Reports have surfaced that the Penang Turf Club has called for bids to buy or develop 23ha of its 104ha plot of land.
The Edge reported that E & O Bhd said it had submitted a bid. The NST said speculation has it the call had attracted proposals from major developers such as E & O, SP Setia Bhd, IJM Land Bhd and Mah Sing Group Bhd.
Last October, another report said the Turf Club was going ahead with a RM30 million project to build 25 bungalows which it hoped would generate close to RM2 million annually in rental income. The bungalows were to be built on 5.6 acres of land on the fringe of the racecourse close to Jesselton.
The latest news about the 23ha suggests that the Turf Club is increasing looking at property development. Over the years, horse-racing has been losing its appeal as a spectator sport. More young adults have been drawn to Premier League football; so it wasn’t surprising when Berjaya tried to capitalise on that by trying to kick off sports betting.
With horse-racing now fading into a sunset sport, the Turf Club appears to be trying to turn its property asset into money-making ventures. The other reason for this interest in property development could be the scare the Club received when calls were made for the Turf Club land to be turned into a public park after the PGCC scandal fiasco – so what better way for the Club to ensure that the land remains zoned as ‘mixed development’ than to quickly start building on it before a far-sighted administration tries to return the land to ‘recreational’ status.
If you recall, it was the BN state administration that surreptitiously rezoned the land from ‘recreational’ to ‘mixed development’ – instantly providing a durian runtuh for the ‘Patrick Badawi’-led Penang Global City Centre developer and the Turf Club, which owns the valuable prime land.
Looking further back, the Turf Club was awarded its present plot of land in Batu Gantung. No doubt it may be ‘Grade A’ land, but the rationale for granting the land to the Club was so that it could be used for public recreation as a racecourse. To ensure the the plot remained for recreational use, the local government zoned the land as such.
It was one of the big betrayals of the last BN government that it allowed the land to be rezoned to ‘mixed development’, which facilitated the PGCC scare and handed a whopping unrealised revaluation surplus to the owners of the land. And what did the local government get in return?
Out of the 23ha land mentioned in the latest reports, some 16ha are reportedly believed to be hilly land. See this excerpt from a Business Times report:
Property valuers say the price for that 23ha site could amount to between RM160 million and RM180 million.
It is understood that some 16ha are on a hill.
A valuer contacted by Business Times, who had said that the piece of hillside land in Penang could not be developed, quoted the price at between RM30 per sq ft and RM40 per sq ft.
The land below the hill has more value at about RM150 per sq ft.
The local government needs to clarify if such hilly land can be developed.
Civil society activists like Kanda Kumar maintain that a large portion of flat land must be reserved for public use. This excerpt from NST:
Kanda Kumar said this was because PTC’s land, which was previously zoned as an open space before it was re-zoned as a mixed development, was originally acquired from the state government at a nominal sum.
Since the land was given to PTC by the government for a nominal sum, the public should be compensated in some way and gain something from this development, he argued.
“The state government must impose the necessary restrictions in the interests of the people and not allow itself to be manipulated by developers.”
Penang Heritage Trust council member Loh-Lim Lin Lee urged the state government and the Penang Island Municipal Council to handle the development project and other future projects on PTC land transparently.
Loh-Lim said with the area being sensitive to development, the residents there should be properly informed of the permitted density, plot-ratio and building height and traffic dispersal plans.
“We do not want to be caught off guard again like the last time with the PGCC, so please tell us what is going on.
“The state might have stopped the PGCC, but we want to know if this will slowly progress into the same kind of development,” she said.
It would seem as if the ‘ghost of PGCC’ is now back to haunt us.