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In The News

Date: Saturday, September 1, 2001

Offer incentives to safeguard heritage sites
From Tan Sri (Dr) Ahmad Sarji Abdul Hamid, President, Badan Warisan Malaysia

WE were greatly disappointed to find that the demolition of the two oldest blocks (built in 1930 and 1941) that make up what was the Bukit Bintang Girls’ School has quietly begun.

This has taken place despite the strong momentum of public outcry during the last few months calling for the protection of BBGS from the destruction of sledgehammers and wrecking balls.

And there appears to be no opportunity to open a friendly negotiation or discussion with the owners or developers of the property, as the signboard, which has been put up at the site, remains blank.

Heritage buildings promote a sense of pride in our nation; they contribute towards our sense of place and are reminders of the lessons to be learnt from our past as we go forward in the 21st century.

Heritage structures are milestones to judge and to gauge our nation’s history; they are its memories.

There is a need to reconcile the challenges of tradition and conservation with physical development; to modernise yet to preserve our history and culture.

It is this heritage which in turn upholds our national identity and celebrates the achievements of our nation, and the people who make up this nation.

To witness the almost stealthily demolition of this fine building has pained our hearts even more.

Badan Warisan Malaysia believes that heritage has no price tag. We are deeply concerned that increasingly, many heritage areas, especially urban centres, are in serious danger of losing their historic character.

BBGS is only one of a number of historic buildings facing this danger. Over the past decade, buildings which have been torn down include the Eastern Hotel (demolished in 1990) where the only penalty under the current legislation is a ridiculously small fine.

More recently, during a holiday weekend in 1999, the rear portion of the Bok House from which the restaurant, Le Coq D’Or operated, was demolished. Only a few months ago, the light fittings on the front verandah and the windows and frames from this famous landmark building were dismantled and the once elegant building is now fast deteriorating into a sad ruin.

We live in constant apprehension that the remaining heritage buildings in Kuala Lumpur, from the grand mansions and large public buildings, to the much more modest, but equally significant, early shophouses, will be torn-down. Kuala Lumpur can ill-afford to lose its urban historic fabric in the name of development.

Badan Warisan Malaysia has been crusading for adequate legal protection and management mechanisms at the national, state and local authority levels to prohibit the destruction of heritage buildings and areas. Internationally accepted guidelines are essential for the fast diminishing number of heritage properties. In addition, effective implementation of the law in order to preserve the integrity of the historic buildings and sites is also required.

Buildings like BBGS will continue to hold great potential for its added value as tourist attractions. The Central Market is a prime example how other similar heritage properties can be successfully adapted to new uses. Restoration and adaptive re-use of existing structures would stimulate economic activity without the large capital investments that would be required in new developments. Incentives should be offered to encourage owners and developers to undertake conservation and revitalisation programmes for communities in heritage areas.

These could include the transfer of development rights, a revolving fund which allows for example easy repayment loan schemes, and tax deductions or rebates. Badan Warisan Malaysia therefore urges for better protection of heritage buildings with the passing of a comprehensive heritage protection law.

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