It never rains but it pours – and it is raining mega projects in Penang, whichever way you look.
While the groundswell of discontent over the Pan Island Link, the elevated LRT and the massive land reclamation project continues to grow, an ad in the Star on 20 June passed almost unnoticed. It was a request for proposals to “conduct pre-feasibility study for Penang Hill cable car service”.
The controversy over this began when the cable car plan was quietly inserted into the Special Area Plan for Botanic Garden and Penang Hill a few years ago – against the wishes of the consultants involved, I was told.
This was reminiscent of the way a certain someone’s plan for the cross-channel tunnel was inserted into the Halcrow transport masterplan when it was not an immediate pressing need and would instead lead to the greater use of cars.
The cable car plan is the latest in a series of mega projects proposed by the state.
The problem is Penang Hill is reaching – or has surpassed – its maximum carrying capacity of 10,000 persons per day as laid out in the Penang Hill Local Plan after express trains replaced the old trains which travelled at a more leisurely pace.
With even more visitors to the summit – and if we now throw cable cars and more hotels into the mix, Penang Hill could turn it into a Genting Highlands 2.0, losing its charm and tranquillity in the process.
And where is the base station going to be? Imagine tour buses converging in the already crowded Botanic Garden…
The irony is that this is coming almost 30 years after a Berjaya plan to develop the summit of Penang Hill sparked the successful Save Penang Hill campaign as reported in Aliran Monthly 1990, Vol 10 No 9:
The MOU for the project was signed on 1 September 1990. Less than two months later, at the general election on 20-21 October 1990, then Penang Chief Minister Dr Lim Chong Eu suffered a shock defeat and he was then replaced by Koh Tsu Koon.
Also passing unnoticed is the plan for a four-lane bridge to link Pulau Jerejak to Penang Island and large-scale property development on this historical island – the heritage value of which the state government seems incapable of recognising.
And all this before the massive land reclamation can take off – probably in the middle of next year. The protests have already caught the attention of key social media influencers.
Meanwhile, unhappiness is brewing in different parts of the state.
The approach by the state government and its corporate partners seems to be to try and selesai (settle) each protest separately: the Sungai Nibong mosque community (affected by the LRT), the fishermen in the south (three-island reclamation project), the regular goers to the Sungai Ara Linear Park and the nearby mosque (Pan Island Link highway), the Sungai Ara Tamil School (PIL), the Youth Park visitors (PIL), the Tanjong Tokong fishermen (Tanjong Tokong and Gurney reclamation).
The fishermen in the south are already upset that the public display of the voluminous environmental impact assessment report for the southern reclamation was carried out over the Ramadan/Raya season.
Yesterday, we witnessed a protest at Komtar over the alignment of the proposed LRT that could encroach into the premises of the Sungai Nibong Mosque. (The state government responded that studies are ongoing and nothing has been finalised.)
At the protest, Teroka chairman Zik urged the mosque community not to look at the project in isolation as something that only affects them as other groups were also affected. He pointed out that one of the main aims of the “PTMP” was to justify massive reclamation off southern Penang Island and to generate large profits for a small group of companies.
What happens when all these various communities wake up and realise that the costs of this sort of “development” outweigh the perceived benefits. They already know certain developers and infrastructure companies are going to profit enormously from these projects while they will bear the brunt of the air pollution, noise, siltation, loss of marine life and the degradation of popular green spaces.