The over-riding plan governing development in Penang is the Penang Structure Plan. Gazetted in 2007, it should be legally enforceable.
That, in my mind, should be the main reference point.
Of course, there was a dispute over the Structure Plan several years ago over whether Tanjung Bungah should be regarded as a secondary corridor (maximum permissible density of 15 units per acre) or primary corridor of development (maximum density of 30 units per acre). The confusion arose because the text of the Structure Plan indicated that Tanjung Bungah should be regarded as secondary corridor but a graphic had been altered to indicate it should be a primary corridor.
The Tanjung Bungah Residents Association took the matter to court, but it was thrown out on technical grounds – the matter was time-barred, the state argued. But the NGOs maintain the text should take precedence – and that the maximum density should be 15 acres as stated in the Structure Plan text:
Even if Tanjung Bungah is a primary corridor, that would make it a maximum permissible density of 30 units per acre under the Structure Plan.
Remember, the Structure Plan is a legally enforceable document unlike the 1996 Plan Dasar, which is just a guideline.
So what is the density of the 50-storey tower blocks with 980 homes? What about all other projects in Tanjung Bungah – and elsewhere – approved since 2007? The state government should tell us all their densities and what is specified in the Structure Plan.
Granted this particular project is for “affordable housing” (at what price?), but let’s look at how the state/local council decides on density and the legality of such decisions when compared to what the Structure Plan specifies. [Is ‘affordable housing’ really affordable to the lower-income group – this is another issue discussed elsewhere in this blog.]
Another document that should have governed what projects could be allowed is the Penang Island Local Plan, which should specify in great details what is allowed in each neighbourhood. Several Penang Island city councillors spent a great deal of time going through this document in 2008 – and it was then approved by the Penang Island city council the same year.
That approved Local Plan should then have been put up for public display so that residents could know what would be in store in their neigbourhoods and provide feedback or objections. This public feedback should have then been incorporated into the Local Plan and the plan modified if necessary before being gazetted. But this was never done.
So here we are, nine years on, with an approved local plan – which most people have not seen – that was never gazetted. Which is as good as having a Local Plan ‘missing in action’. Why was this local plan kept in cold storage?
The state government has argued that two other projects near the quarry were approved by the DoE. but these are low-rise projects. Nothing like the twin 50-storey towers – though on somewhat flat ground – in the pipeline close to the hill-slopes.
Now those slopes may be Class 2 (less than 25 degrees) but that is not the only consideration. You have to also consider the terrain, the water tables, gradients above, the load or weight at the top of the slope, and any signs of instability up the slope as a result of the quarry and blasting. A lot of other factors determine slope stability. Was this done? If these are not considered, any excavation work at the base of the slope would be even riskier.
The state government had also indicated to Penang Forum on 26 January 2017 that earthwork at the site would be monitored. Perhaps it could tell us what kind of monitoring was done and what they found. In the first place, does the council have enough engineers to independently monitor such sites (and there are many other sites near or on hill-slopes on the island)? Such monitoring of slopes should be an ongoing affair – even after construction is completed and the homes occupied.