'George Town's heritage status secure'

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.


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