Penang’s acting state Gerakan Youth chief Jason Loo showing a bungalow approved by the Penang state government for demolition. Pix by Ramdzan Masiam

GEORGE TOWN: Why is the Penang government rushing to approve demolition of a heritage building in Peel Avenue for a hospital expansion project, even though the go-ahead for it was yet to be granted.

Acting state Gerakan Youth chief Jason Loo said the green light for the demolition of the Category II building was approved in June this year when the Island Hospital was still in the process of applying for the necessary approvals.

Residents in the vicinity were never informed nor a public consultation was undertaken to seek residents views on the matter before the prime land in Peel Avenue was sold to Island Hospital in December 2016, he said.

"I was informed that there are a total of four heritage buildings on the Peel Avenue land that are categorised as Category II heritage buildings in the state heritage buildings list, which warrants every effort to preserve them.

"Is there any Heritage Impact Assessment conducted before the Penang government approved to demolish a heritage building on the land in June this year?

"The people of Penang, especially the residents staying in the vicinity, have every right to know what is going on. There was no public consultation called before everything is decided and it makes one wonder why the rush in approving the land rezoning and heritage building demolition," he said at a press conference today.

Loo also wanted the state government to answer four pertinent questions:

- Why the rush to demolish heritage buildings when the approval for a hospital expansion project was not granted yet?;

- Is there any Heritage Impact Assessment conducted before the state government approved to demolish a heritage building on the land?;

- If the hospital expansion project is not approved, how will the state government restore the imminent demolished heritage buildings?; and

- If the hospital expansion project is not approved, will the demolished heritage site be developed and turned into other commercial projects?

"The Penang government must answer the above questions to prove that they still believe and live up to their Competency, Accountability and Transparency (CAT) principles.

"It seems the state government is shying away from the CAT principles from their behaviour in selling lands without an open tender these few years!" he added.

Meanwhile, Loo said knowing that the Peel Avenue land was sold by the Chief Minister Incorporation (CMI) without an open tender, he questioned how many parcel of lands had been transferred to the CMI.

"And, I am worried that all government lands under CMI will be sold out very fast and easily," he lamented.

Heritage buildings, Loo stressed, were important to the society in terms of history, architecture and culture.

"Penang has a lot of pre-war heritage buildings and that was one of the factors that George Town was awarded the World Heritage Status in 2008," he added.

Loo also said that he was still waiting for the Penang government to answer other questions asked previously:

- Will the state government modify the self-proclaimed Medical City to a Hotel City in the event the Health Ministry does not approve the application for the hospitals expansion project?;

- Will the state government proceed with the 820 rooms hotel and medical suites project if the ministry does not approve the application for the hospital expansion project?;

- Why would the state government be in a hurry to rezone the Peel Avenue land as commercial land when the approval for license from the ministry is yet to be granted ?;

- Since the land was re-zoned as commercial land, will the state government cancel the re-zoning if the ministry’s approval is not granted?; and

- If the state government cannot cancel the re-zoning decision even if the ministry approval is not granted, will they in the future approve other commercial projects such as hotels and commercial buildings and high density condominiums on the said piece of land?

Citizens Awareness Chant Group (CHANT) adviser Yan Lee had revealed recently that Island Hospital had submitted a planning permission for a piece of land located at the corner of Peel Avenue and Pierce Road, which houses two double-storey heritage bungalows.

Lee said CHANT's experts had confirmed that the two buildings were Category II buildings, which warrants that every effort be made to preserve them.

Island Hospital intends to build the Island Medical City on the 6.4-acre land at Peel Avenue.

It comprises an initial 600-bed hospital, and to increase the capacity to 1,000 beds in the future while the hotel would also be built in the later stages.

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