The Unesco letter was to save George Town heritage status – Penang Forum

 |Aug 15, 2016
Penang Forum is against the construction of LRT and monorail in George Town as the projects can potentially the city heritage status at risk.
Penang Forum is against the construction of LRT and monorail in George Town as the projects can potentially put the city heritage status at risk.

Penang Forum’s letter to Unseco Paris Desk raising concerns on the proposed multi-billion Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) was to save, not to delist, George Town’s world heritage status.

Penang Forum warned that the proposed light rail transit and monorail projects under PTMP bordering the George Town heritage zone, not its letter to Unesco, can potentially cause the city and Malacca to lose their joint heritage status.

Both George Town and Malacca got the joint world heritage status in mid-2008.

“The objective of this action (letter), far from risking George Town’s heritage status being taken away, was in fact to avoid the possibility of such an action,” said Penang Forum, a coalition of mostly pro-DAP non-government organisations (NGOs).

Penang Forum claimed that it had no choice but to bring up the issue to attention of Unesco after concerns raised by the NGOs on the danger posed by PTMP to George Town’s heritage status had fallen to deaf ears of relevant authorities.

It said the NGOs for many months had highlighted potential risks posed by PTMP to George Town World Heritage Inc (GTWHI), the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) and the Penang government.

“But no action has been taken to ensure current planning poses no risks to our heritage site.

“NGO concerns have been dismissed and the potential impact to our historical city has been ignored,” said Penang Forum.

“The purpose of Penang Forum’s letter to Unesco is to seek its help to take proactive steps to protect – not to delist – the site before it is too late.”

In the letter, Penang Forum had requested Unesco to send an advisory mission to conduct an impact assessment of the proposed transport project plan.

The Penang Forum statement issued by its steering committee highlighted that the Operational Guidelines (Clause 172) of the World Heritage Convention clearly stated that:

“The World Heritage Committee invites the State Parties to the Convention to inform the Committee, through the Secretariat, of their intention to undertake or to authorise in an area protected under the Convention major restorations or new constructions which may affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property.”

Penang Forum has requested Unesco to conduct an impact assessment study on PTMP to George Town's heritage status.
Penang Forum has requested Unesco to conduct an impact assessment study on PTMP to George Town’s heritage status.

Last week Ang Ming Chee of GTWHI said that Penang was at risk of losing its Unesco World Heritage Site status because of a letter submitted by Penang Forum to Unesco over PTMP.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, an avid advocate of PTMP, has described the Penang Forum’s letter as a “stab in the back” of the state government.

He said expressed his regret and disappointment against Penang forum for its action that bypassed the state and national authorities.

He slammed Penang Forum’s move as another slander to his administration.

He claimed that his administration would do its best to protect the heritage status, while defending the DAP-dominated state government’s move to implement the PTMP components such as LRT outside the heritage area.

“Unlike Malacca where they plan the monorail system inside their heritage zone, but nobody said anything”, he lamented.

Penang Forum rebuked GTWHI, the state agency entrusted to protect and preserve the World Heritage Site, for failing to inform Unesco on the potential impact of the massive transport hub to be built at the old Prangin wholesale market, commonly known as Sia Boey among Penang Chinese.

The transportation hub included construction of light rail transit (LRT) and monorails along the borders of the buffer zone of the George Town World Heritage site that Penang Forum said could compromise or threaten its outstanding universal value.

Penang Forum pointed out that the Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) organised a public forum on April 24, 2016 on PTMP-heritage issue that was widely reported in the press.

“Dr Ang was present at that meeting but there was no follow up on this matter from her.

“Since GTWHI had not contacted the Unesco, Penang Forum felt duty-bound to do so,” said Penang Forum.

Thus, Penang Forum stressed that it was prudent to take pro-active and preventive steps by requesting Unesco to:

  • Send an advisory mission to Penang to conduct an inspection of the George Town inscribed property boundary
  • To help organise an independent impact assessment of the proposed PTMP and how it might affect Penang’s outstanding universal value.

The NGOs’ group said nothing would be lost if it was found that the proposed transport master plan would have no negative impact after the above actions were carried out.

But if the Unesco mission found that the proposed LRT and monorail projects would have a negative impact, Penang Forum said it actually had done a service by alerting the Penang government on the risk of losing George Town’s heritage status and to explore better transport alternatives.

“The NGOs have worked tirelessly for almost 30 years, and will continue to work with all parties, national and international, to save the heritage of George Town,” said the group.

Athi Shankar has been a journalist for past 30 years. He believes that democratic rights come with responsibility.