The Penang government has been urged to set up a department which exclusively handles the maintenance and upkeep of the state’s historic and heritage buildings. (NSTP Archive)

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang government has been urged to set up a department which exclusively handles the maintenance and upkeep of the state’s historic and heritage buildings.

Penang Heritage Trust vice-president Khoo Salma Nasution said, in the past, the Public Works Department (PWD) was entrusted with conducting regular maintenance work and repair work, even minor leaks, at state-owned heritage buildings.

Khoo, who is a former Penang Island city councillor, said the approach and philosophy helped avoid huge repair bills in the long run.

However, she noted that PWD’s role today in the maintenance of heritage buildings was “virtually nonexistent”.

“During the colonial period, the PWD repaired all buildings every three months, ensuring that all structures were shipshape.

“Even the military forces carried out maintenance works and painted the buildings every two years.

“But, now, it appears that the local government agencies in Penang are paying no mind to the upkeep of historic buildings, save for a few select ones,” she told the New Straits Times.

Khoo cautioned that without urgent repairs, many heritage buildings, including the iconic Penang Town Hall building, have been left in a state of disrepair.

A recent report indicated that the roof of the 140-year-old Class 1 heritage building in Jalan Padang Kota Lama was leaking badly.

The Penang government later explained that a tender to restore the building would be called this August.

Khoo, however, said the authorities’ approach in restoring buildings only when they were completely ruined or nearing a ruinous state was not the right approach.

She said the Penang Island City Council (MBPP), which ran and operated the town hall, ought to change its view on the upkeep of such buildings.

Khoo said a re-think of the maintenance of heritage buildings was needed urgently.

“For starters, all heritage buildings, including the ones outside the George Town World Heritage Site, ought to be inventoried.

“This includes the largely neglected Seberang Prai Municipal Council (MPSP) area as well,” she said.

Khoo said both of the councils ought to set up their own conservation units and conduct repairs on their own, instead of outsourcing it to private parties.

She cited the example of the Penang Hill government bungalows, which were neglected for a long time and later outsourced to private companies for restoration.

“One small leak, you fix it immediately. It would not cost much, as opposed to leaving it like that for a long time.”

Khoo said given that MPSP had been conferred city status by the Cabinet, it ought to take the lead by forming its own Heritage Conservation Department.

She said there was plenty of potential for MPSP to lead the way.

A city council, she added would have more funding to carry out repairs on important heritage buildings.