Evictions at Cheapside

The tenants of six shophouses on Lorong Cheapside, off Chulia Street have recently received eviction notices, and are trying to negotiate for an extension to their leases. The six houses are on the same title, and according to the tenants, the owner wishes to sell the properties.

The six houses are currently occupied by people associated with the hardware shops and locksmiths of Lorong Cheapside, with some of the houses being used as warehouses.
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Cheapside has had this distinctive character for much of the twentieth century, and is strongly associated with its hardware shops, locksmiths and key-cutters. It is also one of the few remaining residential neighbourhoods in inner city George Town. The eviction of Cheapside’s residents threatens the street’s businesses, and therefore its very character and history.

It is clear that tenancy issues are increasingly becoming an issue in the George Town World Heritage Site, with a number of recent evictions affecting the residents of Chulia Street, Jalan Kuala Kangsar, and Chulia Lane. These evictions are also taking their toll on the city’s intangible cultural heritage, with a number of artisans affected. Earlier this year, the city’s last kim hua (votive paper flower) makers were evicted from their premises at Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, and this week the rattan weaver Mr Ng Kuan Soon was evicted from his shophouse at 490 Beach Street.

The Penang Heritage Trust expresses its deep concern about the state of the rental market and tenants’ rights within the George Town World Heritage Site. We believe the situation is untenable. The George Town World Heritage Site: Population and Land Use Change Surveys commissioned by Think City showed a significant drop in the residential population of the city between 2009 and 2013, with the population decreasing by about 800 people to below 10,000.

George Town’s heritage is as much about its people, their daily lives and their livelihoods as it is about architecture. Yet we risk losing the rich intangible cultural heritage for which this city was inscribed to the World Heritage List.

A neighbourhood like Cheapside contributes to the Outstanding Universal Values which led to the city’s World Heritage Listing, as ‘and exceptional example of a multi-cultural trading town Southeast Asia’ and as ‘living testimony to the multi-cultural heritage and tradition of Asia … This multi-cultural tangible and intangible heritage is expressed in the great variety of … ethnic quarters … and daily life.’

We are calling for responsible and sustainable approaches to development, land use and tourism within the George Town World Heritage Site. George Town should first and foremost be for its citizens. As it stands, the city risks losing its people – and therefore its soul.

The Penang Heritage Trust calls upon MPPP, the state government, and property owners to engage in active dialogue with tenants, and to actively look for ways in which this impending crisis in inner city housing can be nipped in the bud.

Press Statement – 10 March 2015

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