Resort plans put Jerejak heritage status in doubt

The first leprosy hospital in Pulau Jerejak, opened in 1871. (File pic)

PETALING JAYA: The federal government’s plans to obtain world heritage site protection for Pulau Jerejak, Penang, are in jeopardy because of a luxury resort development proposed on part of the island.

Deputy tourism minister Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik said the ministry would be writing officially to Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow next week about the matter, according to a media report.

He said the National Heritage Department was applying for a Unesco world heritage site status for Pulau Jerejak, a former leper centre and also a former penal colony, and the Sungai Buloh national leprosy control centre in Selangor.

“The Sungai Buloh centre might be the first leprosy colony isolation centre set up in the world,” he was quoted as saying. Sungai Buloh National Leprosy Control Centre was opened in 1926 because there was no cure for the disease at the time.

Muhd Bakhtiar, of PKR, is MP for Balik Pulau, Penang. He spoke to reporters while on a constituency visit to Sungai Titi Teras, in Balik Pulau.

Two years ago, the Penang state government came under criticism after plans were revealed for two luxury hotels, 1,200 apartments, a theme park, a marina and a cycling track on an 80-acre plot on the island, just off the south-east coast of Penang.

The plans include a four-lane bridge across the channel to connect Pulau Jerejak to the main island, and the development is to be undertaken by UDA Holdings and Ideal Property, a major developer in Penang.

The previous state government had stated that the island, which covers 362 hectares (894 acres), would be gazetted as a permanent forest reserve. However, in 2016, the Penang Development Corporation sold its interest in a resort company to Ideal Property.

Heritage activists have been up in arms over the plans.