Group: Better enforcement needed to protect George Town heritage zone

GTHA says there needs to be an effective monitoring and enforcement system to curb illegal renovation and demolition works of pre-war houses like these within the heritage zone. — Picture by K.E.Ooi
GTHA says there needs to be an effective monitoring and enforcement system to curb illegal renovation and demolition works of pre-war houses like these within the heritage zone. — Picture by K.E.Ooi

GEORGE TOWN, Dec 10 —  Local heritage group George Town Heritage Action (GTHA) has warned of George Town losing its heritage values if illegal renovation and demolition works within the Unesco world heritage site continue to go on unchecked.

The group’s spokesperson Mark Lay said enforcement efforts by the local authorities must be more effective with a better monitoring system in place to ensure that heritage guidelines for restoration works are not violated.

“Anyone can do anything they want to a heritage shophouse openly because there is a lack of enforcement and even when they are served with a stop work order, they will ignore it and continue work because there were no punitive actions taken against them,” Lay claimed.

Members of GTHA have been monitoring the city’s heritage zone for such activities and have discovered numerous instances of illegal renovations.

Lay said he has in the past reported the activities to the authorities and each time, the owners will be issued a stop work order or a warning but these are typically ignored once local council officers leave the premise.

“They are probably laughing at the local authority because all they get is just a slap on the wrist, not a heavy fine or any deterrent actions, so they will continue doing what they were doing without fear,” he said..

He said back in 2010, the local council announced the formation of a special enforcement team to oversee and monitor the heritage zone but little has been done by this team till today.

He proposed stiffer penalties like higher fines to stop these illegal renovations, some of which includes gutting an entire property and tearing down its back portions to reconstruct it from scratch.

There are now strict guidelines in place for house owners within the zone to comply with when restoring their properties, including rules about building height, materials used and preserving as much of the building as possible.

But Lay claimed that even those with planning permissions could easily ignore these guidelines and do as they please due to poor enforcement.

The group hopes to present these points during the George Town & Malacca World Heritage Site Consultation Session today with representatives from Unesco, George Town World Heritage Inc, Think City, Badan Warisan Malaysia, National Heritage Department and other invited participants. The session is a closed-door event for invited participants only.

“We want to reveal all these and make them aware of the problems the heritage site is facing so that they could take the appropriate action to address it,” Lay said.

According to National Heritage Department Northern Zone director Sangam @ Musa Antok, all applications for restoration works have to go through a technical review panel.

“The committee is under the city council and it will look at every development proposal within the heritage zone before approving or rejecting it,” he said.

He said the city council is supposed to monitor approved development projects such as restoration works to ensure that they adhere to the conservation management guidelines.

“Even if they don’t monitor, on our side, we can monitor too as the whole heritage area is also under our jurisdiction,” he said.

GTHA also hopes to propose that the state government introduces incentives or measures to encourage house owners to allow the existing tenants to continue renting from them at reasonable rental rates.

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