New property laws can revitalise historic George Town: state agency head

New property laws can revitalise historic George Town: state agency head

Regulating speculation, taxing unused premises can curb Unesco World Heritage Site’s decay, says Ang Ming Chee

GEORGE TOWN – The head of the state agency tasked with overseeing the management of the Unesco World Heritage Site of George Town has called for new property policies to regulate speculation and tax rich shophouse owners in order to revitalise the historic inner city.

George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) general manager Ang Ming Chee said that while proposals for reimposing the repealed Control of Rent Act 1966 in the enclave have merits, it is better to look at better regulating the property sector as a whole.

She therefore sees a balancing act in helping poor tenants to live in the enclave so that they can help sustain its outstanding universal values (OUVs) – including crafts, trades, traditions, culture and heritage – while also taxing the rich who neglect their properties.

Since the act was abolished, there has been an uptick of migration of tenants towards the suburban localities of Penang, as well as to Prai, Kulim, Sg Petani, Taiping and beyond the northern region, she said.

Although, to be fair, the enclave is now a key tourism enterprise with hotels and restaurants dotting the lineage, what is missing are the tenants – particularly the living inheritance of OUV skills, which can be imparted to younger generations.

In an interview over WhatsApp, Ang wrote that the Control of Rent Act 1966 did help many people in George Town to have a roof over their heads and even incentivised some occupants to set up small businesses within their living spaces.

“While most pre-war houses were also safe from being demolished, the premise owners saw no profit in investing in their properties due to the virtually fixed rental imposed under the act,” she said.

The controls also led to serious issues, such as illegal sublettings and the lack of financial income for premise owners to maintain their buildings due to low rentals.

It also led to the deterioration of the hygiene environment, health hazards, social issues and degradation of quality of life due to overcrowding, as some premises were hosting up to ten households per shophouse, she said.

The act was introduced in 1966 when resources were scarce, but factors have changed by 2022, she said.

The repeal of the act took effect in 2000.

According to the Property Market Report for the first quarter of 2022 by the National Property Information Centre, Malaysia has 35,592 units or RM22.45 billion worth of residential units surplus, which can lead to a property overhang situation, she noted.

“Therefore, I suggest policies that regulate speculation, prevent unreasonable increments of rent or housing prices (and) impose heavy taxes on vacant or unused properties as options to ensure that all premises are being placed for good use,” she said.

Ang opines that proper housing is a must in the heritage enclave, but such rights should be made available within and beyond the site.

There are an estimated 1,715 heritage buildings in the core zone of the heritage city and 1,928 heritage buildings in the buffer zone.

Issue of dilapidated buildings

Ang also shared that GTWHI is serious about rehabilitating derelict buildings.

Thus, during the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, it introduced the Heritage Repair programme to support heritage premise owners and tenants in maintaining their buildings.

“We have to race against time and stereotypes in this mission, as we note that not all heritage premises are in their greatest glory.”

GTWHI conducted a vacancy survey in 2017 and identified that 12% of its surveyed sites (or 539 premises) were either in the process of renting out, to be sold, undergoing restoration, being used as temporary storage and other functions.

“From our observations back in 2017, most of these vacant premises were in moderate to good condition. Not all vacant premises were dilapidated, but all dilapidated houses were vacant.

“In fact, the issues of dilapidated premises were raised and discussed by the Technical Review Panel of the Penang Island City Council recently. We (the panel) took this issue seriously, and we have taken additional actions to mitigate.”

For example, the panel has served reminders to the heritage premises owner to take better care and responsibility of their heritage properties.

GTWHI is currently conducting an updated dilapidation building survey and it will table the data to the same panel for further action, she added.

source – The Vibes

Share This


Wordpress (0)
Disqus (0 )