GEORGE TOWN: A lack of political will by the Penang government in enforcing its heritage enactment has led to the loss of the Runnymede bungalow, said George Town Heritage Action (GTHA) member Mark Lay.
He said despite being empowered to protect heritage buildings through the 2011 Penang Heritage Enactment, the state government dragged its legs on its implementation.
“There appears to be an endless delay in the implementation of the law. If the Penang government had the political will to save heritage, this would be their top priority.
“Rather than just saying what they could not do, they should have gotten their best lawyers to negotiate with the landowners to save the bungalow.
“We are miffed as it appears that they did not even try, they just gave immediate permission to the landowners to demolish the historic bungalow,” he told reporters outside the Runnymede complex along Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah.
Lay added the 'immediate allowance' of demolition of the bungalow without consultation from heritage-interest groups would set a dangerous precedent.
"With this unfortunate incident, any developer can come in, apply for a permit and demolish whatever they like.
"If they do not get permission, they would argue, "Hey, you gave Runnymede the okay, why not me?" " he said.
Under the state’s heritage enactment, the Commissioner of Heritage can designate any site which has natural heritage or tangible cultural heritage value to be a heritage site—with the consent of the state authorities.
The enactment was drafted based on the National Heritage Act 2005, to protect the built, natural, tangible and intangible heritage in the state.
State legal adviser Datuk Aliza Sulaiman has yet to respond to queries on the matter.
During the recent Chinese New Year holidays, landowners bulldozed a 208-year-old Runnymede Bungalow where former Penang governor assistant secretary Sir Stamford Raffles had lived.
The bungalow, along with six other buildings, was cleared. The three-storey hotel annexe, built in 1930, was spared from the wrecking ball.
Meanwhile, Lay added the local authorities ought to compel the landowners to build a replica of the bungalow to preserve its historic significance.
“In 1901, the bungalow caught fire, leaving the original five front columns. It was then rebuilt on the same five columns two years later.
“Why not order a rebuild of the bungalow for the sake of preserving history for the next century to come?” he questioned.
Raffles' bungalow, the Runnymede, was completed in 1808 at 40, Northam Road (now Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah), Penang. Raffles served governor Philip Dundas before leaving Penang for Malacca.
In 1910, the bungalow caught fire and was rebuilt two years later.
In 1930, a hotel named after his bungalow was built. The new owner also acquired the adjacent The Avenue mansion.
The buildings were then converted into the Runnymede Hotel to compete with Eastern and Oriental Hotel down the road.
During the Chinese New Year holidays, the landowners had flattened seven out of eight buildings in the complex, including the Runnymede bungalow.
Only the hotel's three-storey building, built in 1930, was spared from the wrecking ball.
To the chagrin of heritage activists, the Penang Island City Council claimed that the bungalow, built in 1808, was 'not in their records'.
A mixed development is slated to take place on the site, with three high-rises to spring up using a planning permission obtained in 1999.
Historians say that the building was the last example of Raffles’ bungalow in Asia.
They also say many of Raffles’ letters dealing with the founding of Singapore were dated from the Runnymede.