Sia Boey: Battleground for two competing visions of Penang


Update: Now, there is talk that there is a plan for a much smaller station at Sia Boey. This could be located at the car park so the archaeological findings and the canal are not disturbed. But then this would make it difficult for the planned monorail from Tanjung Bungah (under Phase 2 of the SRS proposal) to come by.  So, who knows, that monorail line could be scrapped. All the same, the people of Penang are being sold the idea that a ‘Big Bang’ approach that requires massive land reclamation is needed – which is not the only option available to us. We shall see how things pan out. 

Three months after the responsibility for Sia Boey was transferred from the Penang Development Corporation to George Town World Heritage Inc, this is the derelict state of the site.

The PDC had earlier been involved in a RM2m project to brace up the old shophouses and spruce up the site for the Sia Boey Reborn project, which would have seen Prangin Canal being revitalised and the area turned into an arts and heritage district. During the work on the site, the team unearthed an older canal.

USM archaeologists were then asked to carry out excavation work at the site, and they uncovered remnants of an old police station and other artefacts. The USM final report is now believed to have been completed and submitted.

But a proposal to turn the site into a massive transport hub under an exorbitant RM50bn proposal for Penang transport infrastructure could overshadow any semblance of the original vision for Sia Boey Reborn.

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This controversial proposal stands in contrast to an alternative “Better, Cheaper, Faster” initiative put forward by Penang Forum that could be incorporated into Sia Boey Reborn by using the old market as a tram interchange.

GTWHI’s main job is to protect the world heritage site of Penang. But now this (photo above) is the state of Sia Boey, which lies near the fringe of the heritage buffer zone and is part of the broader setting for the world heritage site.

Said one observer: “The canal smelled and (it could potentially be) a mosquito breeding ground. Not to mention the wild vegetation that is growing in between the historic granite blocks. Look at the shophouses. Disintegrating before our eyes.”

In the excavated pit, wild grass has grown.

In June, civil society coalition Penang Forum, in accordance with Unesco provisions, alerted Unesco about the possible fate of Sia Boey.

Unesco then contacted the National Heritage Department about the issue.

In August, the National Heritage Department intervened to issue an interim protection order on Sia Boey under the National Heritage Act 2005. This, however, could only be enforced with the approval of the Penang state government.

At present, Unesco is believed to be waiting for the department’s report on the proposed transport hub and its impact on Sia Boey. How will GTWHI answer Unesco if it asks why the site is left in such a dire state?

In line with CAT principles, GTWHI should immediate make public the USM archaeological report as well as an expert historian’s report on the historical socio-economic significance of Sia Boey.

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In some ways, what is happening at Sia Boey reflects a clash of two competing visions for the future of Penang.

One vision delights in skyscrapers and towering luxury condominiums (never mind if there could be a glut), massive land reclamation and artificial islands (at the expense of fishing grounds), and six- and eight-lane highways. It is the same vision that would like to see 1,200 homes on Pulau Jerejak, a relatively unspoilt natural green lung.

The other vision seeks a more balanced, sustainable approach to development, taking into account the state’s limited financial realities. It includes a  call for a more holistic transport masterplan that would be cost-effective and cause minimal harm to the natural environment, while taking into account the mobility needs of ordinary people, especially vulnerable groups. It also seeks to preserve or revitalise historically significiant sites, as links to the past, to ground our present, and carry us forward into the future.

Sia Boey is the latest battleground between these two competing visions for Penang.

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  1. Penang Gerakan launches campaign to highlight traditional kopitiams

    Hop Hop Kopitiam is a noble effort to rekindle interest in old world charm kopitiams of Penang.

    But to encourage the X, Y & Z generations to patronise these kopijiams requires more than just a publicity stunt.
    Make it a hot spot like inviting DAP to play Chinese chess with Gerakan opponents starting with LGE.
    Any Nora Miao look-alike in Gerakan? Sure an attraction @ Kopitiams for our youth! Bruce Lee would be more than happy to come resurrected! Oh yeah, Superman Hew (of HK Kung Fu craze) also may be very interested to make the first move!!!
    Remember Tan Tong Tong? He’s a walking & singing fortune teller. Maybe Gerakan can get one of its karaoke sifu to have a TGIF singing impromptu with the public, plus giving a live-fortune forcast for Gerakan & DAP this coming GE.
    Gerakan Aduns can also make these kopijiams their rendezvous with the public instead of at their ADUN stations.

    Cheers Kopi-O kau kau to Penang Gerakan.

  2. If the update is true, it should be considered positive news.

    But I still think the Sia Boey Reborn project should be continued – to be a a hub for heritage and arts as planned earlier. They can move the station to the Macallum empty land. Or at Komtar walk as suggested by BCF Pg Forum. If they are listening to the people, they must consider.

    • Election is coming too soon.
      CAT will press B. to listen & accommodate to public outcry.

  3. Penang planning committee the final arbiter in planning conflicts
    Q: Why is the Penang Local Plan still in the oven?
    Q: What direction is Penang development taking with diverse plans & diverse interests conflicting each other?
    Q: Can a state develop well & sustainably without an integrated approach based on a master ‘blue print’ i.e. The Penang Local Plan?
    Q: Is State Planning Committee doing a sincere job of prioritising Penangites’ interest or is it more for realising state gomen’s favoured developers’ fancies?
    Without a compass, we are heading nowhere or somewhere disastrous!

    GEORGE TOWN, Dec 8 — The state planning committee (SPC) has the final say in resolving any conflicts between the Penang Structure Plan and the council’s base plan in the absence of a local plan.

    According to the Penang Town and Country Planning Department director Datuk Mohd Anuar Maidin, the SPC deals with such conflicts and makes a decision based on the current situation of the issue.

    He admitted there may be differences and conflicts when it comes to development plans between the Penang Structure Plan (PSP) and other development plans being used now, such as the Penang Island City Council’s (MBPP) Base Plan or the Seberang Perai Municipal Council’s (MPSP) draft plan.

    “Without the local plan, the MBPP uses the base plan and the MPSP uses the draft plan so when there are any conflicts with the structure plan, the SPC will make a decision based on the existing situation,” he said during a question and answer session after giving a public briefing on the PSP for the year 2020 to 2030.

    He gave an example where there are villages or residential housing situated within an agriculture zone that is no longer suitable for agriculture.

    Mohd Anuar also admitted that the state’s local plan is still yet to be finalised and gazetted, after it was delayed due to preparations of the special area plan for the heritage zone and for Penang Hill.

    He said the state has directed both local councils to speed up in preparing the local plans and that the process is ongoing.

    He was responding to former Barisan Nasional assemblyman Lim Chien Aun’s question on the delay in approving and gazetting the local plan.

    “Until today, we do not have a local plan and without it, what is the point of having the structure plan, the transport plan? Until today, everyone in Penang doesn’t known the land use without the local plan,” Lim said.

    Former MBPP councillor Lim Kah Cheng said the local plan was approved in 2008, but was yet to be gazetted or adopted.

    Mohd Anuar replied that he wasn’t aware of this, stressing that in these two years, no draft local plans from both councils was completed and submitted.

    The Town and Country Planning Department has recently released the Penang Structure Plan 2020 Survey Report for public feedback.

    Public consultations will be held and the review is also available for download at the department’s website and inputs will be collected until January 31 next year.

    The feedback from the public will be considered in the planning for the Penang Structure Plan 2030.

  4. Penang’s rotting pre-war houses raise ire of heritage buffs

    GEORGE TOWN: A row of six local council-owned pre-war houses here has been left to rot within the heritage enclave, and this has irked civil liberties group and visitors.

    The state government had announced in June that the structures, at Lebuh Kimberley, were up for restoration – but a check on the dilapidated site today showed that works have yet to start.

    Penang Heritage Trust council member Clement Liang told the New Straits Times yesterday that the delay by the local authority has tarnished the image of George Town as a Unesco world heritage site

    • penang heritage shophouses a fire trap. recent 8 were affected within minutes. after so many years baking in the sun they burn like bbq or satay charcoal.
      lucky it is during day time. night habis.

      • The old electrical wiring is also a hazard. We should be thankful that foreign buyers could restore these old buildings to their past glory, and give them a new breathe of economic life to make the old city vibrant once again with activities.

  5. China to help 1MDB settle multibillion-dollar legal dispute
    Troubled Malaysian state investment fund ready to make repayment to Abu Dhabi’s Ipic

    The current dispute between the Abu Dhabi fund and its Malaysian counterpart arose from a bailout deal last year in which Ipic agreed to lend $1bn to 1MDB and assume payments on $3.5bn of the Malaysian fund’s debt. It also forgave some debt that 1MDB owed Ipic. In exchange, the Malaysian fund was to transfer assets to cover the amount of the loan, the assumed debt and the forgiven debt.

  6. The Straits Times of Singapore said in July Chinese companies were looking at buying a piece of prime land on Penang island for about RM2 billion, or entering into a joint development deal with 1MDB that would guarantee profits of about RM3.5 billion.

    But 1MDB president Arul Kanda said 1MDB would issue a statement at an “appropriate juncture”.

    • Selling any Malay owned land is a “buatan pengkhianat”.
      But selling Malaysian assets to foreigner power by Naik Jeep is not!
      They should reassess their loyalty to the nation…

      • But Naik Jeep can flip the BTN like a coin to his urgent needs!
        But these folks can’t see too near!

  7. This is regarding land use:
    Something beneath our feet keeps us all alive

    Will farming end after 60 years?

    Generating just 3cm of topsoil takes 1,000 years, and if current rates of degradation continue, all of the world’s topsoil could be gone within 60 years, a senior UN official told a forum marking World Soil Day in 2014.

    What’s worse, about a third of the world’s soil has already been degraded, said Maria-Helena Semedo of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), as reported in the Scientific American.

    “Soils are the basis of life,” said Semedo, the FAO’s deputy director general of natural resources. “95% of our food comes from the soil.”

    The causes of soil destruction include chemical-heavy farming methods and deforestation which increases erosion.

    The earth under our feet is too often ignored by policymakers, yet soils play key roles in our lives, including absorbing carbon and filtering water, the FAO reported.

    “We are losing 30 soccer fields of soil every minute, mostly due to intensive farming,” said Volkert Engelsman, an activist with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, at an FAO forum, as reported in the Scientific American. “Organic (farming) may not be the only solution but it’s the single best (option) I can think of.”

    Shockingly, half of the world’s topsoil has been lost in the last 150 years, warned a current online article by WWF International.

    “Soil is the earth’s fragile skin that anchors all life on Earth. It is among the most precious resources to humans,” noted WWF. And soil is not “just dirt”, rather it is comprised of countless species that create a dynamic and complex ecosystem.

    The increased demand for agriculture commodities means more forests and grasslands are converted to farm fields and pastures, but the change of land use often cannot hold onto the soil (

    Many commercial crops such as coffee, cotton, soybean and wheat, can actually increase soil erosion beyond the soil’s ability to maintain itself, noted WWF.

    The loss of fertile land is bad enough. But soil erosion has also clogged up streams and rivers because of sedimentation and caused declines in fish and other species. And degraded lands are also often less able to hold onto water, which can worsen flooding, added WWF.

    What’s needed is “sustainable land use” to prevent soil degradation and erosion and the loss of valuable land to desertification.

    Actor’s warning

    Back in 1980, the actor Eddie Albert, long a champion of ecological causes, warned that the loss of topsoil would be a disaster for American civilization.

    “When our European ancestors arrived on this continent, our topsoil averaged around 18 inches (46cm) in depth. With our intensive agricultural practices, we’ve eroded it to around eight inches (20cm) that’s all that’s left between us and world disaster. When that eight inches goes, you and I go.”

    He recounted how the Roman Empire had cut down the forests of southern Europe and North Africa:

    When the trees were gone, topsoil loss inevitably followed. Exposed to rain, wind, and sun, it lost its organic matter, its humus, its soil life, the spongy quality that gives the earth its ability to hold water through droughts.

    The soil dried out and became dead dust. The next wind blew it away, or the next rain washed it down the river and the earth died.

    The climate changed as the rain cycle slowed down as a result of deforestation. The wild grass that came up was soon demolished by hungry goats, roots and all and the once glorious lands of trees, lakes, rivers, cities, palaces, universities, families, artists – millions upon millions of healthy, creating, achieving people – quietly blew away.

    Albert warned that this was how splendid civilizations collapsed, visible now only as footnotes in the history books or as a few fragments of pots in museums.

    He added that it takes centuries of the weathering of rocks to grow just one inch (2.5cm) of topsoil. Yet, on a hillside without its natural protective cover of plants and trees, one great rainstorm can wash it all away within an hour.

    He added, “The heavy use of synthetic fertilisers, herbicides etc have doubled and tripled the yield of grain per acre but at the expense of the organic matter in the soil.

    “Rotation of crops has been replaced with monoculture: corn, corn, corn, or wheat, wheat, wheat. Everyone knows this method exhausts the soil and increases pest infestation, but the cash register is jingling.”

    “We Americans are destroying our earth many times faster than any people who ever lived. Man, deforestation, soil erosion, abandonment – that’s the cycle. Another word inevitably follows: famine.”

  8. Vision for Penang?
    Piece meal ad hoc developments are the order of the day from Arrogant Komtar CAT.
    Tied to any part of Penang Local Plan? My foot!
    The chameleon shifts of development more in favour of super-expensive projects reflect the state gomen’s super-reliance on development money from developers, who actually made the final-hour calls of what to development in Penang. Greed, zero understanding of heritage conservation (tangible + intangible) & sustainability, & zero integration to a much wider scope of development (made up of ad hoc pockets of development) are threatening to change Heritage Penang into a plastic version of HK or SingLand.

    Got Money, Got Talk, Got Approved Development.

    Anil, if you can outlive CAT gomen & can at the end of the century piece together all the ad hoc developments in Penang into a completed jigsaw puzzle, you may get to see the final hour of Vision of Penang ala CAT Tunnel Vision (if ever it qualifies as a vision). Long Live Anil!

    • A change of CM could most probably do Penang better in the future.
      I fully support Chow Kon Yeow as our next CM as he has in the past bravely ‘tha chheng-chi’ (take the shots on behalf of someone bo-hoot) from angry public concerning disputes & environmental issues.
      Also, he is more diplomatic in most crisis to come to an amicable solution unlike that Arrogant Niao Kong. Hopefully, the future will see the (political) demise of this Niao Kong which did nothing sustainable for Pg development but instead (allegedly) brought about social engineering (migration of the bo bin-chui Penangites to mainland & further), death of most old trades & botak-ing of pristine hills & degrading seafronts, all in the quest for maxi-profiteering & political portfolio.

  9. the former “vision” is short term greed. Penang doesn’t have the high income jobs to sustain gleaming condos. Wrong focus.

    • high rise = high income. same with kl with high rise to generate high income. what industries create high income when we are getting the scrums millions to do low paying jobs? now viet congs are also here.

      • Hi-rise = high income? You must be joking…!

      • try harder your goodself go and tell your friends in property development building low rise creates high income and high rise bldgs low income.

  10. Vulnerable folks due to massive unsustainable development may be a force to reckon with in next state election, and its about time many like Anil to enter politics as independent candidate?


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