Chow clears air on heritage property ownership issue

Chow-Kon-YeowGEORGE TOWN: The Penang government today explained the “confusion” on the number of heritage properties bought by foreigners in the Unesco World Heritage Site.

Local government exco Chow Kon Yeow said the 18 heritage units sold to foreigners from 2010 to 2015 were only in Section 23 of the Northeast district.

Chow had reported this number at a state legislative assembly sitting in response to a question from BN’s Sungai Acheh assemblyman Mahmud Zakaria in May.

Then last month, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said in the House that 61 heritage properties were owned by foreign companies or individuals since 2008, causing confusion and this led to Penang Gerakan claiming inconsistency in the numbers reported by the DAP-led administration.

“The 18 units in the heritage zone are only in one section, Section 23.

“When the chief minister made his winding-up speech in the House in November, he said there are 61 properties of all types owned by foreigners in the heritage zone.

“The heritage zone (Lim meant) covers Sections 18 to 24 in the district, which are seven sections in both the core and buffer zones,” Chow said in a statement today.

Earlier this week, Penang Gerakan Youth assistant secretary Loh Kit Mun asked the state government to reveal the actual number of heritage properties sold to foreigners, claiming discrepancies in the numbers reported at the state legislative assembly sittings.

He also claimed the state gave incomplete and misleading figures.

Foreign-ownership of heritage buildings in George Town has of late become an issue in the state following reports of local tenants – old businesses and residents – being evicted after the properties were bought over by new owners, namely foreigners or foreign-linked companies.

Many heritage units in the city have been converted into hotels, cafes, restaurants or other high-end businesses targeting tourists and holiday crowds.

The trend had also led to rental rates in the city rising in recent years after George Town saw a tourism boom following its Unesco heritage listing.

Many local tenants were also forced to move when they could no longer afford the rent that had shot up to several thousands of ringgit a month in some places.