GEORGE TOWN: The Penang state government has set into motion various initiatives to ensure efforts towards the heritage conservation of George Town as a UNESCO World Heritage site are on track.
After facing the threat that George Town could be delisted from the World Heritage list, the state government has now taken a multi-pronged approach to tackle the issues related to heritage conservation.
Penang local government committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said that among the steps included the completion of the Penang draft local plan. This plan would govern details of land use throughout the island, including compliance within the heritage zone.
Chow said the draft local plan was ready and would be presented to the state planning committee on Jan 14.
"Once the plan is approved and adopted by the state planning committee,it will be displayed for the public to provide comments and feedback," Chow said after a meeting with the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) heads of departments and non-governmental organisation (NGO) representatives at the George Town world heritage office.
Also present was MPPP's secretary Patahiyah Ismail, who is also helming the duties of the council president.
The local plan is crucial for Penang as it provides detailed information on land use, including the description of every single lot, building and area in Penang and also provides for development restrictions and future development planning zones.
Chow said once the local plan was out, it would help resolve problems related to insufficient of enforcement and compliance by the public and also developers.
He said it would also help the state government address growing concerns of its heritage conservation efforts, especially as more properties owners within George Town's heritage zones carry out renovation works and building repairs that failed to comply with conservation guidelines.
The local plan will not only charter the management of George Town, but also the entire island.
Chow said the state government was also embarking on formulating two other plans for George Town to comply with UNESCO requirements: the special area plan, and conservation management plan.
"We are also carrying out our own internal reviews of the state heritage enactment, which will be tabled at the next state legislative assembly sitting," Chow added.
Patahiyah meanwhile said that the MPPP was also in the midst of setting up a special heritage enforcement unit that will make rounds from next week to monitor anyone flouting heritage building and renovation guidelines.
"We are planning capacity building, which will entail beefing up our legal and enforcement systems; right now the officers concerned are going through the necessary training on heritage conservation and enforcement.
"We are also looking at beefing up building and planning processes, so that the owners of the heritage buildings will feel comfortable enough to apply.
"The current processes are complex and putting them off, so now our plans are to make the building and planning processes more friendly so people will be encouraged to apply when carrying out repairs and renovations and comply with the guidelines, instead of embarking on the works themselves without approvals," Patahiyah added.
She said the council would adopt an awareness educational approach in the interim without clamming down hard on those who flout the law as even many architects in the state seemed unaware or unconcerned about procedures related to heritage conservation.
The MPPP is also preparing a home-owners' manual for properties in the heritage zone to provide them guidelines should they want to carry out restoration and renovation works on their premises.
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