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‘Strict laws forcing Penangites to give up heritage properties’

 | November 16, 2016

Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce denies that greed is the main reason many properties in the George Town heritage site are being offered for sale.


GEORGE TOWN: Strict restoration laws covering heritage properties here are driving out local property owners.

A business-interest group said this today following reports of foreigners snapping up swathes of pre-war shophouses.

Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce heritage and tourism spokesperson Michael Geh Thuan Peng said locals were not selling off their properties to the highest bidder, as widely felt.

“But conservation red tape with the authorities has forced them to do so.

“This is one of the main reasons heritage property owners give up their inheritance,” he said at a heritage talk organised by the chamber today.

Over the past few months, reports of heritage properties being bought in bulk, often by foreign concerns, have caused alarm among Penangites.

This has prompted activists to question the lack of government control over foreigners snapping up properties.

The large buyout, especially by Singapore companies and their proxies, have also forced out traditional Penang trades.

In response to this, Penang government officials said reports of the large buyout by foreigners were inaccurate.

They said such purchases had been reduced significantly over the years, due to the minimum RM2 million price tag for properties sold to foreigners.

It also announced plans to introduce “rent calming measures”, likely via a rent control enactment, which was allowed for under the Federal Constitution.

Earlier, Geh, who is a senior partner in Raine & Horne, a real estate agency, announced the chamber would be conducting a study on some 100 heritage building owners in the city.

He said the study would focus on finding out why owners were selling their properties, their reluctance in using their buildings for other purposes and why they had left their buildings vacant.

On a different note, Geh felt it would be difficult to bar development altogether in the George Town heritage site. He said striking a balance between preservation and development needed to be figured out.

Geh said any future government policies regarding heritage properties should not be tenant-centric — but take into account owners’ needs as well.

“Much has been said to protect tenants’ needs, but what about the owners? They have problems too and these need to be addressed.”

Meanwhile, state heritage agency George Town World Heritage Inc said it would look into concerns raised by the chambers.

Its general manager, Dr Ang Ming Chee, told reporters after the seminar that it was eager to see the results of the study to be conducted.

She said the concerns raised by Geh and the chambers would be taken into account and advised property owners to consult the city council on conservation issues.


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