Are these pictures a sign of inefficiency of the Ipoh City Council, or a mockery of its slogan “Ipoh Clean, Green and Developing”? Look at the piles of uncollected wastes, mainly leftover foods from the night food-stalls, beside Dataran MBI – on the front yard of the city council’s complex.
For several hours on May 31, the refuse contained in black plastic bags were blocking parking bays and some with their foul smelling contents scattered on the road.
Motorists, driving around to look for parking space in the busy Greentown Commercial Centre, were seen shaking their heads in disgust at the sight of the uncollected wastes.
Yes, there may be a valid reason for the failure of collecting the wastes on that particular day, but did it need to take several hours for the city council to come up with a contingency action to remove them, especially when it was just a stone’s throw away?
What will ratepayers and visitors think when about a week ago, in conjunction with the City Day’s celebration, City Council gave recognition to about 10 per cent of its workforce for their hard work.
During the presentation of the awards, State Local Government Committee chairman Datuk Saarani Mohamad congratulated all recipients for a job well done.
“The purpose of handing out the awards is to give due recognition to excellent workers in the council. I hope that the recipients will maintain or improve their work standards and set an example for their colleagues,” he said.
Of course, many of those recipients deserve the awards. They are the “unsung heroes”. It is a pity that such failure to collect the wastes quickly would reflect on them and the city council as a whole.
When the then Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Tajol Rosli Ghazali officiated what was to be a multi-million-ringgit Ipoh city riverfront beautification project with fanfare and wide publicity on January 27, 2004, there was joy amongst the residents of the city.
It was generally felt that at last, the embankments of Sungai Kinta, which bisects the city into New Town and Old Town sectors, would be a new focal point.
Now seven years later, the project has not materialised. It has become yet another much talked about project in Perak that has fallen off the track.
Under the proposal, Sungai Kinta was set to become a tourist spot with the introduction of water-related activities by the state government. The state chairman for tourism, Dato’ Hamidah Othman, had earlier tried to revive the project, but now no-one seems to talk about it.
She said that for a start, they might offer kayaking along the river for tourists and city folk. According to her, a river cruise would also be offered by a private group of companies, which was undertaking a RM200m development project along the 1.2km stretch of the river.
“The cruise will start from Taman D.R. Seenivasagam to the Kinta Riverfront,” she said, adding that more activities would be introduced from time to time.
She said efforts to make Sungai Kinta “an engine of growth” for tourism activities was in line with the state’s ambition in making the industry the second biggest income earner for Perak.
The question is, can such water-related activities be developed as a tourist attraction on the narrow and shallow Sungai Kinta? I am amazed by such a suggestion. No wonder our plans often fail because we do not give much thought to such proposals before implementing them.
Why do we need to develop water-related activities like other cities where their rivers are deeper and wider? Sungai Kinta is hardly 30 metres wide and 2 metres deep, and as such not feasible for any water-related activities. Furthermore, it is also badly polluted.
Such activities, particularly a river cruise, are doomed to failure. Just take a look at the nearby artificial lake in Taman D.R. Seenivasagam and what has happened to its water-related activities.
We must be crazy to expect that tourists would be interested in our river cruise. What is there to see, except the polluted water and the riverbanks that are hardly attractive? Unlike Malacca where the river cruises allow visitors to see the heritage buildings, a traditional kampong and some big monitor lizards lazing in the sun along the riverbanks.
What we really need is to beautify the stretch of Sungai Kinta’s embankments, not water-related activities as they would be a waste of public funds.
Rivers have always been the focal point of cities all over the world. They not only reflect how well responsible authorities can manage pollution, but also how well they can co-opt rivers into their beautification plans.
Famous cities all over the world, which were founded along rivers, have been beautifying their river embankments. Look at London, Paris, Amsterdam and even Singapore where their riverfronts have become well-known landmarks.
The cities are beautiful because of the rivers, where the bridges and riverbanks are spruced up to blend with the development. However, Ipoh is just like many others in the country which have yet to make use of their rivers for beautification purposes.
Sungai Kinta continues to be polluted as those living upstream are throwing wastes into the river daily. Efforts by the Drainage and Irrigation Department to save the river from pollution through such campaigns as “Love Our River” have not been successful.
If the state government is serious about developing the riverfront, it should be concentrating on the embankments. Forget about the water-related activities, as they will be a strain on funds.
Morubina Group of Companies had initially looked at it in the right perspective. It had developed a stretch of the embankment as food outlets, constructed small-scale replicas of famous bridges across the river and established a tin mining gallery to reflect the past glory of the “City That Tin Built”.
The riverfront can become the rendezvous for visitors to refresh themselves and visit the tin mining gallery before setting out to the various mining and cultural heritage sites in the state. While the city folks can walk or have a “teh tarik” and some food at one of the outlets. However, to make the project a reality, there is a need to put a more determined effort to developing the riverbanks.
When I read about Kuching South City being awarded a United Nations-backed “Tourist City Award” recently, I turned green with envy. Why can’t our city, which was once known as the cleanest in the country, attain such international or national recognition?
Kuching was the joint winner in the category – alongside Xining, in Qinghai, China – at the second World Cities Scientific Development Forum held in Chengdu, China. It is also the only Malaysian city accredited the United Nations’ Healthy City status.
The global competition was organised by the United Nations, World Cities Scientific Development Alliance and the Sister Cities International. More than 200 city officials from 30 countries took part.
It has always been my fervent desire to see Ipoh continue to be maintained and developed as a clean and beautiful city. Ipoh is my “adopted” hometown since I moved here with my family in 1973.
As a journalist, I have seen it grow from a municipal council under the Seenivasagam brothers into a city council. It was then a people-oriented municipal council with two councillors on duty daily to deal with the problems of ratepayers. It also provided efficient health and recreational facilities.
However, after it was upgraded to city status 23 years ago, it began to decline and lost even its image as the cleanest city in the country. Recreational parks (there were then the Taman D.R. Seenivasagam, People’s Park and Children’s Park in the city centre) had also lost their attractions, while thousands of illegal rubbish dumps and clogged drains are all over the city.
This is the reason, not because of being anti-establishment as I have been accused by some, that I have been highlighting the failures of the city council in the last two decades.
Perhaps we should consider dividing Ipoh into north and south, as in the case of Kuching, so that the council could provide efficient service and better amenities to the residents and restore its image and as well as giving Kuching South City a “run for the money”.
Ipoh has grown too big since it was declared a city in May, 1988. It covers 642.57 sq. km. north of the Kinta District, extending from the edge of Bukit Kinta Forest Reserve in the East to the Kledang Saiong Forest Reserve in the West, and from Khantan in the North to Changkat in the South with a population of well above 711,000.
As a result, the Ipoh City Council has to provide services and amenities as well to various towns, such as Tanjung Rambutan, Chemor, Meru, Lahat, Menglembu, Bercham, Gunung Rapat, Manjoi, Pengkalan and a number of villages and new growth areas.
No wonder the Mayor, Dato’ Roshidi Hashim, had conceded that the city’s jurisdiction has grown in size to such an extent that the city could not be expected to be as clean as during the era of the Seenivasagam brothers.
Recently, he also admitted that the drains in the city were poorly maintained as there were insufficient workers. He proposed to out-source the service.
However, since Ipoh attained city status, its manpower has also increased from just a few hundred to about 2,700 employees with much of its maintenance works being carried out by contractors. And yet the city council can still not cope with the workload. It appears the city council has been extended “a bridge too far” to have the capacity to provide efficient services and better amenities to its ratepayers.
Its area is now bigger than Kuala Lumpur, which covers 243 sq. km and has a population of 1.4 million. And even bigger than Kuching South City, Kuching North City and Kuching District put together, which have a combined area of 431.01 sq. km. and a population of 980,000.
With “Visit Perak Year” just around the corner, the city council needs to deal with all its problems fast. It has to carry out beautification projects, clean up the illegal rubbish dumps and clogged and stinking drains.
Otherwise, the city may even lose its top selling point, the delicious hawker food, as tourists will shy away from eating at many of the restaurants and food-courts, which may be considered by them as, dirty.
It is important that the influx of tourists expected during the “Visit Perak Year” have a good impression and a pleasant memory of the city after their visits if we are to consider our tourism efforts to be a success.
I am baffled by the RM5 million allocation given under the 10th Malaysia Plan to further promote Kellie’s Castle near Batu Gajah. What is Kellie’s Castle? In my view, it is just an unfinished project of a Scottish planter William Kellie Smith’s dream to live like a “White Maharajah”. And what has the building, which was to replicate the British palaces in India to do with our culture and heritage? It does not even have any national historical significance to justify a large allocation. If ever such a failed private project is to be preserved and promoted, it should be funded by Kellie’s own relatives or a private foundation, not by our taxpayers. After all, what could we hope to achieve by promoting it? It would merely keep the memory of a foreigner and his folly alive for generations.
Is Perak so short of tourist attractions that it needs to allocate funds periodically to certain projects? If it is for tourism development, the substantial amount of funds spent on Kellie’s Castle in the past would have been sufficient if it had been properly maintained. This recent allocation for further renovation works, including adding on decorative designs to the interior and furniture resembling those in British castles, only shows that the state and federal governments have got their priorities wrong. An abandoned building should be retained in its original state. Otherwise why not complete the building to its intended grandeur.
In comparison to Kellie’s Castle, the Rumah Besar Rajah Bilah located in the century-old pioneer mining town of Papan deserves more attention. It has all the cultural and historical significance, yet no funds are available to spruce it up. There are also other valuable sites in the state that need attention and with the availability of funds, they too can become tourist attractions.
I believe the biggest challenge confronting all Malaysians, particularly Perakeans, is the need to preserve the last of the tin dredge in the country located between Batu Gajah and Tanjung Tualang, which I have been advocating for the last two decades. The success towards preserving this heritage icon would be a big step forward.
Therefore, a nationwide campaign needs to be launched to get everyone involved in it. Perhaps, Pos Malaysia too could come up with a postage stamp depicting the dredge to create awareness throughout the nation for its preservation.
The dredge, known as “TT5”, was designed and built in England in 1938. It was one of about 30 tin dredges that operated like giant prehistoric creatures grazing on the plain of the Kinta Valley, which was then the largest alluvial tin deposit region in the world.
Syabas! Malaysian Chamber of Mines for taking the initiative to launch the “Save The Dredge” campaign which raised RM1.4 million to enable the dredge to be open to the public next year. Of course, the amount raised through the campaign is insufficient to meet the full cost of refurbishment, installation of safety measures and infrastructure which is estimated to cost about RM5 million.
Preserving the tin dredge at the location alone is not enough to draw crowds. There must be other attractions beside the dredge to make it worthwhile for visitors. Replicas of various methods of tin mining could be built around it, making the location a comprehensive tin mining museum with the dredge as the central attraction. At night the giant mechanical structure could be gaily decorated with coloured lights and spotlights to transform it into a scenic “floating” structure. Then visiting the complex can be both exciting and memorable, apart from being educational. It will also boost our promotion of a “Tin Heritage Trail” in memory of the glorious tin mining industry which had been the second largest economy of the country.
In so doing, we are not only preserving a heritage, but also turning it into a major tourist attraction in the state. Various tourists’ related activities, such as restaurants and souvenir shops, could also be set up to provide business opportunities to the locals. A reasonable fee can then be imposed on those just visiting or a surcharge on those patronising the restaurants and the proceeds to go towards the upkeep of the complex.
Well, I can imagine and picture its success. Can those entrusted with the responsibilities of preserving heritage and promoting tourism picture it, too? However, it saddens me to see that the state and federal governments have not shown much interest in preserving the dredge despite its great potential.
Recently, there has been talk about preserving heritage sites in the Kinta Valley, particularly around Ipoh. Dialogues and discussions were held, but so far nothing concrete has been achieved. Even the idea of setting up a state agency or governing body on heritage is in doubt. This further subscribes to my view, that the authorities are not serious towards preserving heritage.
Indications of a property development boom in the Kinta District are everywhere. Large advertising billboards and banners displaying new property development projects are seen strategically located, particularly around Ipoh. Meanwhile, at the project sites, construction works are in progress as developers rush to meet their deadlines. Among the projects are a number of new townships, such as Bandar Baru Sri Klebang, Bandar Sri Botani, Sunway City and Bandar Meru Raya. Other major projects like The Haven, The Thompson Flora Tropika Residences, and Meru Desa Park vie for attention. Commercial projects too like MH Tower and Riverside….are all gearing up for completion.
Property Buyers on the Increase
Contrary to the signs, there is no boom yet ‘but there are definite and encouraging signs that the property market is stirring. It started about a year ago,” commented Mr. Peter Chan, CEO of Superboom Projects Sdn. Bhd.
On whether the encouraging situation in property development can go on for a decade, he said, “it would depend on how the nation and Perak is doing. From present indications, two to three years is most likely because the trend has started and sentiment has reversed from negative to positive.”
No Property Bubble Noticed
His view has been further supported by the Perak Real Estates and Housing Developers Association (REDHA). Its chairman Dato’ Francis Lee stated there is no property boom or bubble existing in the Kinta District.
“In most circumstances a property bubble is evidenced by the existence of an increasing percentage of buyers who purchase properties with speculative intent only with the hope of yielding some short term financial gains.
“This abnormal increase in demand has the effect of escalating the price of properties, often pushing prices of properties beyond the affordability gap of genuine purchasers,” he said.
“In tandem with this increasing pricing, developers respond by increasing delivery well above the true effective demand which will ultimately cause the bubble to burst. However this is not the case in the Kinta district or anywhere in Perak.”
In the case of residential properties in the Kinta district, Lee said almost all the purchasers are effective home buyers or long term asset class investment buyers. It should be noted that all housing developers in Perak are only making normal profits out of the housing industry and any exception is due to a capital appreciation of the developmental property.
Lee added that the price increase of some 15% over last year is due to increasing costs of delivery, including land procurement, building cost and cost of bureaucratic compliance.
Housing Deliveries Fall Short
“In fact housing deliveries in Perak for the last few years have fallen short of the Ninth Malaysia Plan 2006-2010 target of 58,200 units for the planned period. This is equivalent to 11,640 units per annum for the corresponding period,” he explained.
This is not in keeping with the population growth of Kinta district which has increased from 549,198 in 1991 to 735,601 in 2010 and Perak which has increased from 1,877,471 to 2,258,428 in 2010.
With this increasing urbanisation of the Kinta district within Perak and the fact that the urbanisation tempo will gain further momentum in the longer term, there will be a corresponding increase in demand for residential housing.
According to the report, the number of residential units in existing stock in Kinta is 183,118. Single storey terrace houses and 2 and 3 storey terrace houses account for
102,631. Detached houses total 24,198, single-storey semi detached 4,990, low-cost h
ouses 36,379 and low-cost flats 5,560. The balance is made up of town houses, clusters, flats, service apartments and condominiums.
Single storey terrace and double storey terrace houses represent a 56.0% of total residential housing stock in the Kinta district as of last year. Consistent with the Perak State Government policy for a mandatory delivery of a percentage of total housing deliveries by way of low cost housing, there is a 23% housing stock of low cost houses/flats in the Kinta district.
The total numbers for future delivery of residential houses in Kinta as of last year was 13,974 “incoming supply” (physical construction works in progress), 1,796 “starts” (foundation and footing works in progress), and 18,968 “planned supply” (units with building plans approved).
All types of houses are in demand as they cater to different markets. However, quality housing is preferred as more people demand better quality.
Buyers are both locals and from outside of Perak with an increase in foreigners as well. Their purposes are for own stay, vacation stay, retirement stay and/or investment.
Criteria for Buyers
As secured location is the most important in the minds of prospective buyers, developers are wooing them with gated and guarded enclaves and with CCTV cameras on every street. Some developers are even providing individual alarm systems and auto-gates to every unit. Other criteria such as pricing, location (how close to public amenities such as schools), value for money (quality finishings compared to other similarly valued units), architectural designs (with minimal “white zones” to enable all parts of building to be used), and the reputation of the developers all play a role in developers’ strategy to woo buyers.
“Some prospective buyers are very fussy. They would look at the Feng Shui aspects,” remarked a leading developer. “They are interested whether the location and the architectural design of the building are favourable according to Feng Shui.
He said most developers are aware of such demands from the buyers and are doing everything possible to win them over.
“A right property investment is the best hedge against inflation,” said another developer. The property market this year and next year could still see 10%-15% growth, driven by scarcity of land and higher input costs.
Ipoh is a choice location now, especially for those planning their retirement. It is just about two hours drive to Penang and Kuala Lumpur. It is linked to the Federal Capital by an efficient electric train service and by air to Singapore.
The city is also becoming a hub for academic and medical studies with universities and colleges located close by.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the property market in the city is experiencing an annual appreciation of 10% to 15%, creating a good climate for investment in properties.
About a decade ago, one rarely heard of a residential property in the city having a seven-figure price tag, but now it is rather common. High end property, such as the Thompson Flora Tropika Residences where its freehold bungalows in phase one have risen from RM2.4mil to minimum RM2.68mil and above within the past year, and further price appreciation seems imminent.
“It is a good time to invest in property, especially when prices are increasing nowadays,” commented a housing developer.
According to him, this year has been moderately better for property development in the Kinta district than before, despite the move by Bank Negara last November to introduce a maximum loan-to-value (LTV) ration of 70% for the third and subsequent house financing facilities to curb speculation on property prices.
The developers are convinced that there will only be a temporary setback for the property and banking industry. The loan-to-value will hamper residential mortgage loans growth this year or even reduce residential property prices significantly.
Residential home loans growth might see a slight slowdown as the measure by the regulator would curb speculative investment activities but it will not be drastic, as up to 90% of banks’ mortgage loans are held by homeowners, who are not speculative investors but have purchased residential properties to live in.
There may be further demands for local properties especially the mid-level to high end properties which are normally the playgrounds for investors and speculators, as property prices in Singapore, Johor Baru, Kuala Lumpur and Penang have gone up.
The property demand should remain resilient, supported by positive macro factors i.e.: young population, robust economy, inflation hedging, urbanisation, shrinking household size, and accommodative bank lending.
Mid-level to high end property is in demand. The strong underlying demand from first-second home owners and up-graders continue to support property sales, even at new benchmark prices. The buyers are a mixture of both locals and foreigners.
Once again it took a near disastrous incident for people to take note and begin to seriously discuss the critical issues involved. Take the case of the collapse of two shop lots along Panglima Lane a fortnight ago. This incident had the authorities immediately give a stern warning to the owners – repair or demolish their buildings.
This is exactly what the city council should have done earlier to ensure all old buildings in the city are safe. It should have directed the owners of such buildings to carry out repairs before the condition worsened. Why wait till the buildings collapse? Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident.
This was what I had feared when I drew attention to a fire-damaged building, which had been left to deteriorate for a further two years, at the junction of Jalan Sultan Idris Shah and Jalan Raja Musa Aziz as being an eyesore and a danger to motorists and passers-by.
Well, I am not going to indulge in “I told you so”. I hope the state government and the city council will now seriously look into the problem of existing dilapidated buildings, not only in Panglima Lane, but also around the old city centre. That the owners of such proprieties cannot be traced is no excuse.
Following the Panglima incident, the state government had without hesitance, issued a 14-day notice under the Street, Drainage and Building Act to the owners of the buildings. According to State Local Government Committee chairman Dato’ Dr. Mah Hang Soon, the State Works Department has classified seven of the 24 units in the lane as “deemed dangerous”. “The owners must take steps to repair or demolish the units within the 14-day period,” he added.
The State Tourism Committee chairman Dato’ Hamidah Osman said that the buildings were not gazetted under heritage due to their dilapidated condition. “When it comes to safety there will be no compromise, although Ipoh is aiming to be listed as a heritage city under UNESCO,” she said.
Well said, Hamidah! Let’s hope there will be a solution to the problem without losing an important heritage site. Demolishing the buildings is the easiest way to deal with the problem, but it will be at the cost of losing more of the city’s heritage.
Talk about preserving Panglima or Concubine Lane, which was notorious for opium and gambling activities and where the Chinese tycoons kept their mistresses in the early days of mining in the Kinta Valley, has been going on for a long time.
As a local businessman remarked, at least three state executive councillors in-charge of tourism had in the last decade visited Panglima Lane and had shown their keenness to help preserve it. “It had been all talk, talk, talk, but no action,” he commented.
The state government, not wanting to set a precedent, is not keen on assisting the owners with funds to help them repair and preserve their buildings as they are private properties. But the owners argued that preserving the heritage buildings would bring in tourists.
If the authorities are serious about preserving heritage in the city, it needs to work something out to induce the owners to repair the buildings as some of them cannot afford to come up with the funds. The authorities could consider some form of “incentives”, including the waiver of assessment fees and quit rent for a limited period of time, which would not commit any taxpayers’ money.
The “repair or demolish” ultimatum given to the owners of the affected buildings in Panglima Lane appears to have been made in haste. It may be taken by the owners as a green-light from the state government to demolish their heritage buildings. With lack of funding for the repairs, the only option for owners is to demolish their buildings and it will be a pity that we will lose another heritage site.
The only visible development so far is an allocation from the state government to pave the lane. The works have been delayed following the collapse of the buildings.
However, even the proposed renovation of the lane is against the wishes of the residents, who expressed the fear that it would modernise the lane and steal its heritage value forever.
It is very obvious that preserving the buildings in the old city centre is one of the most sensitive issues in Ipoh today. Each time Ipoh Echo highlights it, there are vociferous comments from local residents as well as from Malaysians living abroad. The general consensus among them is to preserve the old buildings. They share the view that simply demanding for the old buildings in the city to be preserved as heritage will not be enough; a plan must be put in place to induce their owners to preserve the buildings.
Expecting building owners to spend large sums of money to repair without any hope of recouping their expenditures will not work. Not only does the old city centre need sprucing up, but it should be rejuvenated to promote economic activities by providing various incentives to the building owners.
Lack of such incentives have caused some owners to hang on to their dilapidated buildings in the hope that there would be an opportune time to repair them. This has resulted in the buildings becoming “eyesores” and some collapsing like those in Panglima Lane – along the city’s heritage trail, last week.
In view of the enthusiasm on preservation shown by the readers, I am reproducing some excerpts from their comments and suggestions, which were posted on our website.
According to a regular reader Steven Lee, Ipoh City Council needs to have a “focus plan” on how to develop the city and not to continue growing haphazardly. He said new developments in Ipoh don’t create new businesses but cannibalize from other parts of the city. “This creates a scenario where new developments are busy but old parts of Ipoh are slowly dying off. Yet MBI (city council) has not come up with plans to rejuvenate these parts of the city,” said Lee.
Lee added that asking building owners to spend a lot of money to repair/renovate their buildings with the uncertainty of recouping their costs will not work. The city council must provide more concrete plans on what is needed to be done in the area, as well as providing incentives such as grants, and waiver of assessment fees and quit rent.
Another reader Papan Jones thanked Ipoh Echo for igniting the fuse to such a provocative subject. “The comments thus far support the concerns for regaining the glories of Ipoh,” he said. According to him, there is no lack of love for the city, only the lack of political will and cohesive action to make Ipoh the unique city that tin built, a living testimony of the country’s wealth and modern development.
“Congratulations Ipoh Echo,” said Mohd. Hassan. “Your story appears to be a ‘wake-up’ call for the Ipoh City Council to take a serious look at the old city centre. It has drawn the personal attention of Datuk Bandar. However, instead of looking at it as feedback, Dato’ Roshidi claimed it as giving a negative perception of Ipoh City Council. Let us hope the special committee formed can come up with a master plan to deal with the ‘lingering problems’ in the old city centre.”
A former resident Ken Chan said: “I strongly feel that our beloved hometown still has its innate charm intact even though the general condition of the city has degenerated substantially over the years. Instead of indulging in finger-pointing and be conveniently carried away by the blame game, the political bigwigs in the city should take the initiative to establish a special commission to draw a master plan for Ipoh’s future growth and development into the next century.”
“It takes someone with leadership, foresight and a deep sense of commitment to start the ball rolling and the plan should be fine-tuned when there is a need to do so,” added Ken.
“Heritage is important. Tourists are important as they put money in the coffers. When all the old buildings are demolished and brand new monsters replace them, no one is going to visit Ipoh when it looks just like any other town. Buildings need to be maintained and not left to rot,” according to Ruth Iversen Rollitt, daughter of a well-known local architect.
Quoting Superyusrie, “Heritage preservation issues should be dealt with on a case by case basis. Assuming that each and every building in the city has heritage value and needs to be saved by the authorities and not by the owners themselves is terribly flawed and such an irresponsible attitude! If you value your old properties so much, why not stay back and take care of them yourselves instead of burdening others unnecessarily with the responsibilities, heritage or not!”
The above responses and many others from the readers are very heartening to me as it uplifted my enthusiasm to call for more efforts to induce economic development in the old city centre.
The old city centre must be given a new lease on life if we hope to successfully preserve the old heritage buildings. Can the Ipoh City Council do something about it?
The success of the “Visit Perak Year 2012”, which has been slotted for next year in the country’s tourism calendar, can only be achieved with the full support of all local authorities in the state.
Each and every one of the local authorities must take stock of the tourist attractions available in their respective area and ensure that they are not only properly spruced up but also well maintained.
All entry points into the various districts, such as airports, railway stations and bus terminals, need to be kept clean and efficient, to make a good impression on visitors.
It is therefore seen as appropriate for the chairman of state tourism committee, Dato’ Hamidah Othman, to have recently hit out at the local authorities in Perak for not contributing to the improvement of the tourism industry.
“Only two local authorities, Taiping and Manjong, have made the effort to develop their tourist industry,” she declared. According to her even Kampar and Grik which have strong tourism potential, are not doing enough to tap the tourist value.
Hamidah gave the example of Grik which had excellent tourist products, Belum Rainforest and Temenggor Lake, but poor logistics made it difficult for tourists to access the products. Hamidah also commented that Ipoh City Council too could do more to improve its tourism sector.
However, we cannot expect much from the local authorities as they have their own priorities – which are to provide efficient service and good infrastructure to their residents.
Local authorities in Perak are not rich and rely largely on federal grants. They barely have sufficient funds to carry out minor development projects to the expectation of the residents in their respective districts.
The best they can do towards promoting tourism is to keep the areas under their jurisdiction beautiful and clean. But, sad to say, most of them cannot even provide this, let alone devote their attention to tourism development.
On the other hand, the state tourism committee was set up with the specific purpose of developing tourism in the state. With a state executive councillor in charge of tourism, the tourism committee certainly has the backing of the state government.
Therefore, it is essential for the state to have a dynamic and effective tourism committee to identify tourism potentials for development in the various districts. Only the tourism committee can co-ordinate the local authorities and private sector to develop and promote tourist attractions in the state.
Having just an aggressive publicity drive will not be sufficient. The state needs to carry out some ‘spring cleaning’ as well, before presenting itself for the Visit Perak Year 2012, themed “Green Tourism, Yours To Discover – Nature and Heritage”. The ground work in making the various tourist sites available and ready should be completed before the year end.
We need to upgrade all tourism facilities and attractions in the state. Every aspect of tourism, including the human factor, must be geared towards making the visitors’ stay in the state a pleasant and memorable one.
As the state is endowed with many seaside and island resorts, lakes, limestone hills and cave temples, archaeological sites, and nature parks among them, various attractive tour packages, encouraging tourists to spend more time in the state, must be made available and promoted. The tour packages can include stays in the seaside resorts in Lumut and Pangkor Island, in the Belum rainforest resorts, and adventure with nature involving caving, white-water rafting, river cruises to traditional fishing villages and abseiling at a waterfall.
Well, with Tourism Perak Management Bhd. already being revamped and tasked to spearhead the tourism promotion drive with an experienced general manager, Mohamed Hisam bin Mohamad Yusof, I am confident that the long neglected tourism industry in Perak will now be able to move ahead.
All players in the tourism industry in the state, including those who had in the past been only interested in outbound tours, could work closely to promote Perak within the country and abroad.
The Visit Perak Year is not just about a “one-off” campaign; it should be treated as the start of a long drawn major effort to lure tourists to the state. Its success can then be measured by the number of tourists coming into the state in subsequent years, after next year’s Visit Perak Year.
The proposal by the Perak Government to turn the “Old Town” sector of Ipoh into a heritage attraction to draw domestic and foreign tourists is perhaps the right “tonic” to rejuvenate the ailing business sector.
It is likely to inspire owners of old buildings in the sector to restore their premises to their original state and carry on with their trading. Thus, the heritage buildings will be preserved.
Since the collapse of the tin mining industry in the mid 80s, this part of the city centre has been severely affected as business activities tapered down, causing many premises to close.
Being the sector on which the city was founded, it has the largest concentration of impressive heritage buildings of Colonial, Islamic and Chinese architecture built at the turn of the last century. It is also a commercial hub of the city where most of the leading banks and old trading companies are located.
Among other heritage buildings are the Railway Station, Town Hall, High Court, mansions of old local chieftains and businessmen as well as the well-known Lorong Panglima or Concubine Lane – homes of mistresses of some of the rich miners at the height of Perak’s tin-producing days.
Describing the Old Town sector as “unique and historical”, State chairman for tourism, Dato’ Hamidah Osman, said the state government would undertake a study with various agencies, including the Ipoh City Council.
“We want to revive Old Town which was the heart of Ipoh at one time. We will look into the installation of street lights and arches and upgrading of facilities, such as the Heritage Trail which has been in place,” she said.
The State government would also set up a tourist information centre at the railway station, which will be manned by multi-lingual experienced tour guides, as a value-added feature of the Old Town project.
The move is a clear indication that the state tourism committee has come up with a viable proposal to promote tourism in the city through history. It will also ultimately result in the beautification of the city.
The plan is to spruce up this sector, including revitalising the once beautiful garden in front of the railway station, which has become an important entry point of the city.
Such a project should get the full backing of the city council, business community and residents to ensure that it would be successfully implemented and sustained through proper maintenance.
This was why in May, last year, I posed the question – “Are We Ashamed of Ipoh’s Glorious Past?” My intention, then and now, is to promote our city for its history and heritage.
I suggested the four-word slogan “City That Tin Built” to be effectively used to promote the city as it sums up its history and heritage, reflecting the glorious past of an important centre of the tin mining industry, which had been so significant in the economic development of the country and as the centre of the once world’s largest alluvial tin deposit area.
The slogan, which is unique, could also be easily and aggressively marketed to capture the imagination of the tourists and lure them to Ipoh and the Kinta Valley. Why this slogan has not been endorsed is beyond my comprehension.
How do we expect a slogan “Bersih, Hijau Dan Membangun” (Green, Clean and Developing) to attract tourists to the city? Perhaps we could learn from the success of Malacca, which has developed tourism around its slogan “Historical City”. Among its projects is “Jonker Street” that has transformed the old Chinatown into a successful heritage tourist spot with art galleries, souvenir shops, and eateries of various popular local cuisines and cakes.
I feel Ipoh too can successfully promote its history and its well-known delicious hawker food and iconic products. It can be one big living monument to the tin-mining industry, which would be educational as well as a tourist attraction. The theme of the city’s tourism projects should be a showcase of the tin-mining industry, the life of the pioneering tin-mining community, various mining methods and its heritage.
These should be supported by the establishment of a tin-mining museum, and preservation of its heritage such as the last dredge, mining towns such as Papan, and a gallery of leading pioneers of the tin-mining industry in the Kinta Valley – a history of which we should be proud. Only then can we expect the “Old Town” sector to recover from its present situation, where many of the business establishments are moving to new growth areas due to lack of activities and business opportunities.