Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Heritage zone hotel controversy: Reduce height of projects, says Guan Eng

From now on, buildings in George Town’s heritage enclave cannot be taller than 18 metres following a decision by the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) to limit the maximum height of these premises, reverting to a 1996 policy, in accordance with UNESCO guidelines.

Late last month, MPPP president Tan Cheng Chui warned that the council would take stern action against owners who fail to obtain building plans and planning approvals before starting renovations. “Land and building owners must adhere to the new regulations and ensure that proper procedures are followed when renovating or repairing their buildings in the enclave. We will make sure that all repair and restoration work is carried out according to the guidelines, especially in the heritage zone."

The MPPP had originally adopted the 18m maximum height policy in 1996 but the state planning committee amended the guidelines in early 2007 to facilitate the development and building of hotels.

In a follow-up, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said the MPPP has instructed the developers of two of the controversial high-rise projects within the George Town Heritage site core zone to reduce the height of the projects to five storeys or 18m in order to comply with recommendations by UNESCO officers during their visit here recently.

"So far, one of the developers has responded favourably to this and agreed to conform while another has yet to respond," Guan Eng said. "The two other projects in the buffer zone have also agreed to the recommendations." In his strongest words yet on this controvery, Guan Eng said if the developer did not want to conform to reduce the height of the project to 18m, the council would not allow the project to go on.

"We are hopeful that these developers share the state government's vision to protect, preserve and promote George Town's heritage. They also practise corporate social responsibility and we hope they will abide and listen to us. While this may give rise to a possibility of a court case against the state government by the developer in question, George Town's UNESCO heritage status is more important," he said.

The four controversial projects involved are the Rice Miller boutique hotel and Boustead Royale Bintang Hotel (pictured), which are within the core zone, and the E & O Hotel extension project and a Low Yat Group Hotel situated in the buffer zone.

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