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Minister says, in a now familiar line, that once planning permission is given, legal complications may arise if it is withdrawn.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.