The Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) has started an online petition for the preservation of the Soonstead mansion in Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah here which it claims is threatened by the development of a proposed 13-storey tower block.
PHT president Khoo Salma Nasution said the petition would be sent to the Penang Municipal Council (MPPP) before councillors in its One Stop Centre meet and discuss the proposed development which she claimed would necessitate the demolition of the 103-year-old house’s dining room wing and annexe buildings.
“We started the petition last Friday and the MPPP will consider the approval in 20 days at the latest but might do so as soon as all the technical and departmental reviews have been sent in,” Khoo said when contacted yesterday.
She said PHT had collected almost 900 signatures thus far.
She said the iconic mansion, originally called Northam Lodge, was one of the few homes along Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah that was still set within its original grounds which stretch out towards the sea.
Khoo said Soonstead was built by prominent architect James Stark in 1911 for rubber and sugar planter Heah Swee Lee.
“With the proposed development, Soonstead would be mutilated and dwarfed by the 13-storey block while its garden setting and relationship with the sea would be lost. Such an outcome would make a mockery of George Town’s status and responsibilities as a Unesco World Heritage Site,” she said.
She said the block would consist of an 11-storey hotel with 108 rooms and two storeys for parking.
When contacted, MPPP councillor Dr Lim Mah Hui confirmed that an application for the development at the Soonstead site had been submitted but has yet to be approved.
Dr Lim himself had earlier taken MPPP to task over the proposed development at the site, saying that the mansion’s aesthetic value would be lost when the 13-storey tower overshadows it.
“According to heritage guidelines for Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, it is recommended that no more structures be built in the seafront. So why are guidelines not followed?” he had asked in June.
Khoo claimed that she had received contradictory information on the heritage status of Soonstead from MPPP.
“In 1989, MPPP drew up a list of 20 heritage buildings on Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah and drafted guidelines for the sensitive development of the area.
“Soonstead was identified as one of the heritage buildings worth conserving.
“However, I was later told by an officer from the council that Soonstead was not in the list,” she said, hoping that the MPPP would be able to clarify the situation.
“The PHT urges the state government and MPPP to protect the heritage of Soonstead, and calls for a moratorium on developments on Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah until MPPP’s own guidelines and the developments in this area have been reviewed,” Khoo added.