Activist decries Penang’s indifferent attitude on Peel Avenue bungalows

One of the bungalows at the former government quarters land sold to a private hospital for an expansion project in Penang. A heritage group says it should be saved.

GEORGE TOWN: A heritage-interest group is upset that the Penang government had allowed a government quarters enclave dating from pre-World War II to be cleared for a private hospital expansion project.

Penang Heritage Trust vice-president Khoo Salma Nasution said the clear disregard of four heritage bungalows off Peel Avenue also raised the question of whether the state respected its own heritage laws.

She said under the Penang State Heritage Enactment 2011, such bungalows are supposed to be protected and included in a heritage register.

“They are supposed to protect heritage buildings outside the heritage site under state law. At Peel Avenue, it is clear that the buildings are pre-war homes and should be a Category II building.

“By allowing heritage buildings to be torn down, they might as well admit they are not bothered about heritage at all,” she said when contacted.

Inside one of the bungalows. The interior remains solid and well kept, says an activist.

Salma said the Penang government seems to be more concerned about protecting the buildings in the Unesco World Heritage Site more than buildings outside of it.

A private hospital with 600 beds will be built on the former quarters land measuring 2.6 hectares (6.4 acres). It was sold to Island Hospital, which operates diagonally across from the quarters, for RM156 million in a direct negotiation deal with Chief Minister Incorporated last year.

The state heritage laws came into effect on Sept 1, 2016, with a heritage commissioner allowed to mark any area in the state as heritage and impose development restrictions.

The bungalows on the land were previously occupied by civil servants and under the watch of the State Secretary’s Office.

Salma said the bungalows are “definitely Category II” heritage buildings.

She said while she was okay with one of the bungalows being torn down recently due to its “beyond repair” condition, the other four bungalows were in pristine condition and well maintained.

The demolished bungalow was located outside the quarters area, and was owned by the hospital. Over the years, it fell into disrepair and its site was used for a car park.

Old trees being felled at an access road to the quarters to make way for a hospital project.

Salma also observed that many old trees with large foliage were being felled at the access road in the quarters.

She was responding to Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow’s remarks on the heritage buildings on Peel Avenue at a press conference in Komtar earlier today (Wednesday).

Chow said the Penang Island City Council had given permission to tear down all the buildings in the area to make way for the project.

He said there was no ban on demolishing Class II heritage buildings outside the heritage zone. He said other buildings in the quarters “will be demolished”.