Don’t kill the hill: Fraser’s Hill under threat of development

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The Maybank Lodge and the defunct Jelai Resort were recently demolished to the surprise of Fraser’s Hill residents. (PAWBF Facebook pic)

PETALING JAYA: Fraser’s Hill is regarded by many as one of Malaysia’s treasured highland havens, alongside Cameron Highlands and Genting Highlands.

Located on the Titiwangsa Ridge, Fraser’s Hill is about 100 km from Kuala Lumpur, making it a convenient weekend getaway for Klang Valley folks.

In comparison to Cameron and Genting, Fraser’s Hill has been relatively left untouched by development, precisely why it has retained its quintessential charm.

Throughout the area, heritage buildings left over from the British colonial period still stand.

Its uncanny resemblance to a quiet English hamlet is its primary draw, and it helps that this hilly hideaway has numerous jungle paths for adventurers to explore.

An artist’s illustration of the planned high-rise resort to be built on the demolition site. (PAWBF Facebook pic)

However, it is possible that this peace and quiet is about to be shattered by the relentless march of development.

This July, residents of Fraser’s Hill were given quite the surprise when two heritage buildings, namely the Maybank Lodge and the Jelai Resort, were flattened to the ground.

In their place, a 14-storey high-rise spa resort with 181 rooms is to be built; a structure that is likely to stand out like a sore thumb in an area known for its greenery and old architecture.

The site of the demolition was also previously Fraser’s Hill’s most frequented birdwatching site.

Persatuan Alam & Warisan Bukit Fraser, a heritage group, has expressed its concern over the lack of dialogue between the developer and residents. (PAWBF Facebook pic)

In addition, Persatuan Alam & Warisan Bukit Fraser (PAWBF), a heritage body has expressed its concern about inevitable environmental damage if the project comes to fruition, as the resort is to be built close to a recreational lake.

The same developer behind the demolition of the Maybank Lodge and the defunct Jelai Resort has also acquired another heritage building on Fraser’s Hill.

In a statement released by PAWBF on July 30, the group stated there was no signboard explaining the project nor was dialogue held with Fraser’s Hill residents.

A signboard detailing the specifics of the project was erected as of early August.

Information on the planned high-rise resort as laid out on their project signboard. (PAWBF Facebook pic)

“What makes Fraser’s Hill unique are two main things – nature and heritage. Without these two, Fraser’s Hill is not Fraser’s Hill.”

The group highlighted that such an ambitious project would further add to the congestion of tourists because as it stands, Fraser’s Hill can only host a limited number of visitors at any one time.

It was later discovered that the structures, despite their age, had not been gazetted by the state government as protected heritage buildings, paving the way for the bulldozers.

However, as reported by the New Straits Times on Aug 13, a stop-work order has since been issued to the developer to allow a redesign of the building in consultation with the Environment Department.

PAWBF has suggested that the entirety of Fraser’s Hill be gazetted to protect its history and charm. (PAWBF Facebook pic)

Speaking to FMT, Nik Jassmin Hew, PAWBF chairman, said that this isn’t the first time an antiquated building on Fraser’s Hill was demolished in the name of development.

She said the Mentakab Bungalow was demolished so a holiday resort could be erected, an environmentally-damaging project that itself was abandoned eventually.

The Jeriau Waterfall, she said, was badly affected by all the activity that left the site in a sorry state. “Because the project was abandoned, we have an entire area that could be put to good use, completely derelict and abandoned.”

She stated that Fraser’s Hill requires governmental protection if its charm and history is to be preserved, and that an ecotourism plan by the Tourism Ministry was very much needed.

“With Fraser’s Hill, it is a very special case. Therefore, treating it like anywhere else will literally kill the hill,” she said.

Gazetting the heritage buildings of Fraser’s Hill is not enough, she insisted, as Fraser’s Hill itself is a heritage.

“There are many endemic species in Fraser’s Hill and it is a very rich forest complex,” she said.

“We want the entire hill to be gazetted as a National Heritage and that’s our main focus right now.”