Concrete plans in place


The majestic Seri Negara still looks good from the outside. — Filepic

TOURISM, Arts and Culture Ministry (Motac) has engaged Think City, an urban regeneration body wholly owned by Khazanah Nasional Bhd, to take on the Conservation Management Plan (CMP) for the historical Carcosa Seri Negara.

Deputy Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik told StarMetro that the ministry was seeking at least RM1mil funding to carry out the CMP.

“Once CMP is done, we will then make a request for proposal (RFP) for the redevelopment of the two iconic buildings that make up Carcosa Seri Negara.

“We want Think City to do the CMP first, they are the best people for the job and drawing up the CMP is our top priority for now, ’’ he said.

He added that the CMP, which maps out the development strategy, would only start next year as the requested allocation had been delayed.

Muhammad Bakhtiar said a conservation management plan was not just looking at the physical aspect of a building, but also the historical part, the details and the buildings' significance as well as the various ways to strengthen that significance and to understand its value.

Muhammad Bakhtiar says proposals to redevelop Carcosa Seri Negra must be favourable to the Government. --- MOHD SAHAR MISNI/The StarMuhammad Bakhtiar says proposals to redevelop Carcosa Seri Negra must be favourable to the Government. --- MOHD SAHAR MISNI/The Star

“In fact, it may take a year to get a CMP done, depending on the complexity of the building. So nothing is going to happen until the CMP is ready, ’’ he reiterated.

When contacted, Think City managing director Hamdan Abdul Majeed said they had the expertise to do the CMP.

“We have developed such plans for heritage buildings in Penang and Kuala Lumpur, ’’ he said.

Carcosa and Seri Negara are two colonial mansions.

Carcosa was built in 1896 and was the official residence of the first Federated Malay States Resident-General Sir Frank Swettenham.

Seri Negara was built in 1913 as a guest house for royalty and other dignitaries.

The site was gazetted as National Heritage under the National Heritage Act 2005.

Follow-up steps

Apart from CMP, Carcosa needs major housekeeping.

“The place is literally falling apart and we need to get a team in to carry out repairs and housekeeping, ’’ he said.

Muhammad Bakhtiar said housekeeping was delayed because the team faced some issues getting the power supply reconnected.

Motac was given custodianship of the buildings in June, by the Director General Land and Mines Department (JKPPTG) under the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry.

Colonial buildings with shrubs growing on their roof top are a common sight along Jalan Raja heritage street, like this former Industrial Court building.Colonial buildings with shrubs growing on their roof top are a common sight along Jalan Raja heritage street, like this former Industrial Court building.

"JKPPTG had instructed Tenaga Nasional Bhd to cut the electricity supply to the property before it was handed to us to manage.

“There was an accumulated electricity bill amounting to about RM500,000 and initially we were told that Motac had to pay that sum to get the electricity reconnected, even though we just recently took custodianship of the building, ’’ said Muhammad Bakhtiar.

“But now that problem (outstanding bill) has been resolved, as it is the responsibility of the Federal Lands Commissioner (PTP) who is the landlord of the properties.

“And TNB has agreed to reconnect the supply so that we can carry out our work, ’’ he said.

He lamented the condition of the place.

“The whole building is decaying and there is a major water ponding issue under the tiles, consequently the floor tiles are coming apart.

“The rooms above have been exposed to the elements and I saw dead rats and birds inside the room, ’’ he said.

He also noted that certain renovation works carried out on the buildings, particularly the added wood panels had spoilt the original tiles underneath.

The iconic mansions have been used in numerous movie productions in the past.

The Loke Yew Building in the heart of Kuala Lumpur is a heritage property that has been rejuvenated.The Loke Yew Building in the heart of Kuala Lumpur is a heritage property that has been rejuvenated.

Expensive endeavour

An advocate of heritage buildings, Muhammad Bakhtiar, who is also the Balik Pulau MP, is no stranger to old buildings with a long history.

His love affair with old buildings started when he was a young boy growing up in Penang.

When asked to name his favourite building, he was quick to say Penang Free School (PFS). It is the oldest English-medium school in Southeast Asia, having been founded in 1816.

“I may be bias because I studied in PFS and have always been drawn to the school’s history, ’’ he said, adding that it was a big milestone for him when PFS was declared a national heritage site last year.

“But let’s be frank. Conservation and preservation of old buildings is a very expensive endeavour. It requires millions and millions of ringgit. And because of that big price tag, it is not surprising that our heritage assets keep getting kicked to the bottom of the pile, ’’ said the deputy minister.

He also acknowledged that the lack of priority for conservation of old buildings was happening all over the country and not just in Kuala Lumpur.

Heritage funds

National Heritage Department’s (JWN) heritage fund called "Tabung Kumpulan Wang Warisan" is depleted and there is no money for conservation efforts.

“When we took over, it was all gone and we have no funds to carry out conservation work, ’’ said Muhammad Bakhtiar.

Jane Rai, a former chief heritage guide with Kuala Lumpur Tourism Bureau, was embarrassed when tourists kept pointing out the terrible shape of the heritage buildings.Jane Rai, a former chief heritage guide with Kuala Lumpur Tourism Bureau, was embarrassed when tourists kept pointing out the terrible shape of the heritage buildings.

“We have written to the Prime Minister and MOF (Finance Ministry) requesting for the fund to be replenished because otherwise we are not able to carry out restoration works.’’

He stressed that it was a pressing matter and that restoration work needed to be carried out urgently.

"These old buildings are our legacy and we must safeguard them, or else there will be nothing left for the future generation.
“Europe incorporates the best practices in protecting heritage buildings.

I have read many times how construction projects are halted when they (government) discover something historical during construction, ’’ he said.

Muhammad Bakhtiar said he had seen many historical buildings demolished in Penang in the name of development and road expansions, and he had been quite vocal about it during his stint as a Penang Municipal councillor.

The Rumah Pusaka Chow Kit, nicknamed Rumah Degil, has been rebuilt at National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.The Rumah Pusaka Chow Kit, nicknamed Rumah Degil, has been rebuilt at National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.

“The Rumah Degil in Chow Kit is a good example of a beautiful piece of history gone just like that, ’’ he said.

“Even though JWN has built a replica at Istana Budaya, it is not the same.
"A historical building is not just a piece of property; it is a symbol of the past, culture, history and the relationship between the building and location.

“Just imagine the value of that house if it was still standing today, the value of the cultural experience and the benefits to tourism, ’’ he highlighted.

“I sometimes feel I am facing a losing battle between heritage and development. But we cannot be silent anymore.

"And we as a society, we all have a role to play in preserving our history, because it is our identity, ’ he added.

In tabling Budget 2020, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng announced that RM10mil would be allocated to Think City to preserve culture and urban heritage.

When asked if the amount would go towards Carcosa Seri Negara, Hamdan said he did not have the details yet.

“We are not sure what are the specific conditions, whether it (funds) is for public or private restoration or if it is for managing assets, ’’ he said.

Looking ahead

According to Muhammad Bakhtiar, there have been many parties who were interested in developing Carcosa Seri Negara.

“We have been approached by many people who are interested in developing the two mansions, including Khazanah.

“In fact, Khazanah was interested in Carcosa two years ago. They did an excellent job with the Datai Langkawi project, and they wanted to develop Carcosa Seri Negara into a colonial boutique hotel similar to the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, ’’ he revealed.

“They certainly had a good track record, but they did not get the project.

“Once CMP and housekeeping are settled, we will start looking at proposals, but we will be very careful with the people we choose to work with.

“The company’s credibility and track record will be crucial. We do not want any RM2 company.’’

He said the ministry was also looking at conservation experts and organisations that were involved in adaptive reuse.

“We want to make sure that things are done by the book and the people whom we work with on redeveloping these iconic mansions have outstanding track record in restoration work as well as the financial means to do it, ’’ he added.

When asked to comment on talk that there was a conspiracy to sell the land to a third party in the future, Muhammad Bakhtiar rubbished the rumours.

“Anyone can submit their proposals, but we will be very clear with the terms and conditions and it must be favourable to the Government, '' he said, adding that the Government's interest must be protected.

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