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Monday, July 6, 2009

Penang council urged to reconsider hotel directive

GEORGE TOWN: The city’s old trades, culture and lifestyle of Penangites are some of the key reasons why George Town was awarded the World Heritage Site (WHS) status, not solely because it has heritage buildings that could be conserved, said Real Estate and Housing Developers Association (Rehda) (Penang) chairman Datuk Jerry Chan.

“The soul of old George Town is not about empty buildings. It is pointless to have an inner city with heritage claims but one which is without any life after office hours and on weekends.

“The proposed hotels would create spill-over effects for businesses and promote tourism-related activities,” he said, referring to the four controversial hotel projects in inner George Town to comply with the 18m height or five-storey ruling.

Chan said owners of heritage properties would hesitate to invest substantially to refurbish their properties if they were not convinced that the rental would justify the expenditure.

“The worry now is that the building owners would leave the buildings to the course of nature.

“If the proposed hotels are allowed to proceed according to the earlier approved plans, perhaps the project proponents could be persuaded to adopt conservation projects in the inner city. This will result in a win-win situation for all parties concerned, complementing their business by promoting tourism products and activities to keep the city vibrant.

“This would be a successful public-private partnership, allowing tourists to experience old George Town, which has a lot to offer in culture, community, cuisine and diversity.

“Tourists would rather spend more time in the city if there were more interesting sights and sounds,” he reckoned.

Chan said a key pre-requisite of the WHS listing was that there had to be a survey conducted to obtain feedback from the stakeholders in the heritage areas.

“The stakeholders include the property owners, businesses, and dwellers in the heritage zones.

“I don’t think this was adequately done,” he said.

Rehda wants the Penang Municipal Council (MPPP) to reconsider imposing the 18m height or five-storey restriction for the four hotel projects.

Rehda president Datuk Ng Seing Liong said in a recent statement that the restriction would only impede property developments in Penang, which was considered as a choice destination for property investment.

“We respect the state authorities’ decision to conserve George Town’s WHS status, but the restriction is unfair to the industry,” he said, adding that it was unfair for the state government to pre-empt Unesco’s decision on the status of the four projects, as the latter had yet to make a decision regarding the impact of the 18m-height restriction guideline on the proposed hotels.

“There should not be an assumption that George Town would lose the WHS status if the hotel projects are carried out,” he noted.

By The Star

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