GEORGE TOWN: Hundreds of metres of purple PVC hoardings have sprung up in George Town.
They wrap the facades of unoccupied pre-war houses, all waiting to be demolished or redeveloped.
Gerakan Wanita deputy chief Datuk Ng Siew Lai did a tally recently and was dismayed to find six blocks of pre-war houses in George Town sealed up the same way.
On checking, she discovered that the purple hoardings were the work of foreigners, who now own the properties within.
“I felt so sad to see our heritage properties all covered up. Where are the old occupants? What will happen to the pre-war buildings?” she asked.
She was recently appointed as the Gerakan coordinator for the island’s Tanjong constituency.
“I am a mainland Penangite and I’ve not been back in George Town for some time. When I returned and drove around, the garish purple hoardings were what greeted me.
“At one block, I remember an old coffee shop where I loved to go. There’s nothing left but only memories of the place now,” she told reporters in Bertam Lane off Penang Road yesterday.
Two rows with 26 pre-war houses along Bertam Lane are all boarded up now.
In Sept 2016, The Star revealed that they were bought by World Class Land (WCL), a subsidiary of Aspial Corporation, a listed company in Singapore.
Between 2013 and 2016, Aspial declared in its annual report that WCL bought 236 pre-war houses in George Town.
According to its list of the properties, they span across 19 roads such as Jalan Datuk Keramat, Jalan Macalister, Jalan Transfer and much of the Seven Streets precinct locally called Chit Tiau Lor.
The units added up to more than 250,000sq ft – equivalent to 26 football fields.
Ng said pre-war houses in George Town without residents were buildings without souls.
“More unique than the structures are the ordinary folk who make up the city’s living heritage.”
She urged the state government to outline policies designed for the sake of the future of pre-war properties in George Town and make public the inventory list of heritage properties and their owners.
When told that foreign buyers were able to buy pre-war properties by using locally-formed companies, nominees and proxy agreements, MCA Komtar constituency coordinator Tan Hing Teik, who was present, said the state had the power to disregard the corporate veil.
“Hiding behind corporate entities and proxies is nothing new. The government can plug legal loopholes to preserve the uniqueness of George Town and keep foreigners with stronger buying power from heating up the real estate market,” he said.
Asked how the state could bar the right of existing landowners from selling their properties to the highest bidders and earn a profit, Padang Kota Gerakan constituency coordinator H’ng Khoon Leng, who was also present, said the state could adopt a policy if it wanted.
“When the wishes of landowners are not in line with the bigger picture of the state, the government can act and it has done so in the past.
“In recent land deals in Ayer Itam, Batu Ferringhi and Pulau Jerejak, it was announced that the state would never approve development plans on those land. But we have not heard of restrictions against foreigners owning large pieces of George Town,” H’ng said.
He was referring to land owned by 1MDB in Ayer Itam, Kampung Mutiara in Batu Ferringhi and the shipyard in Pulau Jerejak.
In all three instances last year, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng announced that the state would not approve development plans if particular conditions were not met by the land owners.