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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Call to scale down Penang high-rise projects

FOUR property developers involved in high-rise projects in Penang's heritage zone in George Town have been asked to consider scaling down their projects in a bid to safeguard the state's heritage status.

The Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) contends that losing the recognition given by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) on the World Heritage List will likely affect all businesses in the city, including the value of the properties the four developers are hoping to build.

The developers comprise Asia Global Business Sdn Bhd, Boustead Holdings Sdn Bhd, E & O Bhd and the Low Yat Group.

The projects in question are AGB's Pier Hub @ Weld Quay and Boustead Royale Bintang Hotel behind the General Post Office in Lebuh Downing, both lying in the heritage core zone.

The other two are E & O Hotel's extension and a 23-storey hotel in Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah by the Low Yat Group in the buffer zone, both of which are reported to be 84.4m high.

The World Heritage Committee, which administers Unesco's World Heritage programme, stipulates in its guidelines that a maximum height of 18m (or roughly five storeys) has been set for buildings on the island's heritage core and buffer zones.

"We are surprised that the Penang Municipal Council could have allowed such a major slip-up in failing to apply Unesco heritage guidelines on these four building applications," PHT president Dr Choong Sim Poey said in a statement yesterday.

He said regular meetings of the State Heritage Conservation Committee since 2000 were made fully aware of the guidelines during talks on the conservation of the heritage city.

"All relevant state and municipal council officers including the Penang branch of the Real Estate and Housing Developers Association Malaysia (Rehda), along with PHT representatives were part of this committee," Dr Choong said.

He said while the four developers could have been misguided by the planning officers, they should now seriously reconsider their options, after being made aware that George Town stands to lose her heritage status.

"Somewhere along the line, a price will have to be paid for these mistakes, either in losing the Unesco status or compensating the developers," Dr Choong said.

"The government and the people will have to decide which is the greater price to pay," he added.

Meanwhile, Rehda in an advertorial taken out in two English dailies last week noted that there is no absolute prohibition of any structure going above 18m.

"The ongoing furore over the four projects, notwithstanding the fact that they were approved by the council according to the then prevailing guidelines, does not inspire confidence in would-be investors in our state," the association said.

"This is more so when we read that the owners will now be invited and persuaded to reduce the heights of their approved structures," it added.

By Business Times (by Marina Emmanuel)

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