Stop foreigners from buying heritage buildings, Gerakan tells Penang

The Kong Thai Lai Coffeeshop in Hutton Lane, George Town, known for its crunchy toast and coffee, has been around for almost 100 years. — Picture by Opalyn Mok
The Kong Thai Lai Coffeeshop in Hutton Lane, George Town, known for its crunchy toast and coffee, has been around for almost 100 years. — Picture by Opalyn Mok

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GEORGE TOWN, Sept 26 — The Penang government must try to save traditional businesses operating in heritage buildings by preventing foreign firms from buying these and evicting the tenants, the state chapter of Gerakan demanded today.

Penang Gerakan vice chairman Oh Tong Keong urged the state to show the political will needed to stop the eviction of long-time tenants from pre-war shophouses within the George Town world heritage zone and its vicinity.

“They must implement a policy to stop foreign companies from buying up heritage shophouses inside and around the heritage zone so that local residents and traditional trades are not being evicted by the dozens,” he said.

Among those being forced out is Kong Thai Lai Coffeeshop, which will move today from the location that it has called home since 1920.

Oh, who said he is a daily patron at the coffeeshop, insisted that traditional trades like these should be protected at all costs.

“This is 100 years of history and it’ll be gone after today because the building was bought by a Singaporean company and today is the last day they are here,” he said.

He suggested that the state introduce a policy where only foreign individuals who have lived in Penang for between five and 10 years be allowed to purchase heritage buildings in the state.

He also suggested that the state government, through its heritage unit of its development arm, Penang Development Corporation (PDC), set up a fund for the preservation and protection of heritage houses, especially within the world heritage zone.

Such a fund could be used to acquire heritage buildings in cases where the owner could not afford to maintain or restore them.

He added that the state could then restore these buildings and keep its existing tenants.

“This would be a win-win situation for both the state in keeping its intangible heritage alive and at the same time, allowing original tenants to continue on at minimal rental rates,” he said.

In recent years, many local residents and existing businesses have been evicted when the buildings they rented were sold off to new owners.

In some cases, the shophouses were restored and turned into boutique hotels, modern eateries and tourism-related businesses.

On September 1, George Town Heritage Action (GTHA) group’s Mark Lay claimed that a Singapore-based company had bought over 200 heritage properties around George Town, both within and outside the heritage zone.

Lay had also called on the state government to stop massive development projects planned for heritage buildings all around the city.

He also told the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) to limit the change of use for heritage buildings.

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