GEORGE TOWN (Feb 24): Penang Island City Council (MBPP) today reiterated that it had no records to show that a building demolished on the Runnymede property in George Town was the home of Singapore founder Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles.
Mayor Datuk Patahiyah Ismail said what was on record was that the recently demolished structures were ancillary buildings of the Runnymede hotel, which was a category II heritage building.
She said the council had provided for the Runnymede hotel building to be retained and preserved when it approved the mixed development planning permit in 1999.
"They will be in trouble if they demolish the hotel," she told a press conference today.
On the Raffles connection, she said activists, who had been making statements on the issue, should prove their claim.
The council has been criticised for allowing the buildings on the site to be torn down on the second day of Chinese New Year earlier this month. Heritage conservationists claim that one of the buildings was linked to Raffles.
History states that Raffles built his home on the Runnymede site, but the house burned down in 1901. Another building was raised on the site about 20 years later, and it was this building that was recently demolished.
Previously, the state government had claimed that it could not stop the demolitions. Local government exco Chow Kon Yeow said the administration had no option but to allow the buildings to be knocked down because the council, then known as Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP), had granted the developer planning permission in 1999.
He said the planning permission issued to developer Messrs Warisan Pinang Sdn Bhd was for building an office block, commercial complex and hotel only, while Hotel Runnymede would be retained and refurbished.
MBPP secretary And Aing Thye said a notice was sent to the developer seeking an explanation for why the demolitions were carried out on a public holiday. He said the planning permission did not allow such works to be done on weekends and public holidays.
This morning at a separate press conference, a former MPPP councillor argued that the planning permission granted in 1999 should have lapsed long ago.
Gerakan’s Teh Leong Meng, who was councillor when Barisan Nasional was in government, questioned how the council could allow the developer to proceed with the demolition with a 17-year-old permit.
Citing the Penang Structure Plan 2020 that was gazetted in June 2007, he said development must proceed immediately after the planning permit was obtained.
"The plan states that applications for an extension must be filed annually, and only up to five times. After that, a new application must be made.
"So, any development must be completed within five years," he told reporters outside Runnymede this morning.
So far, the developer has completed one building, which houses the Employers' Provident Fund Penang office, next to the old Runnymede hotel on Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah.
Permission to start work on the EPF building was granted by the council in July 2000, according to Patahiyah.
She also said the council had in January taken note of the developer's plan to continue with the proposed development in accordance to the planning permit.
Work on the site was conducted on Feb 2, she said.
Teh and H'ng Khoon Leng, a Penang Gerakan committee member, said the Penang government had been "selective in applying the policies and information in the gazetted Structure Plan".
They said it was incompetent to be unaware of the plan and fail to be guided by it.
"Chow should not evade responsibility. It is time to be accountable for the failure to stop the demolition of the buildings.
"Chow should explain to the people with utmost transparency how this has happened. Until today the developer has yet to put up an information signboard at project site," Teh said.
H'ng said those who allowed the demolition and the "outdated" planning permission to be used should also face the music.
He also said it was not possible that the authorities did not know about property’s Raffles connection.
"I remember reading somewhere that the historical link was already known in the 1980s," he said. -- The Malaysian Insider