SOME changes should be made in the system to make George Town more business friendly and more economically viable for heritage building owners, property consultant Michael Geh said.
He suggested that the changes may include demystifying and simplifying the requirements needed for renovations to be carried out in such buildings.
“The approval process for renovation and restoration should also be shortened,” he said after speaking at a seminar titled, ‘Sustainable Development for George Town World Heritage Site’ at the Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce building in George Town yesterday.
The seminar was jointly organised bythe chamber’s Property Development, Construction and Management Committee (PDCMC) and George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI).
In his welcoming remarks earlier, Geh said George Town’s Unesco inscription was not only about protecting heritage buildings but also about ensuring sustainable development so as to keep the city alive and sustainable without destroying its outstanding universal values (OUVs).
“This simply means heritage conservation of OUVs such as the buildings and the traditional trades remain important but there must also be sustainability to ensure economic viability for residents and buildings owners alike.
“If there is only heritage conservation without development, where will the future of the city lie upon?” he asked.
Geh said a majority of the heritage buildings in the inner city were rebuilt in the 1940s after World War II as a major portion of George Town was flattened in the war.
“So, George Town is still a young city that needs to grow. We should stop comparing it with European heritage cities that arecenturies old.
“Recently, much has been said aboutprotecting the rights of tenants but what about the owners? These heritage building owners have rights too and they too have issues to be resolved,” he said.
He said a current study being carried out by the PDCMC was aimed at finding out why many local heritage building owners find it difficult to use their own buildings for their businesses like cafes and restaurants.
Geh, who is PDCMC’s Heritage and Tourism Division head, said the study was also aimed at finding out why these owners are selling their inheritance.
“Much has been said about outsiders or even foreigners buying up George Town’s heritage buildings but has anyone asked why are the owners selling their properties?
“We will also look at why there are still buildings that have been abandoned, why the owners did not restore these buildings.” he added.
Geh said the seminar was one of the activities lined-up to get feedback for the study.
“We believe the outcome of the study will show that striking a balance between development and conservation is important for a healthy growth of the city,” he said, adding that the PDCMC hoped to get more than 100 building owners to participate in the study.
He also said the committee hoped to complete the study next month and submit its final report to the chamber in January.
Among the topics presented at the seminar were ‘Special Area Plan: How It Works?’ by GTWHI’s built environment and monitoring manager Muhammad Hijas Sahari and ‘Technical Review Panel: How to Get It Done Within 100 Days?’ by Penang Island City Council’s Heritage Conservation Department director Noorhanis Noordin.