Address to the Full Council Meeting of MPPP
By Dr Lim Mah Hui
Conservation in Penang
Selamat pagi dan selamat sejahtera. Dato’ YDP Patahiyah, Ir Ang Aing Thye, Ahli2 Majlis, Pengarah2 dan Ketua2 Jabatan, Para Wartawan, tuan2 dan puan2. Pagi ini saya ingin membincang mengenai isu2 warisan di Pulau Pinang. Saya minta izin membentang dalam Bahasa Inggeris
We ignore history at our own peril or as George Santayana, the philosopher puts it, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
On Christmas eve, 1993, a developer illegally demolished Hotel Metropole, a MPPP listed heritage building. On 26, July 2010, another developer illegally tore down 20 Pykett Ave, the mansion of Khaw Sim Bee. How many more of our historical and heritage sites, including our hills, do we need to destroy before we say enough is enough.
Let me quote at length parts of an eloquent and impassioned speech made on conservation.
“After the scandalous and outrageous demolition of the 100-year Hotel Metropole…the people of Penang have a right to demand to know the full facts about the MPPP stand and list of conservation buildings.” Tan Gim Hwa should not continue to behave as if he has never heard of the democratic principles of accountability and transparency, and he should make public the heritage buildings along Jln Sultan Ahmad Shah which had been “released” for development.”
In October 1989, the MPPP drew up a list of 20 heritage buildings and sites along Jln Sultan Ahman Shah for preservation. Some of the more famous include: Shi Chung Primary School, former Runnymede Hotel, Hotel Metropole, Telekoms, Soonstead, Maple Gold, Homestead, Istana Kedah, Hardwich, and Woodville.
MPPP also drew up conservation control guidelines with three objectives:
- To conserve the character of Jln Sultan Ahmad Shah
- To ensure land and building use compatible with the image of the road as a distinctive area for good class residences and prestige establishments
- To ensure new developments to harmonise with activities, image, scale, proportion, streetscape, skyline and design of heritage building and sites
Some of the detailed guidelines include the following:
- No demolition, alteration or extension of the building other than development or works necessary for restoring it or maintain it to a proper state.
- Limited alterations and extensions may be permitted provided the character and architectural value of the buildings and sites are not impaired.
- When repairing buildings, care should be taken that the colour harmonise with the character of the building and the environment in general.
- For commercial uses that are detrimental to the environment visually, such as coffee shops, motor workshops or showrooms, are not permitted.
My fellow ahli majlis, these are not my words. These are the words of YB Lim Kit Siang uttered 20 years ago. How many of these guidelines have been broken since? These words come back to haunt us today. The DAP then was an opposition party in Penang and championed the rights of people and issues of conservation of sites and hills. Today it and its Pakatan partners rule Penang.
Twenty years ago, YB Lim Kit Siang, along with civil society, championed the cause to save Jln Sultan Ahmad Shah. Today, Penang Heritage Trust has to take up the same cause again and calls on this government to honour the words of YB Lim Kit Siang. PHT launched a campaign to save Soonstead last Friday and to date has obtained over 2000 signatures. Among the signatories is Richard Englehardt, a UNESCO advisor whose words we should heed. He wrote:
“A city can compare well (and compete successfully) with others only if its identity is proud and unique. Heritage is a source of a city’s pride and one of the things that make a city unique. A hotel, an office tower block, a parking garage — these things can be built anywhere. To sacrifice the heritage of Soonstead to such projects is not development, it is vandalism….Government has the responsibility to act on behalf of the public, past present and future — not on behalf of some selfish property speculator whose intention it is to rob Penang’s public of a piece of its rightful heritage, expropriating it for his own personal profit.”
I end my speech with a plea and a question.
My plea is for the MPPP to start following its own conservation guidelines and to save Soonstead, other heritage sites, and the hills of Penang.
My question is what has happened to the MPPP’s directive (Section 19 of the Town and Country Planning Act) to rebuild 20 Pykett Ave. It has been 4 years since the directive was issued. Why is the building not rebuilt? Was a contribution given in lieu of rebuilding? I ask the MPPP to have 20 Pykett Ave rebuilt and to approve low-density houses/apartments there.
Thank you for your attention.
Speech by Lim Kit Siang “Tan Gim Hwa should release the full list of the Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah buildings which are on the MPPP conservation list”