What kind of development do we want for Penang?


Surely we need a balanced, sustainable model of development that would also preserve our social and cultural heritage.

MPPP councillor Dr Lim Mah Hui made the following address at a full council meeting of the MPPP on 24 February 2012.

In the past 12 months, we have painfully witnessed the demolition of several historical buildings, some illegally. The latest victim is a mansion at 177 Jalan Macalister, opposite Loh Guan Lye Specialist Centre.

First, I would like to request the Council to provide data on all the historically, architecturally and/or culturally significant buildings that have been demolished last year and this year, or for which demolition was approved since 2008.

Let me mention a few of these buildings that were torn down. The beautiful mansion of Khaw Bian Cheng (son of Khaw Sim Bee) at Pykett Avenue, two historical bungalows on Burma Lane, one of them once occupied by a former prime minister of Thailand, Phraya Manopakorn Nititada (1884-1948), and two bungalows along Brooks Road.

Khaw Bian Cheng’s mansion was torn down without permit.

In the case of the Burma Lane and Brooks Road residences, two of three buildings in each location were torn down and only one building in each location was left standing. This is not preservation. This is architectural and historical mutilation. It is like cutting of one limb and preserving the other limb.

Prime Minister Phraya Mano sought refuge in Penang island when the military launched a coup in Thailand in 1932. He lived in Penang for several years and passed away here 1948. Mano Road in Pulau Tikus is named after him. In many ways, his history is similar to that of Dr Sun Yet Sun, who also took refuge in Penang during his struggle for Chinese independence. We are fortunate to maintain the heritage and history of Dr Sun in terms of a museum and the house where he spoke and launched his fund raising campaign. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for celebrating the history of Prime Minister Phraya Mano in Penang. The houses in which he once stayed have been demolished and an important part of the history of the Thai Malaysians in Penang has been destroyed in the pursuit of profit but under the rationale of “development”.

The present attitude is that only houses in the heritage zone or those that are designated heritage are protected. We need to take a more holistic view of heritage. One reason Penang was awarded the world heritage status is because of the large stock of pre-war houses in the island. It is myopic to only preserve the buildings in the core heritage zone and wantonly destroy important buildings in the buffer zones and other parts of the city. Tourists come to Penang to experience the whole city, not just the heritage zone.

Many Japanese and European visitors have commented to me their disappointment at the demolition of beautiful buildings. The building of 30-storey apartments surrounding a heritage building is not preservation; it is suffocation of heritage sites.

It is convenient to justify what is happening in the name of development. As I said last year, we must be more thoughtful. We must ask the following questions:

What kind of development do we want?

Is it development that destroys our heritage and culture?
Is it sustainable development?
Is it green development or development that aggravates climate change?
Who benefits most from this development?
Who loses out in this process?
Is it development for the top 1 per cent or development for the 99 per cent?

Development must be located within a vision. What is the vision for Penang’s development? Perhaps the best way to concretise this vision is to ask ourselves, what is the “model” city that best approximates our vision? I am not suggesting we copy blindly another city. But what I am suggesting is we learn from and choose what are the best characteristics to suit our own situation.

I have heard from some people and policy makers they would like Penang to model itself after Singapore and Hong Kong; both are densely populated international financial centres in the world. Are they appropriate for Penang? Might it not be more appropriate to look at a combination of Kyoto, a heritage city, and Xiamen, a city with similar characteristics in size, geography (hills and sea), and services (education, high tech and former trading ports) as models.

Let me say something about Singapore. There is much that can be said for Singapore – it is a clean, safe and a well-planned city with a good public transportation system. These are some of the positive lessons we can draw from it.

But we can also learn some negative lessons from it, of which I mention two. First, is Singapore, in the early days of development, demolished many of its traditional houses and buildings (not necessarily heritage). They have since learned it was a mistake and are now taking pains to preserve them. We should not repeat the same mistake.

Second, in their quest to make Singapore an international city, the government has swung to the extreme so that many of its local citizens are left behind in this “development” process. Despite Singapore having the best public housing schemes in the world, many of its young population feel they cannot afford housing or find good jobs. The dissatisfaction is so great that it cost the PAP government many seats in Parliament. This could also happen to Penang if more and more middle and lower class citizens feel they are left behind in this frenzy of property development.

Finally, allow me to suggest that for the moment, we should impose a moratorium on granting approval for demolition of all buildings in the island that were built before 1962 (more than 50 years old) and have architectural value. The present list of protected buildings should be immediately made available, and a technical committee made up of qualified professionals, civil society and input from other relevant bodies be established to study this matter immediately

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Richie Hee

Read this NST article on Penang property ”High property prices look set to stay’ byLooi Sue Chern. Certainly not a good news for those who are hoping for price of housing to come down. Note the following points made in the article: Should Penangites consider to relocating even further from the island to less hot places such as Kepala Batas and Tasek Gelugor in the north and Nibong Tebal in the south where land and property prices are cheaper? Maybe migrating to Kulim or Sungai Petani in Kedah is an option too, while houses in their home state are being… Read more »


Truly, dont just “kau peh kau boh” here, attend Penang Forum and give your feedback/suggestion/advice to DAP/Pakatan Penang government, to help them to improve the mess left by Gerakan.

Those who have eyes can see that DAP/Pakatan government in Penang are working hard to improve Penang…

My friend from Hong Kong just commented Penang is improving…


hav u asked your friend to buy Andaman @ Straits Quay ? very cheap by hong kong standard 900sq feet condo only ~RM900K !


How ironic to see all the tycoons’ mansion being sold!
Is Penang rich enough to maintain and appreciate the ‘original cultural assets handed down the generations’?
when you are poor, what is art?
And which young people wants a career in ‘old trades’?


Taj Mahal sits on a real estate with a history worth millions of millions and appreciating by the days. But the smart Indian government turned it into a world tourism icon and one of the Eight Wonders of the World worth trillions (of tourism dollars) for many, many years to come. The average Indian is ‘poor’ compared to UN standard of citizen’s income, wealth and living standard. But they don’t impulsively sell Taj Mahal to any Tom, Dick or Harry developer for instant cash for instant gratification or in an economic crisis. Not even to Warren Buffet or Li Ka-shing… Read more »


Go learn the SingLand Lesson of Regretful Heritage Lost during the early 50’s & 60’s. They envied Malaysia’s Truly Asia market positioning as an Asian destination with diversity, authenticity and substance to show.
To the extend they tried (hard) to relive Penang’s many iconic street names, food and culture (superficially speaking).
Why? They SinKahPoh (now) know the value of heritage culture worth conserving which keeps the culture starved tourists coming year after year until some of them see Penang and Melaka being more authentic and value for money to visit and experience!


as far as development is concerned PR and BN are two peas in a pod. now PR says they need more buildings to get money ( some for me and a little for you). BN government allowed more buildings (but (one group) took all the money). So Penang voters open your eyes , we need a development model that is inclusive and uniquely penang.

Ho Hia Tee

Penang overdeveloped with condos/commercial complexes primarily because developers want to make fast bucks irregardless tenancy sustainability matter ? Is is because the current Pakatan Sate government gives in to such dealings in exchange of cash revenues (because federal funds hard to come by) for less privileges development (eg surau, temples, bandar cassia affordable housings) ? If this is the case, more urgency for rakyat to ensure Pakatan marches towards Putrajaya to ensure no “choking” of fund which has happened not just in Penang but Kedah (see the schemed turmoil happening with MB ?); Kelantan (Petronas shortchanged apanama 5% instead of… Read more »


Housing is one big lifetime investment for most of us, except those with ‘Aw Sua’ (direct inheritance). To artificially cut that off the normal/average affordability level is one social injustice that will have direct consequences on the standard and quality of life. Indirect consequences will be the rise in prices of food, services and rentals. We don’t expect that to happen just because Penang Gomen don’t have Federal fund. It is bad enough to be a kowtow puppet on beggar strings of recalcitrant developers. Why can’t the Gomen form an investment institution for state investment fund from anyone with money… Read more »


Many would be happy if Penang could at least be like Singapore or Hong Kong. There is a balance of every thing though not perfect. Definitely not Dubai.

Ho Hia Tee

not easy to achieve like Spore or Hong Kong if corruption (many institutions still kow tow to u i know who they are) is still ramphant ! Good examples must be set from top (leaders) otherwise u help me i help me mentality continues to infiltrate young minds to grow up easily tempted to satify indulgences not via moral hard work but quick access to richness. Even leaders who “appear” to turn over new leaves (having acquired power & money over years of abuse of rakyat) to pull in votes NEED to be get rid of via the sacred votes.… Read more »

malcolm hyatt

It is supremely ironic that the bungalows on Brook Road belonged to the family of the so-called conservation architect who prides himself on being labelled a heritage consultant.

Gerakan K

I want people government that able to provide adequate low cost housing to people. I do not want Penang to become Singapore, HK or Dubai.

So, there is no low cost housing for Penangites. Current state admin must improve its service to poor people and not just for millionaires and billionaires.

Andrew I

That would exclude you, no? Besides, you needn’t be modest in this case. Who created these millionaires and billionaires in the first place? Ask your former 1PM, M. He’d be the first to claim credit. Why, only recently, he was trumpeting the success of the NEP in creating the rich and famous. So which is it, Gherks?


So, we make the same mistake again. Just because UMNO did that does that mean PR has the same leverage. Don’t be a typical tit for tat. We know the past mistakes for material gains but we don’t want to create another monster. Issues should be brought forward by citizens not neccessarily to defend a political stand but rather what is just and fair under prevailing circumstances. Nobody gives a damn on the ground level but rather the preservation of a status quo. Nobody is against PR in Penang, but we need to listen and understand their grievances rather than… Read more »

Andrew I

No, we certainly do not want to create another monster. I’m not against legitimate grievances and neither do I think that saints make up PR. The question you need to consider is how level is the playing field. The example that you quoted, Buah Pala, what is it, in your opinion, that requires further action? I’m sure Anil would be more than happy to publish your grievances. Blowing hot air by simply quoting dubious controversies serves whose interests? If you keep crying wolf, don’t expect people to keep running to you.


Yes, Andrew, agree.

Some people keep harping on Buah Pala Buah Pala, why not drive yourself to Kg Buah Pala and interview the 24 families first hand and let them tell you whether they are very happy with their new double storey terrace house.

Gerakan/BN messed up and Lim Guan Eng/DAP cleaned up, what else are you not happy about?

In fact, Lim Guan Eng is the first CM who negotiated a decent housing for the squatters in this Boleh Land.


Dear Andrew, there is no hot air here.There is plenty of evidence to prove otherwise.Do you expect me to run down the chronology of the events for you. Not a chance. You have made up your mind,so what can I do about it? Nobody needs to run to me, actually that is a give away for the camp you are in.As usual you are perfect after 55 years and anyone to question DAP in Penang is flawed as they know it best. We will see in GE13 as it is whether a humanity factor will prevail or what is politically… Read more »

Andrew I

What a load of waffle.


Yes, Andrew, you nailed Gelak K nicely…


To say that Penang is still a UNESCO Heritage Site is going superficiality in most senses. Look at the continuing emigration of our living heritage, the older Penangites who originally inhabited the innercity Goerge Town. They were the ones with the original cultural assets handed down the generations, whether be they old trades, architecture, customs, beliefs, traditions, cultural practices, dialects, even dresses and unique cuisine. To laud Bakso (Indonesian food) as addition to our local cuisine is utter corruption of our originality. Next will be Vietnamization of our Kopi-O! I worked on a project with one potential tour agency which… Read more »


Penang has to becareful and not to be plundered lik KL. KL has more guest workers from India, Nepal, Bangla, Burmese and Indo. The chinese food are now cook by them, wash by them and served by them. The ethnic mix is not MIC – Malays, Indian and Chinese but include faces from these countries. In Petaling Street, there are less chinese but more of these people during the weekdays and more weekends. Now like Air Asia, everyone can walk through Malaysia including those from Kalimantan. They can study there FOC and get a ID at adult age.