazas?

Long-time Penang resident and political science lecturer Andrew Aeria is dismayed: “We elected the Pakatan government to do things differently. But if they are only going to give lame excuses … this cannot, that cannot … then why did we elect them? The previous adminstration would give us the same old lame excuses but at least we would get federal money coming into Penang. The fact that the Pakatan state government is using the same old lame excuses suggests that they are no different from the BN in terms of development outlook.”

Andrew laments that the previous and present administrations have bought into the notion that the bigger the project, the better. He recommends a book for them: “Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered” by E F Schumacher.

If the Unesco folks hear about this, I don’t think they will be amused. So don’t be surprised if a few years down the road, we lose the heritage listing. We would only have ourselves to blame. Through our greed, we are actually hurting the long-term economic and heritage interests of Penang and turning down a golden opportunity to preserve its historical treasures.

It’s like having a pearl cast before us, but we take it and chuck it down the sewer.

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rob Soh
rob Soh
31 Jul 2009 4.33am

The development of Penang must go on as the pressure of land shortage and population growth is faced by the needs of a growing city. For a political scientist to say that we must cling to the past, and preserve those 19th century shophouses at all costs is a one dimensional decision. Unesco should not interfere with the development needs as reflected in the property development proposals and I am sure these people are not so small minded as to withdraw the heritage city tag. A 23 storey development by Low Yat compared to a 140 storey development in modern… Read more »

31 Jul 2008 1.43am

heritage preservation is impartial towards any political inclination.i hope some of the comments here would get off the bn or pkr bandwagon if they are serious about preservation.the political will must be guided by knowledgeable and well informed expert advice.classical cities in europe like venice or rome, to name a few, not only survive, but thrive under the centuries old structure.strict legislations are imposed on these cities towards any development to be carried out.fortunately, the vast majority of the public themselves support and feel very strongly about their heritage.just as london has the docklands where new tall structures are allowed… Read more »

23 Jul 2008 5.07pm

As Malaysians, we must discard our traditional notion of “Developement” which invariably associated with concrete high-rise, shopping malls or modern tower block built on top or surrounding a heritage mansion. Something is wrong with our “Mega-Project” mentality. Rows of old prewar shophouses tastefully restored is a form of “development” e.g. Nagore Rd. Low-rise new buildings which blend well with the existing old heritage bldg is also a good example of “development” by preserving the traditional ambience of the area e.g. the Penang High Court. GT’s new title as UNESCO World Heritage Site should not purely used to attract more tourists… Read more »

20 Jul 2008 12.47pm

tourism is a good way to help penang keep on growing and retaining young penangist from flowing to kl. we cannot take over kl as the commercial capital, but we have chance to become tourism capital and from here extend to become creative and cultural city beside of so call silicon valley… we got so many seem like abandon old houses in george town, which can be restore and become small hostels or open-air shopping street to receive tourists in our own way, any high-rise building can be built in butterworth or island south, but not in george town any… Read more »

19 Jul 2008 4.10pm

Dear Anil, Like everything else that this country tries to do, the heritage project will end in failure. 1) This will be due to the lack of funds to conserve the heritage structures in George Town. There is currently no incentive for the owners of these heritage buildings to conserve and retsore their properties. Those in the heritage council knows how to talk only but when you ask them to contribute to the funds to conserve, they stay abck and keep quiet. KPC’s family has several historical buildings in Nibong Tebal, but she has never spoken the need to restore… Read more »

19 Jul 2008 8.41am

I’m all for conserving heritage but I also don’t want Penang to be stuck in the past, looking old and haggard.

It should not be an either or issue. Yes, the new state govt must review such projects and set world-class standards and criteria but ultimately, a balance must be sought between economics and the need to move into the 21st century on the one hand, and the luxury of merely keeping a view of the past at all cost.

18 Jul 2008 9.23pm

If not mistaken, the CM LGE is from M’cca which is also given the world heritage title. Think he is smart enough to come out with a triple win situation, ie compensation for the land owner, heritage title and economic booster for Penang.
Am sure PR is more sensitive to the needs and well being of the RAKYAT, that’s why they are voted in the last GE12. If they are as blind as the GOONS in BN then the coming actions will tell. Let’s give them a chance and see what is being done.

raj raman666
raj raman666
18 Jul 2008 8.58pm

If United Nation againts this development this morons will do it.
So what is UNESCO.
Do we need another hotel?
The Hotel industry cries when BN stop the budget for coffee talk by civil servants.
Who is paying? my money and yours FOR THEIR CRONIES.

rajraman.In previous comments i thought oil or gold will destroy our heritage but BUILDING and CRONIES will do it NOW to suck dry tax payer money.

Liew Cheong
Liew Cheong
18 Jul 2008 8.08pm

For business to grow, we need to strike a balance between preserving the historical sites and allowing new developments. I’m very sure CM will try to be impartial and fair if he wants to win the next election and atttracting new businesses too.

Also, Mr. Andrew Aeria how would you know if Pakatan Rakyat is worse than BN? Don’t you think we should measure Pakatan Rakyat performance based on several factors. Lastly, you can’t expect Pakatan Rakyat to be perfect … damn it.

Baby Whale
Baby Whale
18 Jul 2008 7.42pm

Baron V, sad thing is that the majority of architects we have here are so called environmentally and heritage friendly in words only.

Look at the Yeap Chor Eee building (Wawasan Open University), would you say the block of high rise with cheap metal cladding behind it blends with the old architectural splendour?

Certainly the artist impression for approval purposes with the right shading here and there will always look somewhat more pleasing then the outcome.

Point is the discerning eye is sadly non functioning when developers and property owners are so persuasive.

Reasonable Voter
Reasonable Voter
18 Jul 2008 7.09pm

I find Andrew Aeria’s comments pathetically downright BN smelling sentiment. I suggest Andrew bury himself and leave Penang for all we care. We voted this government and probably he was one of the many who voted against BN. So Andrew, take your views and share it with Tan Sri Koh and see what he can do. He can’t do nuts. If money is something you think is associated with BN, I suggest you bury yourself.!

18 Jul 2008 6.44pm

BaronV has the right attitude about this. You can please Unesco all you want, but progress has to be made for the state of Penang. The owners of the land may want to sell for personal reasons….being poor is one of them. And the land and building sitting there earns nothing, except for people to look at during a tour. Preserving heritage building sites has to be beneficial, both to the state and the building owner. If Unesco or the State Government wants him to preserve his old building, then give him something back that is equivalent to what it’s… Read more »

18 Jul 2008 6.06pm

First, what’s the new CM doing about it?

Second, the new Govt must be lobbied intensely to ensure strict, stringent guidelines are demanded and enforced, especially development densities.

And like Paris, more attention must be paid to aesthetics so that new developments blend in with a common heritage theme. No doubt, architecture is a subject matter, but City Hall can insist on having the veto rights so we do not get a Rojak or worst still, a concrete jungle lkoking like the interior of Herman Munster’s house!!

It is all a question of a tough, but fair, Administration

18 Jul 2008 5.22pm

Some people obviously have never been on a field trip to a historical site. Imagine a hotel sitting next to Stonehenge.

Anyway, Anil, thanks for publishing my comments. I thought you might like to know that I’ve just set up a blog and perhaps you and your readers might like to visit sometime. Cheers.

http: //9-5equals4.blogspot.com

18 Jul 2008 3.11pm

Has this issue been brought to the attention of Unesco? if Unesco gives the green light then all is fine. If Unesco gives some guidelines on how we can develop Penang and yet retain our Heritage Status, the onus is on the Pg Govt to follow those guidelines and if the development plans stray from those guidelines then we have a better platform to make some noise.

18 Jul 2008 2.46pm

I think what needs to be done is this: Set stringent architectural rules for the heritage area. if Low Yat group and all that want to build their hotels, can but a) Location must be such that it blends in and is appropriate with the surrounding area area. b) allm these high rises must be located at different parts of the city so that it does nto clog the skyline. Look at komtar, even though its quite tall, its not unimposing. Likewise these buildings should be spread apart and located such that they too will be unimposing to the skyline… Read more »

18 Jul 2008 2.26pm

These people have obviously never taken a field trip to a historical site before. Imagine a hotel sitting next to Stonehenge.

By the way, Anil, thanks for publishing all my comments. Just to let you know, I’ve just set up a blog and I’m hoping to make it as zany as possible. Perhaps you and your readers might pay me a visit sometime. Cheers.


Phua Kai Lit
Phua Kai Lit
18 Jul 2008 2.08pm

Dear Anil I mentioned earlier that economic strangulation is being attempted on the Penang state government. Thus, alternative ways are needed to boost the Penang economy. One way is through tourism and the money they spend while in Penang. 1. Western tourists will be turned off by the development of more shopping malls and malls that resemble what they have in their own cities. Thus the need to protect and restore the old buildings. 2. Singaporeans, SEAsians, Arab tourists may like these shopping malls though. One solution is to keep these shopping malls and hotels out of the heritage district… Read more »