Gurney Drive, a major landmark in Penang, will be significantly changed with the Seri Tanjung Pinang Phase 2 project undertaken by E & O.

This morning I attended the public consultation attended by a few hundred people at the Straits Quay Convention Centre. On the stage, E&O MD Terry Tham was flanked by a battery of more than a dozen environmental, masterplan peer review and traffic consultants.

Phase 2 (760 acres) will see a large artificial island (divided into two by a canal) off the coast of Tanjung Tokong. The two sides of the canal will be built separately, the part closer to the shore (250 acres) first.

Among the major issues that emerged:
The Tanjung Tokong fisher folks are worried about the loss of livelihood. They are calling for balanced development. They want E&O to take mitigation measures such as a longer breakwater and to allocate space for their work in the plans. About half a dozen fisherfolk spoke from the floor. (As a thought, if their catch is affected, will fish prices rise even more? The loss of these fishing grounds will affect food security in Penang.)

Terry said his heart was with the fisherfolk but he couldn’t make any commitment at this point without consulting the E&O shareholders, but he assured them he would convey their concerns and requests to the shareholders.

A key issue is the resulting siltation and sedimentation from the reclamation. The consultants insist the impact will be localised around the artificial island as that is what their computer simulation and modelling shows.

But environmentalist and activist Dr Leong Yueh Kwong, speaking from the floor, asked, “What if your projections turn out to be wrong?”

Another member of the public Tajol asked, “Who will pay for dredging at the port and elsewhere if the siltation and sedimentation reaches further than anticipated after the project is completed? I, as a ratepayer, will not be happy (if public funds are used for the dredging and other mitigation).”

As for the reclamation work itself, the sand will be obtained off the coast of Lumut and the disposal of the dredged material from the flushing canal in STP Phase 2 will be dumped 40km away off the coast of Muka Head. And so the question arises, will this process be closely monitored by the DOE?

Some 12000 houses will be built under Phase 2. The developer claims the project will be socially inclusive and will contain 30 per cent “affordable housing”. When asked what is “affordable”, Terry replied that it would range from RM42,000 to RM400,000. He said this was in response to people who may not necessarily want low-cost housing but something a little better.

My own feeling is that the top end of this “affordable” range is higher than what many can afford and it should not be part of the 30 per cent, if the project is to be even superficially socially inclusive. Otherwise STP2 would end up as another large enclave for the wealthy, under layers of security. Will the entire seafront be fully accessible to the public in any meaningful way?

It is not entirely clear which sections of the project will be offered (via the state government) as compensation to the cross-channel tunnel contractor. (The tunnel project seems to have gone a little quiet.) E & O is allocating 60 acres under the second part of Phase 2 and another 50 acres for a linear park (along Gurney Drive next to the new Gurney Drive expressway) out of reclaimed land to the state government. (All in, 130 acres along Gurney Drive is being allocated for the expressway, promenade and linear park. See the slideshow above.)

As for the traffic dispersal, one end of Gurney Drive will be connected by a bridge to the new island while the other end will see the creation of a tunnel going under Pangkor Road, close to where the state government wants the cross-channel tunnel.

How the traffic plans will fit into the Penang Transport Masterplan remains to be seen, but I anticipate a lot more traffic passing along Gurney Drive (the new Gurney Expressway) and flowing (via the Pangkor Road underpass) into the Jelutong Expressway, which is going to end up chock-a-block, especially with the second Penang bridge being completed before long.

But knowing how these things work, I believe it is a foregone conclusion that the DEIA will be approved by the DOE (with little further input from the public?) and the face of Gurney Drive and surrounding areas will be forever changed.