KUCHING: The Sarawak Heritage Society is calling on the authorities to preserve Kuching’s heritage and prevent further encroachment by new developments.
Its president, Karen Shepherd, questioned why a new hotel in the city centre had put up its signboard in front of the historic Round Tower as well as barriers across the pedestrian passageway between Carpenter Street and India Street.
“We would like to register our disappointment that this hotel and shopping centre, which should not have been allowed in the first place as it replaced a heritage property, the Treasury building, should now be allowed to encroach even further on all the heritage properties surrounding it,” she said.
“The Round Tower is one of the oldest buildings in Sarawak, built in 1886. Now it has been obscured by the enormous signboard in front of it.
“The barriers are blocking a public access road. Are ordinary Kuching citizens to be prevented from using this area?”
Shepherd urged the planning authorities to intervene in this and future planning applications for similarly intrusive projects.
She noted that three heritage shophouses in Jalan Padungan were recently torn down, perhaps to be replaced by a budget hotel.
“There is little point in rescuing heritage properties one at a time if new buildings are allowed to dwarf them and remove all context of the area.
“Even worse, construction work in the immediate vicinity of old buildings may cause damage and drainage problems,” she said.
As such, she said the authorities must consider how to plan the future of the city in order to strike a balance between commercial and public interests, including heri-tage.
“Commercial space and hotels are fine; the authorities just need to think about where they need to be. We request the planning authorities to consider why they are allowing shopping centre after shopping centre to be built, at the expense of heritage value and green space.”
Shepherd also said preserving heritage was important not only for city residents but to attract tourists.
She cited Penang as an example, which was recently voted one of the world’s 10 best destinations by Lonely Planet, largely due to the preservation of its heritage core.
“If Kuching ever hopes to rival it, then town planning must come under the spotlight of the current administration before it is too late.
“There is simply no point building hundreds of hotels if the authorities are allowing these to replace the very reason tourists come to Kuching in the first place,” she said.
“It is up to the planning authorities to control the development of the city so that rampant commercialism, which ultimately benefits a small number to get rich, does not override all other concerns of many, including pedestrian access, easy flow of traffic and the character, life and beauty of the city.”