“The Light” and PGCC cast a shadow over Penang


pggc launch night view

What they showed you: Night view (towards George Town) of the PGCC’s “iconic towers” (Image from the official PGCC launch booklet)

pgcc actual plan night view

What they didn’t show you: Add in 37 towers (Image editing by the PGCC Campaign Group)

Even before the PGCC can take off, another massive project, dubbed “The Light”, has been unveiled. The extra commercial space from this waterfront development could lead to a commercial property glut, if there isn’t already one in Penang. It could also “kill off” the PGCC project even before the latter has got off the ground, given that IJM is a far more established developer than the PGCC’s Equine/Abad Naluri. (But then again, Equine/Abad Naluri has already made a “killing” from the revaluation of the property following the authorities’ irresponsible and highly questionable conversion of the Turf Club land from open recreational area to mixed development use. Abad Naluri bought the property at RM43 per sq ft but after the conversion, the value has shot up to RM250-300psf – a staggering profit before the first bulldozer can even rumble in. Who said it’s difficult to become a billionaire!)

Yesterday, I was driving along the Jelutong coastal road, trying to spot the exact location of “The Light” project, when I spotted a small IJM signboard. It was located on the sea-front halfway between Tesco and the Penang Bridge, somewhere almost opposite the E-Gate complex, just north of the Penang Bridge. I could see some land reclamation work already in progress.

IJM light

More “iconic towers”: What “The Light”, just north of the Penang Bridge, will look like (Image credit: IJM)

The Light - Overhead view of the model

Oh, my word!: Model of “The Light” from a vantage point directly above the island side of the Penang Bridge, looking north towards George Town (Photo credit: IJM)

“The Light” is part of the Jelutong Expressway privatisation project, which IJM was involved in. The Penang state government must reveal the exact financial details and terms of the deal. How much did the expressway cost to build? And what exactly was agreed with IJM for undertaking that project? Did the deal take into consideration the current value for reclaimed land?

The first question which comes to mind is, how many low- and medium-cost houses will IJM build in this project? If I am not wrong, the entire land reclamation plan (not just for “The Light) calls for more than half of the homes (5,500 homes) to be low- and medium-cost while there will only be 4,600 “other residential units”.

So why is it there is no talk about such affordable housing in press reports, which leaves the reader to assume that “The Light” is only for the well-heeled. In fact, a Star report on the IJM website says: “There will also be waterfront homes with private jetties and high-end condominiums for those who can afford them. ” (emphasis mine) Another Star report says the residential component of “The Light” will comprise 1,000 luxurious low-rise, high-rise and landed residential homes over 42 acres and it will be a “gated community”. It raises the highly pertinent question: Development for whom? for whose benefit?

IJM Unveils RM6.5 Bln Residential, Commercial Development Project

PENANG, Nov 23 (Bernama) — IJM Properties Sdn Bhd is set to transform Penang into a world class economic and residential hub with the unveiling of its project, The Light Waterfront Penang.

IJM Corp Bhd chief executive officer/managing director, Datuk Krishnan Tan, said the RM6.5 billion mixed residential and commercial development was the island’s first integrated waterfront city and would be built on part of the 137 hectares of reclaimed land along Penang’s eastern coastline.

“The Light will feature 62ha of breathtaking development on the reclaimed land and will be developed in three phases,” he said at ceremony to unveil the project here today.

He said under phase one, covering 17ha, six parcels of high-end waterfront residences, comprising 1,186 units, would be developed.

“The development is expected to be completed in three to five years,” he said.

Tan said under phase two, a commercial and retail city, comprising Gateway Towers, hotels, signature offices, showrooms, banquet and conference facilities, cultural hall, visitor centre and waterfront amphitheatre would be developed on 41.7ha.

“One unique feature of the city is the floating stage and a floating restaurant. The entire city will also be interconnected by water taxis,” he said.

He said The Light would also feature three ha of seafront park under phase three of the development.

Tan said the project, which will developed by IJM Properties Sdn Bhd’s subsidiary, Jelutong Development Sdn Bhd, was expected to be completed in 2017.

“Land reclamation is in progress and construction will start by the end of next year,” he said.


All in, 325 acres are to be developed (including 275 acres to be reclaimed) along the entire Jelutong Expressway coastline. The total net built-up area (residential, commercial, industrial) comes to a breathtaking 28 million acres. Which brings us to the question: how much is the state government getting from IJM out of this?

Do we really need all these types of massive development projects catering to the elite and the well-heeled? What’s with all these “iconic towers” anyway, almost as if we are sticking two fingers out to the world? Do we honestly believe that other Malaysians and tourists are dying to see more skyscrapers, that they will come all the way to see our “iconic towers”?

Here’s what one urban planning expert has to say about these massive projects:

Unfortunately the developers keep on missing the point, or rather their eyes have been blinded by $$$$$! The best urban places in the world that attract millions of tourists (e.g. Venice or Siena in Italy and Curitiba in Brazil) are places with authentic, unique charms in their people, culture, vernacular architecture and natural assets – not empty spaces with high-rise towers and so-called world class shopping complexes. After some decades, La Defense is still nowhere close to good old Paris in terms of sense and spirit of place! Tourists and locals enjoy old Parisian quarters and streets, not sterile spaces in La Defense!

Both the Light and PGCC are not desirable forms of development. Most local Penangites (people in the street like us) won’t gain a bit from them. Having one is a nightmare, having two is “I-can’t-think- of-a-suitable- adjective”! Why do our developers not have any sense of what more sustainable and liveable development should be like? Why does our local authority not reject development proposals like these and put forward a vision and masterplan to make Penang the world capital for sustainable and liveable development? These are not theoretical questions; many world renown architects and masterplanners have successfully designed development projects that are more sustainable and liveable in other countries. Sustainability and liveability are as practical as they may sound theoretical.

Penang should not follow the footsteps of Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and the like. Penang should be just Penang in its most original, sustainable and liveable manner and it is this quality that will eventually bring tourists in.

I think he makes a lot of sense, don’t you? More than that, it is this original, liveable Penang for ordinary people that has endeared itself to Penangites, other Malaysians and tourists for generations. Not the highways, “iconic towers” and the massive shopping malls. But the simple life-style: the charming streets of George Town, full of character, lined with majestic heritage trees… life on the slow-lane… public spaces for ordinary people such as the Esplanade promenade and the newly renovated hawker centre there… the historical shophouses, complete with peeling plaster… the old family-run businesses and coffee-shops offering hawker food – which draw people from all over the country and beyond…

Ahh… the stuff of childhood memories and dreams. Once that is gone, it will be lost forever, as Singapore has found out too late. Is it too late to save Penang from marauding developers?

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9 Feb 2010 11.42pm

sustainable are not just say in theoretic…Are they include land reclamation as sustainable?
Killing & disturbing the marine life for just the iconic building….. consider sustainable?
Does Malaysian really need this?
It is too fast, a BIG step in front that Malaysia may be can’t afford….

7 Dec 2007 11.23am

i love pgcc

7 Dec 2007 11.10am

i love pgcc!

27 Dec 2007 4.58pm

Dear Cha-ly Koh,
Please stop abusing your ‘first world’ mentality by applying it on a ‘third world’ city like Penang, well, in fact the Malaysian government don’t even recognise Georgetown as a city, although HM QE II did proclaimed it a city more than 50 years ago.
Did MIT teach you the survival of the citizen of ‘third world’ cities? I bet they don’t.

27 Dec 2007 5.15pm

Dear Anil, It will be marvelous that we could retain the charm of good ‘ol Georgetown. But seriously, how could the local government survive with these ‘low tax’ industries? Mind you, they need money to maintain the public infrastructures. ‘Life on the slow-lane’….. hmm, perhaps we should turn Penang into another Taiping. Being ideal is one thing, but please think about our children and generations to come, how could they made a living in a slow-moving Penang? All become hawkers and taxi drivers, we have tourism, right? Or perhaps we should just let them migrate to the ‘ugly’ KL to… Read more »

Cha-ly Koh
Cha-ly Koh
13 Dec 2007 5.24am

It’s saddening to see that we have to resort to uprooting whatever we have left, ignore it in order to grab any attention in the world. I’m an MIT masters student in urban planning and here is the little that i think about the project (1) The developers see $$$ in this project but what they don’t see is the potential of getting MORE $$$ and have things sustainable and building the culture for people too. The most successful sites in the Asian spots are aeas such as Back Quay in singapore who grabs about $20,000 singapore dolllars a month… Read more »

12 Dec 2007 5.01pm

Biar la terang-terang. Buat apa nak duk dalam gelap? 50-60 tahun dulu kita dok terseksa malam-malam takda lampu. La ni merasa la malam pun terang mata.

8 Dec 2007 8.32pm

you know it’s funny that pgcc has an observatory between the two buildings… what with all the light pollution

somehow malaysia has all the ‘twin towers’ or double towers. don’t forget the ivory tower at bukit gambier