KUALA LUMPUR: CONSERVATIONISTS and heritage experts believe that the Taiping Aerodrome must be preserved to protect the town’s historical value.
They said in the long run, preserving historical sites would benefit the state as it helped to generate tourist revenue and enhance Perak’s reputation for safeguarding its historical wonders.
Taiping Heritage Society president Yeap Thean Eng said the town had lost many of its “firsts”, and as such, gazetting the aerodrome was the best move.
“We already lost our first railway between Taiping and Port Weld (built in 1885) and a golf course known as New Club (formerly Perak Club built in 1885).
“This is why the Taiping Aerodrome must be protected and restored at all costs for adaptive reuse with focus on heritage tourism.
“There were many ‘firsts’ in Taiping that had been ‘carelessly’ ignored by the authorities, who may not know their real value.
“Nothing can replace a ‘first’. The tallest building or longest bridge will quickly be overtaken by another, just like our (Petronas) Twin Towers, which within years were overtaken by another tallest building from another country.
“Once you have the oldest golf course or the first aerodrome, nothing can replace them; you will forever have the oldest.
“Therefore, every effort must be taken by the state government to protect this heritage site for the sake of our future generation.
“Let’s leave behind a legacy that will make our great grandchildren proud,” he told the New Straits Times.
Yeap said many historic monuments with lesser historical value had been restored in other countries, which in turn, had drawn millions of tourists and generated economic wealth for the local community.
“This is what must be done to the Taiping Aerodrome. The vast runway and field can be used for all kinds of activities like paragliding or flying ultra-light planes, recreational activities for residents like kite-flying, community games, jogging, aerobics, archery, just to name a few.
He said the space at the Taiping Aerodrome was big enough for large-scale events, either at state, national or international level.
“The main building can be converted into a museum or gallery on the country’s early days of aviation, coupled with souvenir shops.”
Yeap said Taiping had earned its third placing on the World’s Most Sustainable City list for a reason.
That was announced during the 2019 Sustainable Top 100 Destination Awards at the International Tourismus-Börse travel trade show in Berlin, Germany, recently.
“It is from the preservation of spaces and greens, as well as the Taiping Municipal Council working hard with the locals to create a well-balanced sustainable city, that attracted visitors.”
He said the people in Taiping and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were not against development, but the authorities must be careful when it comes to heritage sites.
“For housing and other property developments, there is plenty of land around Taiping, namely Kamunting Raya, which is just next to Taiping Aerodrome, or in Aulong, Simpang, Matang, Batu Kurau, Bukit Merah and Selama.”
The 16.1ha Taiping Aerodrome, reputed as the first airport in the Federated Malay States and Southeast Asia, was allegedly sold to a developer last month.
It is learnt that the developer planned to build a housing scheme on the site, despite it being earmarked for transport.
Several NGOs recently staged a protest against the move, saying the land was sold without considering the importance of its heritage and historical value.
The NGOs included Kelab Cintai Taiping, Taiping Heritage Society, Taiping Tourism Association, Taman Saujana Residents' Association, Warisan Anak-Anak Kampung Pinang and Protection of the Natural Heritage of Malaysia.
Perak Heritage Society president Law Siak Hong echoed Yeap’s sentiment, saying the Taiping Aerodrome must be preserved for the future generation.
“Other than its historical value, the Taiping Aerodrome is still used by the army and police for parachute training, as well as a recreational area.
“Taiping was declared a heritage town (in 1999), hence the title must be retained by all means. Taiping Aerodrome is one of the many things that should be preserved.
“Yes, you can build a new Taiping on the land, but at what expense? By destroying your reputation as a heritage town?” he said.
The Taiping Aerodrome became famous when aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart made a refuelling stop there on June 7, 1937, before continuing her journey to Singapore and New Guinea in her historic attempt to circumnavigate the globe.
The then Indonesian president Sukarno and his deputy, Mohammad Hatta, also landed at the Taiping Aerodrome on Aug 12, 1945, to discuss the future of Malaya and Indonesia before continuing their journey to Tokyo.