Letter to the Mayor of Penang
– Penang Island City Council, “Custodian of Our Heritage”
03 April 2015
Dato’ Patahiyah binti Ismail
Majlis Bandaraya Pulau Pinang
Paras 17 Komtar,
10675 Pulau Pinang.
Dear Dato’ Patahiyah binti Ismail,
The Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) would like to extend its heartiest congratulations to you as Mayor of Penang Island on the occasion of the island’s Municipal Council being elevated to city status. This is a joyous occasion for Penangites, and we join you in celebrating the city’s newfound recognition.
We believe it is important that the status of the historic city of George Town – which was made Malaya’s first city in 1957 – within the broader context of the new City of Penang Island is clarified in order to enhance civic pride and effective governance. The Penang Island City Council has under its jurisdiction the George Town World Heritage Site and thus joins the prestigious ranks of World Heritage Cities.
Penang has a rich history and now, more than ever before, it is important that we safeguard the wealth we have inherited from our predecessors. A new city council would be perfectly poised to do so. We note that the State Heritage Conservation Enactment, passed in 2011, has not yet been implemented. Local governments therefore remain the de facto custodian of local and state heritage. PHT hopes that the new Penang Island City Council will approach the protection of our heritage with renewed vigour.
As part of this protection, the heritage-rich City of Penang Island should maintain a comprehensive inventory of its heritage assets. Without such an inventory, illegal demolitions – such as that of 22 Pykett Avenue – will continue to take place even before significant historic buildings have a chance of being heritage listed. This historic house belonged to at least two of Penang’s historical personalities: Sir John Bromhead-Matthews (whose name originally appeared on the building) of the firm Presgrave & Matthews, solicitor general and member of the Straits Settlements Legislative Council, and later Dato’ Khaw Bian Cheng after the war.
Without such an inventory, Penang will lose many more such treasures outside the World Heritage Site without even realising what it has lost. The lack of an inventory and heritage protection measures makes it harder to take effective action against those guilty of deliberate illegal demolition. Hundreds of significant heritage sites outside the George Town World Heritage Site need protection; PHT’s maintains a list of 7 Most Important Endangered Sites. We would like the authorities to show commitment to heritage protection by tackling the restoration of these sites without delay.
We know from previous reviews of existing heritage inventories that even important landmarks along Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah have been omitted from early lists. We hope that the new Penang Island City Council will maintain a comprehensive register and allow this to be periodically reviewed by the Penang Heritage Trust. We will bring our passion and knowledge of heritage to this task.
As the City of Penang Island emerges on the regional, and indeed world stage, it is crucial that we set an example. Our George Town World Heritage Site is just the beginning. The Penang Island City Council should maintain an inventory of its heritage assets and set high standards of maintenance and management of the heritage properties under its care, such as the Chung Thye Phin Villa at Relau, which is now in a deplorably dilapidated state.
Apart from architectural heritage, the Penang Island City Council is also the custodian of other types of heritage – that includes natural heritage and cultural landscapes such as the forested hills and coastlines, industrial and transport heritage, open spaces and the public realm. Proper planning will ensure that this heritage is preserved for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations of its citizens.
The Penang Heritage Trust hopes that the Penang Island City Council will have the vision and resources to expand its Heritage Department, and in doing so, be fully equipped to manage the world-class heritage assets of this most historic city.
Khoo Salma Nasution
President, Penang Heritage Tust