The protests continue: A group of concerned Penangites gathered outside the Penang State Assembly this morning to protest in full view of Penang state assembly members and the press against an RM8bn six-lane highway that will burrow through Penang Hill with thousands of tons of explosives, cut above much-loved parks (Youth Park and Sungai Ara Linear Park) and affect a couple of hundred homes and business.
The protesters from 30 residents associations in Penang and about 10 civil society groups called for improved and more cost-efficient public transport that would improve sustainable mobility. In particular, they want the RM19.5km six-lane Pan Island Link highway, including over 10km of tunnels on the hills of Penang, to be cancelled. They are also calling for the mega transport proposals, put forward by a major contractor and two Penang-based property developers, to be reviewed by an independent international body of experts in sustainable mobility.
The much-criticised highway will affect hundreds of other nearby homes, businesses, schools (with enrolments totalling 6,800 pupils) and places of worship with noise and air pollution, add to vehicle emissions that worsen climate change, and upset the ecological balance.
The protesters were among 4,400 people, mostly concerned Penangites, who have signed an ongoing online petition calling for the cancellation of the highway project so that more sustainable alternatives can be put in place. (Have you signed it already? Still not too late.)
The original Halcrow transport masterplan has been modified by a contractor and two Penang-based developers in SRS Consortium. (They call it an “improved” version.) How? More cost-efficient modes of transport have been substituted with more expensive options such as the Pan Island Link. This has inflated costs from RM27bn to RM46n in the bid to justify the massive land reclamation to create three artificial islands covering 4,500 acres (much larger than Forest City in Johor) for mostly high-end property development. (Just about 20% of the homes on the three islands will be “affordable”.) SRS, after all, stands for Southern Reclamation Scheme, providing a clue about the real motivation behind the scheme.
Before the 2018 general election, the chief minister said that the reclamation was necessary as the state government had no federal funding to improve public transport. But now that the state has access to federal funding, such massive and ecologically harmful reclamation is unnecessary especially as there are better, cheaper, faster alternatives that will not upset the ecological balance of the state while reducing emissions in the long run.
Meanwhile, Penang Forum’s attempt at dialogue with the state assembly members has been rebuffed. An invitation to them for a meeting yesterday to discuss the transport plans ended up with none of them attending, apart from a few councillors from the Province Wellesley Municipal Council on the mainland. At other dialogues with residents from affected neigbourhoods yesterday, Penang Forum found that hardly any of them had seen SRS Consortium’s controversial transport proposals, which have not been put online.
The protest today has made it to front-page news in the Chinese press: