Heritage buildings left to rot

GEORGE TOWN: While Penang takes great pride in preserving its rich heritage, arts and culture and its heritage buildings, there are some abandoned pre-war shophouses that stick out like a sore thumb.

Penang Island City Council (MBPP) has identified 73 abandoned units, both commercial and residential, that are worth about RM300mil.

These buildings have become an eyesore to passers-by.

The city council is warning the owners to upkeep their premises or face the wrath of the law.

A double-storey colonial building in the popular Unesco World Heritage Site is one of the abandoned buildings.

It is learnt that the previous owner of the shophouse in Lebuh Victoria used to breed swiftlets before he was forced to cease the business.

When The Star team visited the building, stains of bird droppings were visible on the walls while plants and shrubs grew all over the dilapidated premises.

The heritage building is believed to have been built in 1921 based on the circa sign on top of the building.

A notice dated 2017 issued by the council under Section 82 of the Local Government Act 1976 for causing public nuisance was still pasted on the main door.

The notice ordered the owner of the building to dispose of the plants and clean up the place.

A neighbour, who did not wish to be named, said it had been nearly 20 years since the shophouse was abandoned.

“I started my business here in the early 2000s and the shop was already vacant.

“I heard the unit was a nesting ground for swiftlets but the council then ordered the owner to stop the business.

“When the plants from that building started to reach our unit, we reported it to the authorities.

“They came but couldn’t do much apart from issuing notices to the owner, who has not returned for many years,” he said.

Councillor Wong Yuee Harng said the city council’s Heritage Department found 134 abandoned units in 2016 but the number dropped to 73 this year after they managed to locate some of the owners.

“We managed to trace some of the owners and issued them notices. Several of them returned to clean up the place and turned their properties into more decent-looking buildings,” he said, adding that many could not be located.

In some cases, Wong said, the city council was forced to take proactive initiatives to clean up the buildings and later bill the owners.

“The cleaning can cost between several hundreds to thousands of ringgit, depending on the severity of the damage.

“Cranes and heavy machinery are needed if there is major structural damage that could pose danger to the public,” he added.

Under the Local Government Act, he said, offenders could be fined RM1,000 or jailed not more than six months, or both, plus a fine of not more than RM100 each day if the offence continued after the conviction.

“Sections 127 and 128 of the National Land Code allow alienated land to be forfeited by the state.

“For those who are unsure, they can check with the land office if they possess ownership of such properties,” he added.

Over at the Penang mainland, Seberang Prai mayor Datuk Rozali Mohamud said 868 landed properties out of the total 5,291 in the district had been abandoned.

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