GEORGE TOWN: The decision to submit a letter to Unesco’s World Heritage Centre (WHC) in Paris about the proposed Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) is not politically-motivated, said Penang Forum member Dr Lim Mah Hui.
“I have spoken against Barisan Nasional policies in the past. I am just worried about Penang’s future.
“The risks of the PTMP and the threats to our invaluable heritage must be exposed,” he told The Star yesterday.
Dr Lim said he wrote the 15-page letter to Unesco on June 23 as a steering committee member of Penang Forum to highlight the potential harm that the PTMP may cause to George Town’s heritage site.
Penang Forum is a “fluid and loose coalition of progressive civil society groups”.
There are over 10 Penang NGOs in the forum so far, ranging from environmental, consumer, heritage to education and arts groups.
Instead of being a World Heritage Site, George Town may end up going into Unesco’s “List of World Heritage In Danger” if the body reacts to Dr Lim’s letter.
WHC says that “private individuals, NGOs or other groups may also draw the committee’s attention to existing threats. If the alert is justified and the problem serious enough, the committee may consider including the site on the List of World Heritage in Danger”.
Dr Lim’s main worry is the Sia Boey archaeology site across the road from Komtar near Carnarvon Street, at the edge of the heritage enclave.
With a documented history dating back to 1804, Sia Boey (meaning the ‘‘end of town’’ in Penang Hokkien) was the first wholesale market and retail hub of the pioneer settlers.
“We have told the state government hundreds of times about the history buried beneath Sia Boey.
“No action was taken and Sia Boey is still earmarked as the future interchange station for two monorail and one light rail transit lines,” he said.
Dr Lim stressed that alerting Unesco would lead to proactive steps towards heritage conservation of the city, rather than removal from the World Heritage List.
He did not send a copy to the National Heritage Department or George Town World Heritage Inc (GTWHI) as there was no reason to do that.
“Partly, I forgot to do that. But I am not short-circuiting anything because the WHC openly invites anyone to alert them without any need to inform our government,” he said.
Dr Lim said to preserve the heritage values of George Town, the state government should consider adopting modern trams and bus rapid transits instead of elevated LRT lines.
Yesterday, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said LRT lines are outside of the heritage enclave so the issue of PTMP threatening George Town’s World Heritage Status should not arise.
George Town Heritage Action co-founder Mark Lay said guidelines from Unesco required GTWHI to inform the WHC of existing or possible threats to the inner city’s heritage status.
“GTWHI is supposed to function independently and work with the community on non-statutory heritage conservation efforts. But how can it be independent if Guan Eng is the GTWHI chairman?,” he asked.
According to its website, GTWHI was established by the Penang government in 2010 to ensure that George Town’s legacy will not be lost.
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