“Repair Or Demolish” Order, A Setback For Heritage Efforts

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By Jerry Francis

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.

1 thought on ““Repair Or Demolish” Order, A Setback For Heritage Efforts

  1. It is lucky no one was hurt in the latest incident, which has resulted in a new resolve in dealing with long-neglected, dilapidated buildings which threaten public safety.

    There is good news, at least at Panglima Lane.

    An ad hoc committee of owners of Panglima Lane properties has consolidated its commitment to jointly protect the heritage value of this unique historical passage. They will jointly pay and work on its rehabilitation, and the state has committed itself to financial assistance. Some may argue that public money cannot be spent on private properties but the precedent has been set in at least two cases.

    Since the incident, meetings between the State and local authorities, the owners and NGOs including the Perak Heritage Society have resulted in the start of a new experience in the protection of Ipoh’s heritage.

    Shared heritage is a joint responsibility. We are stakeholders in our heritage. Owners must commit to maintaining their properties in good condition, protecting and conserving their properties, ‘our’ heritage, for the benefit of residents, tourists and sustainable businesses.

    Heritage affects us all. Most of all, we must treasure our social history – the cultural heritage of our City.

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