Destruction of Penang heritage getting worse, says activist


PETALING JAYA: Demolitions of heritage structures have become more rampant in Penang, particularly in George Town, according to heritage activists Yan C. Lee of Penang Citizens Awareness Chant.

Yan Lee, the group coordinator, cited recent demolitions of buildings such as Khaw Sim Bee Mansion, 218 Macalister Mansion and the recently demolished Runnymede ancillary buildings.

He said the state government had even accepted a RM3 million donation from the developer that demolished Khaw Sim Bee Mansion in Pykett Avenue, and the developer was not forced to rebuild the mansion after having illegally demolished it, even though there was a council order to rebuild it.

The donation was first revealed by senior executive councillor Chow Kon Yeow last year, and later confirmed by the Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng.

Yan Lee said that Khaw Sim Bee mansion had been illegally demolished as the local council had not approved planning permission for the redevelopment plan.

“The state authorities have shown that our heritage is for sale by accepting the developer’s RM3 million donation after demolishing Khaw Sim Bee Mansion,” he said.

He lamented that the developer had also got away by paying a meagre fine.

Pykett Avenue residents have already filed a case at the State Appeals Board to challenge the redevelopment plan on the demolished mansion site. The case is pending at the board.

Yan Lee said the case proceedings had shown that the Penang Island City Council intended to curb the powers of the appeals board by claiming that the appeals board cannot consider public interest in their decision making process.

He insisted that the function of the Appeals Board was to check on the authorities and protect the public’s interest.

The board’s main function was to fix the legal mess created by the authorities such as the approval of planning permission for development on 20 Pykett Avenue when there was already a pending order that the developer rebuild Khaw Sim Bee Mansion.

Last year, executive councillor Chow had said that the developer had blatantly refused to adhere to the council’s rebuild order.

Yan Lee urged Chow to publicly state whether he felt that Runnymede should be conserved and preserved, or be demolished.

“Chow has been in charge of local government affairs for the past eight years. He must take a stand and tell us his own thoughts on whether Runnymede’s heritage and historical values should have been preserved or wiped out,” Yan Lee said.