In absence of Local Plan, field day for developers in Penang

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According to an activist: “Good report by Himanshu on the Penang Island Local Plan and development issues.”

The excuse that that the Penang Island Local Plan has to wait for the several Special Area Plans (SAP) is not acceptable “as the Local Plan has a higher hierachy over the SAP in the Town And Country Planning Act. It is standard practice to gazette the plans of higher hierachy first (ie. Structure Plan, Local Plan and then SAP) and not the other way round,” added the activist.

“The Penang draft Local Plan has been on hold since 2008, that is waiting for six years too long! Himanshu rightly pointed out that Penang developers are having a field day exploiting the absence of a gazetted Local Plan by building anything, anywhere they want all over the island.”

What is interesting is that DAP reps themselves are questioning the frenzied property development in the absence of the Local Plan.

Read Himanshu’s piece in fz.com

Land, development troubles swept over by rowdy antics at Penang Assembly
First Published: 7:01am, May 30, 2014

by Himanshu Bhatt

GEORGE TOWN (May 30): The first meeting of the second session of the 13th Penang State Assembly is now better known for a series of dramatic antics, by blokes who had nothing to do with the assembly, rather than the proceedings proper.

Those who attended the assembly last week first saw a fellow drop flat on the road in front of the chief minister’s official car, and later a bunch of ruffians breaking into the assembly’s august chamber screaming warnings and threats.

Because of these, several issues of major importance to Penangites that were brought up in the proceedings were swamped or swept aside by the attention given to these incidents. One very vital matter that was deliberated at length was on the long-delayed Penang Island Local Plan as well as the related problems of development control in the state.

According to Teh Yee Cheu (DAP-Tanjung Bungah) the Local Plan should have been released by 2011 or 2012.

His constituency is seeing an onslaught of high-density projects that have upset existing residents, and caused anxiety about environmental degradation.

The problem of high-density projects appearing near residential areas and affecting locals is one many assembly have faced.

The adverse consequence of the holdup in enforcing the local plan has been that without its necessary guidelines and specifications, developers are “taking advantage” by seeking to build questionable projects in sensitive places like hill-slopes, coastal areas and where populations are affected by increased density, congestion, pollution and traffic, Teh maintained.

Ong Kok Fooi (DAP-Berapit) pointed out that the state government and the municipal councils’ One-Stop Committees should monitor and ensure new projects do not adversely encroach into existing and traditional residents of a neighbourhood.

In her own constituency, areas like hill-slope like Taman Sentosa and Taman Sri Indah are seeing illegal activities that may pose danger to the safety of residents, she said. “Does state government have a standard operating procedure to prevent this?”

Reasons for local plan wait

Amidst the stream of complaints from assembly members, Jagdeep Singh (DAP-Datuk Keramat), the state executive councillor for town and country planning, and housing, addressed why the plan has still not been implemented.

It needs to incorporate the Special Area Plan (SAP) for the Unesco-listed George Town heritage zone which is in the final stages, he explained.

It also needs to include the SAP for the Botanic Gardens which has to be presented to the state Economic Planning Unit (EPU) first.

The George Town SAP is in fact complete but needs to be translated into Malay and this is taking up much time because it is immensely voluminous.

In the meantime, three separate Special District Plans are still in the very early stages of preparation for the northern, southern and central districts of mainland Seberang Perai.

Yeoh Soon Hin (DAP-Paya Terubong) also chipped in to emphasise on the urgency of the matter. He pointed out that many high-rise projects, with even up to fifty storeys, are being planned in areas where surrounding residents and the environment are being disturbed.

“There is also rezoning being done on agricultural lands to convert them to residential,” he added.

“Without the local plan, developers have a free hand to undertake such projects.” Yeoh in fact asked for the state government to give a more specific time frame on when the plan can be enforced.

Jagdeep acknowledged there is delay, but stressed that both SAPs must be up to date. “I give an assurance that my office will expedite the translation,” he said.

Inconsistency in decisions by agencies

As an example of the development planning controversies that are occurring, Ong Chin Wen (PKR-Bukit Tengah) pointed to a case where a 29-storey project planned in central Seberang Perai was initially disallowed following objections from neighbours.

However, despite the Seberang Perai Municipal Council’s (MPSP) hearing committee having assessed the objection of a neighbour and reduced the maximum height of the building to 12 storeys, the council’s One-Stop Committee later appeared to over-ride that by reinstating the 29-storey limit.

“Unfortunately the One-Stop Committee approved the original plan,” Ong lamented. “This contradicted the decision made by an agency within the MPSP itself to look into objections.”

“The decisions of the MPSP should be consistent,” he stressed. “There are two different decisions by two different agencies in MPSP!”

“This needs to stop because it is embarrassing to the council.”

Even the somewhat rustic rural areas in Tasik Gelugor were recently shaken by the publicised federal plans to develop a multi-billion ringgit mega township on the sprawling site of the Butterworth air force base.

Then there are of course looming tensions over the massive Sri Tanjung Pinang 2 reclamation project which would see Gurney Drive becoming landlocked, the large-scale development of Batu Kawan where land acquisitions are said to be taking place, and many others.

Penangites all over are facing the issue of new construction projects coming up in a seeming endless flow, in scales that are alien to the localities.

If the degree of concern shown in the state assembly is anything to go by, the state authorities will certainly need to act appropriately and immediately on the people’s anxieties before the controversies escalate even further.

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OWC

Not sure if the Penang government is participating in the World Cities Summit 2014 in Singapore (1-4 June 2014):
http://www.worldcitiessummit.com.sg/

The summit dives deep into topical urban issues where insights from case studies and best practices are shared by city leaders and practitioners who have directly led the projects to their successful conclusion. It explores on two of the six thematic tracks – Building Safe and Liveable Cities and Building Resilient Cities.

Penang can certainly learn from the success stories of others to draft its development master plan.