Recently, when I wrote about condemned and dilapidated buildings in the city centre being left to rot as “eyesores”, I drew some flak from readers. It shows there are a lot of people here who are enthusiastic about preserving heritage buildings and thought I was advocating that such buildings be demolished.
I had highlighted those “eyesores” with an intention to draw the attention of the city council to get the owners to do something as the buildings, which have been left abandoned and condemned for years, are posing a danger to motorists and pedestrians. If they could be restored well and good, but if not what do we do? Do we allow the buildings to rot and collapse on their own?
Many readers appear to be very emotional where heritage buildings are concerned and prefer that such buildings be left alone with the hope that they would be eventually restored. They do not seem to be concerned that those ruins along main streets are dangerous to motorists and passers-by.
An example was the building at the junction of Jalan Sultan Idris Shah and Jalan Raja Musa Aziz, which was left in a dilapidated condition after a fire damaged it some years ago. The building has since been demolished after I highlighted it a couple of times.
In a city such as Ipoh, that was built over a century ago, many of its buildings are bound to be old. Is just being old of heritage value?
Whenever some of these old buildings are torn down, there is much hue and cry that heritage is not being preserved; for example, the demolishing of a block of double-storey residences along Jalan Chung On and more recently, five pre-war shophouses at the corner of Jalan Sultan Abdul Jalil and Jalan Lau Ek Ching for redevelopment. There also have been other old buildings in the city, which have faced the same fate.
We need to look from the point of view of the owners of such properties. What can they gain from preserving their buildings as heritage? Certainly they would prefer to redevelop their prime land for a greater economic return.
Of course, heritage needs to be preserved. In the case of our city, who is responsible for preserving heritage and to what extent are we willing to take it? There are not many owners of old buildings who can afford to restore their condemned and dilapidated buildings to their original forms.
Can they sustain, like the owner of the well-known FMS Bar & Restaurant, slowly restoring the building? Unless they have deep pockets, they will want to see their investments bear dividends quickly.
Therefore, if we are really serious about preserving heritage buildings in our city, we need to take stock of all the old buildings and decide which of them are of heritage value and gazette them as heritage sites, and what kind of enforcement will be in place before property owners are allowed to demolish their buildings. Also what financial incentives are there for the owners to restore the buildings to their original splendour?
The city council has taken the right step, though long overdue, by carrying out an extensive programme to identify old and heritage buildings around Ipoh and will ask the Heritage Department to gazette those heritage buildings. It has identified 120 buildings for the purpose.
Buildings which are of significant architecture and have stories to tell should be taken into consideration, not just because they are old. It is better to have a few heritage sites than not at all.
Otherwise, we can go on protesting and yet we will continue to see buildings which we consider as heritage being torn down periodically.
When even preserving a unique mining heritage – the only tin dredge, which I have been advocating for over two decades, has yet to be achieved, what chance do we have to preserve all the old buildings in the city?
And finally is the Heritage Department willing to put their money where their mouth is?