Colonial-style shoplots must be preserved, says businessman

These old shophouses in Miri’s Chinatown built during the British colonial era were burnt in a fire on Sunday, prompting calls for the government to preserve heritage buildings.

MIRI: The colonial-style shoplots in Miri’s little Chinatown must be properly preserved and conserved as there are very few old heritage buildings left in the heart of the city centre.

The fire on Sunday that destroyed a double-storey department store in Miri’s Chinatown and three sundry shops next to it, showed how fragile these buildings are.

The four shoplots were razed while five other shops were damaged by the fire which took place between noon and 2pm.

Miri businessman Tommy Chua said such colonial-style buildings, constructed decades ago during the Brooke Rajah and British eras, should be gazetted as heritage buildings and thoroughly checked to prevent fires.

“The severity of the fire indicated that such buildings are very fragile already.

“These shops were built during the pioneer days of Miri in the oil rush of the early 1900s.

“The authorities must check the wiring in these premises and stop any renovations or extensions that may compromise the safety of the people and buildings,” he said.

He added that there did not seem to be any set guidelines for building preservation in Miri city.

In the Sunday fire, two teams of firefighters from Miri central and Lopeng fire stations were deployed to the scene to battle the flames and prevent the fire from spreading to other shops, said Miri Fire and Rescue Department chief Supt Law Poh Kiong.

The department store and sundry shops were part of old Miri, constructed during the Brooke era and later rebuilt during the British era after the Second World War.

They are located in front of the old Miri Resident Office complex.

The 18 firefighters managed to douse the flames after more than an hour of intense effort.

Miri mayor Adam Yii agreed that the old buildings in Miri Chinatown needed proper attention.

“These buildings have unique designs and architecture that reminds us of the old days.

“The city council has a sub-committee to look into the licensing aspects of such buildings.

“As for the preservation and conservation of these old buildings, I agree there is more that needs to be done since these structures are a part of the history of Miri,” he said, adding that he would talk to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry to look into these heritage buildings.

Yii acknowledged that heritage buildings in Miri must not be allowed to be drowned out by commercialism and business concerns to the extent they are neglected and left to deteriorate.

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