A document has been making the rounds among residents in Batu Ferrighi indicating that the permissible building density in Batu Ferringhi has been raised from 15 units per acre to 30 units per acre for the tourism and public housing zones. How did this happen?
The document, photographed at the MPPP by one of the residents, shows that the State Planning Committee apparently approved (subject to conditions) an increase in building densities in January 2014.
Similarly, the plot ratio (for commercial property) was increased from 1:1 to 3:1 for the tourism and educational zones.
This doubling and tripling of densities will effectively turn laid-back Batu Ferringhi, at one time famed for its lovely beaches and relaxed rustic setting, into a stress-inviting ‘primary development corridor’. (Tanjung Bungah is facing a similar fate.)
The permissible densities are supposed to be clearly indicated in the gazetted Penang Structure Plan (2005-2015), gazetted in 2007. Now this new increases in densities raise the question as to whether the Penang Structure Plan has been amended.
The law allows for the Structure Plan to be reviewed five years later. So the review process began in 2012, five years after the Plan was gazetted, and the entire review process was expected to be completed by the end of 2013. Apparently, the review has apparently overshot the target for completion – perhaps bogged down by all sorts of requests for changes?
To amend a Structure Plan, the Town and Country Planning Act stipulates a certain statutory procedure:
- the Town and Country Planning Dept must publish in three issues of at least two local newspapers, the place and time where copies of the proposed amendments are available for public inspection,
- the public is given one month to object to the amendments (but that period may be extended once in favour of any particular objector) and the objections must be made in accordance with the rules of the Act,
- the Department shall take steps to “secure that persons who may be expected to desire an opportunity of making representations to the State Director .… are made aware that they are entitled to and are given an opportunity of doing so”.
- the State Planning Committee must appoint a sub-committee to hear every objection,
- the State Planning Committee shall then submit the amendments to the State Authority for assent and publication in the State Gazette.
Presumably, there is a reason for this procedure: so that the local planning authority cannot arbitrarily change permissible densities at the whims and fancies of those with vested interests and cause infrastructural bottlenecks.
So now, several key questions arise:
- has the review process of the Penang Structure Plan been completed?
- if so, when was it completed?
- was the review and any amendments/revision made in accordance with the statutory procedure?
- was the public made aware of amendments to the Plan as required under the Act?
- if the review process has not yet been completed and the original Structure Plan is still in force, how was any increase in density approved?
Clearly, the state government and the MPPP owe the public an explanation.
Meanwhile, the more detailed and specific Penang Island Local Plan, approved in 2008, continues to be Missing In Action (not yet displayed for public feedback and gazetted).