Today an important meeting in Penang was held, away from the public eye, to discuss a revised Local Plan for Penang Island.
The meeting was a “Bengkel Penyelarasan Kajian Semula Draf Rancangan Tempatan Pulau Pinang (PULAU) 2020 (DRT)” (Workshop to review and streamline the draft Penang Island Local Plan). This was especially to incorporate the Penang transport masterplan and Gurney reclamation into the draft local plan.
Among those present were officers from the MBPP, the Town and Country Planning Department, local plan external drafting consultants, and Penang Heritage Trust.
Disquietingly enough, also present were half a dozen representatives from the Gamuda-led SRS Consortium, the selected project delivery partner for the Penang transport masterplan.
The meeting was said to be “confidential” because they were going to discuss the transport masterplan with SRS.
SRS is only the selected project delivery partner, and their plans are only part of the Penang transport masterplan. (The earlier Halcrow report should be the accepted masterplan as the state adopted it as its blueprint for transport.) No agreement has been signed yet between the state government and SRS. But that did not stop the SRS folks from putting forward their wish list for the local plan. What standing do they have?
Meanwhile, other Penang Transport Council members (like me) were not invited. Neither were Penang Forum reps. Several MBPP councillors were also not told about this meeting.
Among other issues, I hear the meeting today discussed:
- the inclusion of the Penang transport masterplan infrastructure into the local plan
- the inclusion of the three new islands to be reclaimed off the south coast into the local plan
- the land use for these three islands
- transit zones for the LRT
- building height limits
- the 250-feet and 25-degree gradient thresholds for hill-slope property development
- Sia Boey as a controversial transport hub
- a tropical island resort on Pulau Jerejak
- Pulau Rimau to be made a possible tourism site (SRS is believed to be trying to get this island out of the aquaculture zone.)
- the fate of fishing villages
- higher density for property development around LRT stations. There is a push for the higher density to to be extended to a 400m radius from LRT stations instead of the 250m originally suggested.
- 21 kampungs or living quarters on the island are likely to be redeveloped; only eight likely to be preserved.
- the fate of the cross-channel cable cars – a guessing game. Some seem unaware that the federal government has rejected the plan, possibly due to the alignment of the route and the interference the pylons would cause to shipping. Nonetheless, the state apparently wants to slip the cable cars into the local plan as a “suggestion”. Meanwhile, an EIA on the cable cars is underway. (There was no mention of the proposed Penang Hill cable cars project that was slipped into the Penang Hill plan despite consultants’ and review panel objections.)
Are state agencies being too receptive or amenable to whatever is being proposed by SRS? Why is SRS being given considerable leeway?
The hurried Local Plan meeting today was held ahead of a Penang Transport Council meeting tomorrow. At the last council meeting, Penang Forum reps had pointed out that the land reclamation and transport masterplan should be subject to the local plan (still not gazetted despite having been approved in 2008). Obviously, this hadn’t been taken into account earlier.
But the Penang Island Local Plan also cannot be inconsistent with the Penang Structure Plan. Since the review of the structure plan has not yet been completed, the local plan must follow the existing structure plan, which was gazetted in 2007.
Legally, the local plan can be challenged if it doesn’t follow the structure plan in force. But the state is expected to amend the existing structure plan, presently under revision, to fit a revamped local plan – as the local plan previously approved in 2007 and 2008 (but not yet gazetted) has been so mutilated.
Upon the structure plan being revised, the state will have to display the draft revised structure plan publicly and get comments and then gazette the structure plan. The local plan will then follow suit and be displayed to the public. The MBPP will then examine the local plan to see that it conforms to the revised structure plan. If not, the council will have to reject the whole local plan .
The exhibition and public display of the structure plan will take a few more months. They will then have to exhibit the local plan. All this could take us up to next year.
This also means work on any of the projects cannot begin until all this is completed with due process being followed. And if the detailed EIAs are properly carried out, the start time would be postponed even further.
But even with due process, how likely is public feedback and criticisms on key issues likely to be incorporated into the plans given the enormous corporate profits riding on all this? After the public display, the draft plan will not be shown to the public again until after it has been gazetted; so what can the public do if their legitimate concerns are not incorporated?
As it stands now, are the new property development projects along the northern coast eg Batu Ferringhi consistent with the existing Penang Structure Plan especially in terms of property development density? Who is there to object to this?