By THE STAR
GIVING his backing for the four hotel projects to proceed, Real Estate & Housing Developer Association, Penang Chapter (Rehda Penang) chairman Datuk Jerry Chan said the blanket 18m height guideline for Penang’s inner city was not imposed by Unesco, as popularly believed.
“It was inserted by the parties involved in the preparation of the dossier to be submitted to Unesco for the World Heritage Site status (WHS) listing application.
“Rehda’s main grievance is that stakeholders such as the various ethnic communities and their chambers of commerce, guilds, and associations were not consulted in the preparation of the state heritage dossier.
“After 2000, Rehda has not been consulted on the drafting of the guidelines for heritage zones,” he added.
The controversy over the height of the projects has prompted Rehda Penang to publish a recent advertisement expressing concern over the increased restrictions imposed in the state’s heritage and buffer zones.
The state planning committee had formulated guidelines in January allowing the development of high-rise buildings over 18m, subject to stringent conditions, said Chan.
“We understand that Malacca in its listing submission did not bind itself to any height restriction,” he said.
Chan noted there were existing buildings higher than 18m such as the Dewan Perniagaan Melayu building on Beach Street and the Bangunan Syed Putra on Downing Street, both located a stone’s throw from Boustead and AGB groups’ hotel projects.
“There shouldn’t be any assumption that Penang would lose its WHS status if the projects are carried out.
“Unesco has to clarify if it was aware of the MPPP approval for the four hotel projects with their respective specified heights.
“If Unesco was aware, then it has assented to the listing not withstanding these approvals,” he said.
Since the listing approval did not impose conditions that these projects had to be cancelled or scaled down, it could be inferred that they were not an issue nor a threat to the WHS status of Penang, he said.
“The authorities should explain who is responsible for the conflicting situation on the approvals and the 18m height restriction.
“Was the height restriction submitted intentionally or a genuine mistake?” he said.
Chan said if the state government believed in the economic benefits to be generated by the hotel projects, it should defend these projects.
Meanwhile, Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) president Dr Choong Sim Poey said the PHT was surprised that MPPP could have failed to apply Unesco heritage guidelines on the four hotel projects.
“The regular meetings of the state heritage conservation committee held since 2000 under the chairmanship of the previous Chief Minister were fully aware of the conservation guidelines of the heritage city.
“All the relevant state and MPPP officers, and Rehda and PHT representatives were part of this committee,” he said.
He added that losing the Unesco recognition would affect all businesses in the inner city.
Choong said: “A price has to be paid for this mistake; either in losing the Unesco status or compensating the developers.
“The state government and the people will have to decide which is the greater price to pay.”