Protect Penang’s Heritage buildings for the future generations

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city-hallOne major reason why Penang looks majestic to many tourists is because it has lots of heritage buildings. Taking photos with these buildings meant a photo which may look like a postcard picture. Creative camera angles may even fool some friends into believing that we went overseas. Well, there were a few articles recently in the Malaysian media about the ownership of these old buildings. It seems many of them were being sold to foreigners, in this case Singaporeans. Many of these buildings were sold “by the rows.” As they were buying these buildings at a premium, once it has been spruced up, the new rental rates are said to be 500 percent the current rent. Do read some of the related articles here: Penang’s Heritage Site Under Threat or this one Speculators put Penang’s Heritage site at risk  Another good article to read: Penang- Whose version of Heritage?  

Take a look at a very nice image (left) from propertyinsight.com.my According to my good friend Michael Geh, International Board Member at Fiabci has this to say, “When Locals Are Unable to Economicaly Restore & Adaptly Use their inheritance… Selling Out is A Natural cause Of Action.” Briefly, Michael is a passionate Penangite. As long as it is a development for the benefit of Penang, he would always be supporting it. However I think he would be much more passionate to protect Penang’s Heritage buildings if they belong to locals instead of foreigners. We should do our best to protest this status because this is one major catalyst for Georgetown to be a major city visited by tourists into ASIA.

We can adopt the suggestion from George Town Heritage Action co-founder Mark Lay which was lobbying for state laws to prevent heritage property owners from raising rentals by a huge percentage. Lay said that laws similar to the repealed Rent Control Act 1966 is now needed. Else, we are looking at inflation of heritage property rentals. Without this, Georgetown would soon be too expensive to live in. In fact Lay shared that old cities in Europe limited rental increases to 10% per year.

I do not think a rental of just RM1,700 for one whole two-storey or three-storey shophouse is fair to the owners. However, I do understand the cost of refurbishing these old buildings is exorbitant and many owners were unable to do it profitably. Perhaps this is where the state government can step in as the custodian of Penang’s UNESCO Heritage City status. They should connect these owners to experts who can help to refurbish these old buildings at a much lower cost that what was reported in the media. When costs are exorbitant, the easiest way out is just to sell and take profit. Let’s wait for custodian to announce some new measures to protect Penang’s Heritage City status.

written on 23 June 2016

Next suggested article: Heritage property:Limited units mean limitless price per sq ft?


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