Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Call for a Good Decision in Penang

The options are clear: four high-rise hotels or Georgetown's World Heritage status. Not both but one or the other.

Under stringent heritage guidelines sent to the committee in August 2007, a maximum height of 18m or roughly five storeys was set for new buildings in the two zones.

The four hotels are the Rice Miller boutique hotel in Weld Quay and the Boustead Royale Bintang Hotel project behind the General Post Office in Lebuh Downing, both lying in the heritage core zone, and the E&O Hotel extension and 23-storey hotel in Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah by the Low Yat Group in the buffer zone, both of which will be 84.4m high.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said three of the four hotels were approved by the previous state administration while the Boustead building was approved on June 26, less than two weeks before the Unesco status was granted.

What did the expert say:

Unesco regional adviser for the Asia-Pasific Dr Richard Engelhardt, who was present at the dialogue, said George Town had no choice but to follow the guidelines approved by the WHC.

“When the status is approved, the guidelines trump all previous existing regulations. Why would you apply for the status if there was no intention of following the guidelines?

“If the state decides to go along with the high-rises, I’m sure it will be called up by the WHC to explain why it allowed such a thing and whether it is compatible with the preservation of heritage,” he said.

“The worst-case scenario is that George Town is delisted, but that is not the usual situation as when a site applies for World Heritage status, it is interested in preserving the heritage,” he added.

CM Lim's reaction:

“Now, we’re caught in a conundrum. If we allow the buildings to go ahead, we may risk the status, but if we stop the buildings, we could be sued for hundreds of millions which will definitely bankrupt the local council.

“We’re damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.”

Possible options:

The World Heritage status has uplifted the general mood of Penangites. Its positive impact is undeniable. Tourist arrival is expected to register a steady 20% growth over the next 2-3 years. A number of individual investors are now getting more interested to help restore some of the pre-war houses.

The government should open up dialogue with these four hotel operators and developers. Losing the status means losing potential tourist arrivals and hotel business. If possible, these developers can help to enhance Penang's WHS and not contribute to destroy it.

Second, the state government should look at possible political and public backlash. Politically, they will become an easy target of the old administration. Never mind if 3 projects were approved by the previous government. That government was trounced.

But they could turn around and accused the DAP led government for losing the status they 'helped' to gain. Political and public backlash will be great. The same backlash will also be felt by the 4 hotel operators. E&O Hotel, a majestic hotel founded by the Sarkies brothers, is positioning itself as a heritage symbol. It should do the right thing.

Finally, if the four developers insist on suing the government please make it our fight too. We will not allow the state government to walk alone.

But I believe good sense will prevail in the end.


KongKor said...

Getting the World Heritage Status is not like some BN MPs buying their certificate over the net. It has a far more lasting impact than just the 4 developers. So, Mr. CM YB Lim GE, try not to fall into the 'penny wise, pound foolish' category.

Sure, the developer can sue the state, so be it. But Penangites like me will walk with the state if it is to protect something worthwhile as this.

At the same time, I would urge the affected parties to re-negotiate with the state and show your sense of social corporate responsibility.

As a afterthought, I remember Penangites are very good at boycotting and when they do, they are a force to be reckon with.

Bangsa Cina Malaysia said...

Asalamualaikum kepada semua,

masyarakat cina menyokong sepenuhnya dasar dasar baik yang
menguntungkan semua pihak tanpa mengira kaum dan ugama.

yang baik harus di serap sepenuhnya
dan yang jahat/buruk harus di ketepikan.

tahniah di ucapkan sekali kepada EN.LIM GUAN ENG atas wawasan beliau.

InsyaAllah kerajaan PR pimpinan beliau akan terus menerajui negeri Pulau Pinang dalam pilihanraya yang seterusnya.


Anonymous said...

i am sure these developers can find alternative sites..perhaps even better sites elsewhere on the island. ..if there's a will, there's definitely a way..

Anonymous said...

Agree with you that LGE should call the developers of these 4 hotels to discuss on a win-win situation to solve the problem at hand.

Am sure that these developers know that if they insist on following their design plans, Penang will lose its World Heritage Status listing and hence kill the goose that lay the golden egg because this status will create potential tourist arrivals and hence increase in hotel room bookings.

Last bastion of defence is in the hands of the people of Penang whereby they can form NGO committees to voice their protest against these greedy developers who want to take away this once in a lifetime UNESCO status that truly belongs to the people of Penang.

These 4 developers better watch out. If the folks of Penang can change the gomen in the 12 general election,they can also boycott these 4 hotels!

CW Ye said...

UNESCO has listed only 679 World Cultural Heritage sites in the whole world at this moment, and only one in Malaysia. Go to the list and see what company Penang and Melaka have.

For once we Malaysians can be really proud of the cultural heritage that we have, not just some other gimmick records. Treasure it please.

YiFan said...

PR was voted in to undo the bad governance done by previous BN. If Lim Guan Eng administration is capable to show his negotiation skill out of this "high rise conundrum", it is a great credit to them.

Rather than grabbing news headlines by showing people how CAT you are in AirAsia's economic seat, please spend more time thinking how to get Penang out of those problems.

Of course it will not be as easy as you talked before. But the voters are looking with eyes wide open. If you bother to check with some other state government (in UK or US), they faces tens or hundreds court cases every year, for their good and bad governance. You need to defend yourself and the interest of people you represent, even it takes you to the court.

Maybe there is certain valid reasons that Khoo Kay Peng called for a change in LGE's advisory team. When you knoe you are not good enough for the job, DO NOT ask people of the same quality as you.

Change, is what we need. Not more of the same.

plebian government servant said...

my general observation.

DAP must acknowledge that they are VERY NEW in government administration.

DAP must now wear a governing hat rather than opposing mentality.

DAP must invest in "trust" and "respect" in government officers.

Why I say this?

If DAP continue to label all government officers together with BN, they are DIED wrong and counterproductive. You don't throw the baby with the water!. There are many good government servant and long working there, DAP must KNOW how to engage them. NEVER think it is always BRIBES that make them work. You must know how to RESPECT them. Bad hats - there are anywhere be it in govt servant, BN, DAP., PAS, PKR

If DAP take a combative mood against the government servant, you earn disdain and NEVER expect any extra mile effort from them. They will work according to rule, can you imagine how counterprodutive will that be.

So far, DAP have not achieve that, sad to say, speaking from Selangor experience. I can only simply extrapolate the same in Penang.

One you lose their respect, you are doomed, cause DAP is only a newbie.

For eg, how can MPPP say they dun know the heritage guidelines. But that could be technically factual, but if MPPP put in extra mile, what would be the effect. See, you dun need to bribe! What need to respect and this is both way . and respect must be earned from them not shove down their throat.

The previous government is not perfect, so DAP must know there are tons of landmines to be trapped. With so many landmines, it will be plain naive if DAP dont engage the govt servants

DAP, you have to work LOT LOT more harder.

HAL 2050 said...

Though not strictly on topic, here's something that might provide ideas for you to write about later on. At any rate, some readers may find it engaging.

The Economist (the UK weekly news magazine) has some interesting things to say about Indonesia in its latest issue online with the title "Indonesia sets an example".

After the Suharto regime came to an end people wondered if the country, made up of an expansive and impoverished archipelago and an amalgam of hundreds of ethnic groups, would descend into chaos?

The Economist suggests that the answer is no, and that Indonesia has consistently surprised observers with the positive, while listing these achievements:

* Indonesia’s shattered finances have been repaired.

* It has developed a free press.

* The army’s hands have been prised from the levers of power.

* And, above all, Indonesia has become a democracy in which the voters can chuck out their government. Freedom House, an American think-tank, now rates Indonesia as the only completely free country in South-East Asia—putting its richer neighbours, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, to shame.

That last sentence is worth repeating: Indonesia rates as the only completely free country in South-East Asia - putting its richer neighbours, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, to shame. Wow, isn't that quite a claim!

Bow said...

LGE just have to renegotiate and meet with those developers to avoid losing WH status, it is in hotel developer's interest too if our tourism is riding high, i am sure some sort of compensation and redesign of the hotel structure are possible for all party concerned.

Teh said...

Good afternoon KKP,

I would like to post this message to Penang CM YB LGE on your blog. Thank you for allowing me to do so.

Dear YB LGE,

As a Penang born, I appeal to you to exercise your wisdom in making the right choice. The 4 developers with possible litigation or the heritage status.

It is a dream come true of all Penangites that Penang is awarded the heritage status. This status would certainly put Penang on the International Tourism Map and means a lot to Penangites.

The developers should cooperate with the state government as they stand to win too.

The other things that urgently need your attention is the standard of hygiene and cleanliness. Have awareness campaigns for all Penangites to keep the state clean not just the food serving outlet but everywhere including the tourist attraction sites and beaches. Everyone should practice conservation and not destruction. During the awareness campaign the officiers should be on the ground to enforce the practice. After a few friendly reminders, the delinquent operators or culprit could then be compounded.

Another thing to consider is to make Penang a walkable city.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Dear Khoo,
I have a serious question to ask. Of course, you should not be liable to answer as it must be directed to Mr Teng, the former Tourism Exco.
It's reported in the Malaysiakini that

"former Penang executive councillor, Teng says the previous state planning committee approved the hotel projects based on amended building guidelines submitted to Unesco in January this year."

What the hell is the amended buidling guidelines? If those projects approved not affecting, would the only one approved under LGE administation would affect UNESCO status?

Dear Khoo,
I believe that you part of the Heritage commitee CAN advise on this.
Who is correct? You or Teng????


Anonymous said...

Dear Khoo,
Described below the excerpt from The Star

'George Town's heritage status secure'

GEORGE TOWN: George Town’s World Heritage Site status is not in jeopardy as the upcoming high-rise hotels in the area were approved under the guidelines sent to Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation).

Former state Tourism Development and Environment committee chairman Teng Chang Yeow said an amendment had been done to guidelines regarding the height control before they were submitted to Unesco in February this year.

“After consultation with several quarters in 1996, the council adopted the policy of putting a maximum height of 18m, the equivalent of about five storeys, on new developments in the heritage zone.

“The guidelines regarding the height controls were then amended by the State Planning Committee in early 2007 to facilitate development and two hotels - the Rice Miller Boutique Hotel and the Boustead Royale Bintang Hotel - were then approved,” Teng said.

He added that the E&O extension, to scale 84.4m upon completion, was an existing approved plan in 1996 and did not fall under the height restriction guidelines.

Teng, who is also the former Preparatory Committee for the Unesco World Heritage Listing of George Town chairman, added, however, that the approval of buildings exceeding 18m in the heritage zone were under “strict conditions” and not a blanket approval on all buildings.

Both the Boustead and Rice Miller hotels are equal in height to the neighbouring Bangunan Syed Putera at 51.7m while a 23-storey hotel project proposed by the Low Yat Group was approved on June 26. Concern over the four high-rise projects was widespread as they were believed to be in violation of the guidelines sent to Unesco.

“Prof David Lung, who had been sent by the World Heritage Committee (WHC) to assess the heritage value of the city was also fully briefed on the three impending projects and raised no objections about them at any time.

“As such, when Unesco approved George Town’s heritage status on July 7, it was with full awareness that the three hotel projects would be implemented in due time meaning that the problem of these projects affecting the city’s status as a World Heritage Site should not arise at all,” he said.

Teng also hit back at the Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association (Rehda) Penang for stating that no public participation, input or consultation as to the consequences of a successful listing was ever conducted before the application.

“In a series of listing exercises in the middle of last year, which I chaired, stakeholders and state bodies had been consulted on the Unesco application including Rehda,” Teng said.

Dear Khoo,
With this explanation, so now what? Either Teng fella is correct or you are correct? Kindly answer!!!!
You can always accuse LGE plus blaming Jeff Ooi, for not checking the facts properly before commenting on the heritage's issue. However, since the takeover, the previous Gerakan government is not forthcoming sharing information. Only after this thingy exploded, then they talk.


Peter said...

Berita baik!!!!! Dari hari ini, Good news everyone. From now on, Majlis Perbandaran akan bertanggung-jawab kepada penghuni!!!!!

Good news everyone. From now on, town councils will be accountable to residents!!!!!

Khoo Kay Peng said...

Dear Anon,

The information given by ex-exco member Teng is crucial. He said that the approval of buildings exceeding 18m in the heritage zone were under “strict conditions” and not a blanket approval on all buildings.

I am curious to know what are the conditions. If there are strict conditions, can Teng justify why 3 projects were approved during the Gerakan administration?

Second, if the guidelines are strict why didn't the MPPP intervene when the DAP administration approved another development which exceeded the limit allowed? CM Lim appeared to be not aware of the guidelines.

Somebody is sleeping on the job.

Teng claimed that Prof David Lung did not object to the new amendments but did he obtain an approval letter from UNESCO?

It is important for the current state government arrange to meet up with UNESCO officials to discuss the new developments.

We should not leave it to chance.

Anonymous said...

Make these four developers an offer they cannot refuse. If they will not agree to abide by the right thing, make life difficult for them. Make sure that all the current regulations are strictly enforced fr them. Make sure they understand that maximum penalty will be imposed for every single infringement. Make sure they understand that if they do not cooperate, their life will be miserable.

This is the kind of message they will understand. Why is Lim Guan Eng scared of them? Fight them. Their financiers will withdraw. There will be no projects for them.