Penang authorities summon owner of Customs Building in George Town for illegal renovations

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

GEORGE TOWN, March 18 — The owner of the Customs Building, where illegal renovations were conducted and later stopped by the authorities, have been called in for a meeting with George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) and Penang Island City Council (MBPP) next week.

GTWHI general manager Ang Ming Chee said the meeting is with representatives from Railway Assets Corporation (RAC), the owner of the heritage building located in the heart of George Town.

“We have called them in to understand what went wrong because they were well aware of the heritage procedures and requirements when it comes to restoring and renovating a heritage building,” she said in a statement today.

Ang said RAC must take full responsibility and make sure that the operator and the contractor it appointed to undertake the renovations must comply fully with heritage procedures and rectify all the mistakes that have been made.

“The coordination meeting will prompt and support RAC in this rectification process,” she said.

She said GTWHI had held meetings with the Customs Department, the tenant of the building at that time, since October 2020 it expressed an intention to renovate the building.

“We provided consultation to the Customs on the procedures involved in the restoration of a heritage building in the Unesco world heritage site,” she said.

It is learnt that RAC later engaged an operator to manage the building. The operator appointed a contractor to renovate the building.

Ang said both RAC and the operator it appointed to manage the building are fully aware of what can and cannot be done to Category II heritage buildings and the procedures required.

She said she is unsure why the contractor started renovations to the interior without first obtaining the required permit.

“We and MBPP are always monitoring what’s going on and issuing notices to those who flout the regulations, it is only that we don’t share everything that we do on social media,” Ang said.

Last Sunday, MBPP enforcement officers found the contractor conducting illegal renovations inside the Customs Building and issued an immediate stop-work order.

The contractor was found to have gone against the stop-work order during follow-up checks on the premises in the next two days after.

As such, MBPP issued a notice to the building owner last Tuesday and impounded all machinery and renovation equipment from the site.

The Customs building, located along the corner of China Street Ghaut and Weld Quay, was built on reclaimed land in 1907 and completed in 1909.

The site used to be the shoreline where boats docked before it was reclaimed.

It was known as the Federated Malay States Railway Station when it was built.

It used to be the booking offices and a waiting hall, with a restaurant, for passengers who were boarding the train in Butterworth.

Later on, the Customs Department occupied the space and the building was then named Wisma Kastam (Customs Building).

The Customs Department moved out of the building in May 2021 and it was left vacant since, pending plans by RAC to restore it.