If Patrick Lim and Equine Capital think it is going to be smooth sailing after the Prime Minister announced that approvals for the PGCC would be fast-tracked, they had better think again.

This morning, half a dozen of the main Penang NGOs came together to express their stand against the development of the PGCC at a packed press conference held at the CAP office. Also present was a cameraman (the logo on the camera said ntv7, but I am not so sure) who meticulously videotaped the proceedings. (Let’s see what comes out on ntv7 tonight. I am not holding my breath.)

Present were representatives from CAP, Penang Heritage Trust, Malaysian Nature Society, Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Cepat, and Aliran as well as other concerned Penangites.

The site of the project – the present Turf Club – was originally given by the government for a nominal sum and was zoned as ‘Open Space’. This was changed very recently to ‘Mixed Development’, even though public opinion was unanimously against it (judging from the submissions sent in by the public during the 2007 Structure Plan exercise), the NGOS said in a joint media statement.

“By doing so, the State has acted arbitrarily and sacrificed the interests of the community to a group of developers,” they said.

The NGO representatives expressed particular displeasure over the fact that the project is being steamed-rolled through and imposed from the top-down without full and open public consultation.

For once, the press raised a lot of questions after they were shown the miniature cut-out model of the site – with all 37 towers in it. The Fox people were nowhere to be seen even though they had called to ask about the press conference.

Here is the joint media statement in full:

Joint Press Release By A Group of Concerned NGOs Against The Development of Penang Global City Centre (PGCC)
15 Sept 2007

Background

The Penang Global City Centre (PGCC) is a project of Equine Capital Bhd. The project to be carried out via its associate Abad Naluri Sdn Bhd, will be developed on the current Penang Turf Club land on Jalan Scotland. The project is estimated to cost about RM25 billion. It will be sited over a 104ha-land which will incorporate technology and ecology based components and modelled along the lines of Kuala Lumpur City Centre. It is being marketed as `one of the world’s first zero-carbon cities where pollution will be kept to a minimum’.

The PGCC has been billed as the largest commercial development in Penang that will feature two five-star hotels, a performing arts centre, high-end retail outlets, two iconic towers, residential properties and a world-class meeting and convention centre. It will also promote medical tourism in the state through specialist clinics at the PGCC.

The site will also contain 33 blocks of residential units ranging between 12 floors and 53 floors. The blocks include two five-star hotels – one which is 53 stories high and another 22 stories. The total luxury residential units are 6,933 units including 100 bungalows. One of the two iconic towers will have 66 floors.

According to Equine, the project will combine 34.4ha of parkland, including 10.4ha 1km-long linear park, and about 24ha of a hill site that cannot be developed.

The project was launched by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on 12 Sept 2007.

Our group of concerned NGOs is shocked that the PGCC has been launched even before obtaining all major planning approvals. The government should not also have granted a fast-track status for the project, seeing that the scale of the development is going to create a drastic impact on the areas of traffic, social and environment on Penang island.

Questions raised about the manner by which the land was converted from ‘Open Space’ to ‘Mixed Development’, about traffic congestion, public consultation, and provision for social housing remain unanswered.

Below are glaring issues which arise as a result of this project.

Land Rezoning

The site of the project – the present Turf Club- was originally given by the government for a nominal sum and was zoned as ‘Open Space’. This was changed very recently to ‘Mixed Development’, even though public opinion was unanimously against it (judging from the submissions sent in by the public during the 2007 Structure Plan exercise).

By doing so, the State has acted arbitrarily and sacrificed the interests of the community to a group of developers.

Traffic Congestion

The project is so large that it will affect almost every person in Penang, but there has been very little public consultation. By our estimate, it will generate about 60,000 traffic movements daily which will be channeled into Jalan Scotland and Jalan Utama (via Jalan Brook). Even now these roads are heavily congested and we worry what effect the huge additional traffic will have.

The traffic dispersal plan for the project leaves much to be desired and we are asking for another traffic study by independent experts to be done before any decisions are made.

Public Consultation

During the drawing up of the Penang Structure Plan, public consultation was minimal, perfunctory and the results were entirely ignored. Since a mega development is going to take place on the Turf Club land that is subjected to the Structure Plan, we would therefore call for a greater genuine public consultation due to the large size of this project.

The project was approved in Putrajaya, plans were finalised without any local inputs, and have now been publicly launched with much fanfare. That is not consultation. It smacks of an attempt to bulldoze aside all objections. It is a top-down planning of the worst type and is against all principles of participatory democracy.

Social Housing

It is a national policy that all development must include 30% low-cost units, and yet none will be built on the site. Instead the developer is proposing to build 6,933 luxury units of apartments and houses on the site. However, the low cost units will be built elsewhere.

We do not understand why this is so, unless the developer does not want low-income communities on this project. We urge the MPPP to withhold approval until 2,080 low cost units are included in this project, and these units must be included in every phase in the right proportion.

EIA

Given the size of the project we would also ask for a detailed EIA to be done, as a preliminary study would not be sufficient to address all the issues that will arise

Summary

We regret that the project has been launched even before the above questions have been considered and urge the MPPP to review the plans objectively and professionally and not to approve them unless the following is done:

  • greater public consultation
  • an independent traffic study
  • a detailed EIA, and most important of all
  • the full complement of low cost houses are included

Group of Concerned NGOs:

  • Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP)
  • Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)
  • Penang Heritage Trust (PHT)
  • Malaysian Nature Society (MNS)
  • Citizens For Public Transport (CEPAT)
  • Aliran Kesedaran Negara (ALIRAN)