By BERNARD SEE
“Why did the Penang government tell the people of Penang that Unesco does not allow birdhouses in George Town and that the letter was a warning? Unesco has now confirmed that this is not true. “The state government is now saying something else and that the birdhouses are having a negative impact on the inner city’s outstanding universal value (OUV) which gave rise to the listing,” she said when contacted yesterday.
Loh said ASNI had a three-hour meeting with a Unesco representative in Jakarta on April 15 and “we have been recommended to promote a dialogue to reach a mutually beneficial conclusion that will satisfy all stakeholders”.
On a claim by state Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow that people were moving out of George Town because of the birdhouses, she said the real reason was because of the sharp increase in rent after the repeal of the Rent Control Act in 2000 and not swiftlet farming. “He also said that swiftlet farming had caused the building facade and streetscape to change but he must remember that there are many birdhouses which have been beautifully renovated to preserve its heritage.
“We have offered many times to work with the state government to help renovate the buildings so that they are in line with heritage guidelines. “Moreover, birdhouses are not considered Class 1 buildings, in which the facade and interior of the buildings have to be preserved, and we only need to ensure that the facade is maintained,” she added.
Loh said Chow also alleged that noise from recordings to attract the birds were disturbing the neighbours but this was not an issue as the playing of such recordings had already been banned. Loh said under the George Town Unesco World Heritage Site Special Area Plan (SAP), existing trades and businesses which have been listed as non-permissible activities will not be asked to move out of the heritage zone as it will affect the livelihood of people in the area.
“What about the existing birdhouses in George Town and the livelihood of its owners? ASNI had offered to work together with the state government for a ‘win win’ solution but they are not interested. “They do not care that the livelihood of our members would be severely affected. “Why are the birdhouse owners treated differently? Why the double standards?” she asked.
Loh said the phenomenon of swiftlets living within a heritage enclave is unique to George Town and Malacca and the birdhouses should be seen as ‘Living Heritage’, an aspect which contributed to its OUV.
By closing and eliminating all traces of the birdhouses, she added, the Penang government was tampering with the authenticity of the inner city’s heritage and rewriting its history.