Today, the National Physical Planning Council meeting reportedly approved the massive 4,500-acre land reclamation project off the coast of southern Penang Island. This comes at around the same time as a large crowd of activists have shut down London in protest at the lack of action against climate change by British leaders.
Same over here. Climate change and sustainable development mean zilch to our leaders and planners who are merrily proposing and approving ecologically damaging projects left, right and centre – oh yes, with all those lovely “conditions”, “mitigation measures” and – here’s a new one – “18-point advice” – all of which are not worth the paper they are written on.
Make no mistake, today is a dark day for Penang – a day when politics and businesses triumphed over the concerns of civil society groups, fisher folks, people who enjoy the vistas from the beautiful southern coastline, and ordinary folks who eat local marine fish.
The project will create three artificial islands. Why three islands rather than reclaiming from the coastline outwards? Simply because with islands, developers can sell more high-end homes with the coveted “sea view” which command a higher price.
Look how the three islands are described in the press:
“Island A will be zoned as a new industrial park due to its proximity to the airport, while…
“…Island B will be specifically for high-end support services for the industrial park, such as financial services, business services and tourism.
“Finally, Island C will be for the creation of new tourism products for Penang.”
All fine and dandy.. except nothing mentioned about the tens of thousands of high-end homes that will be built.
Indeed, that is precisely what is driving the project – the prospect of selling high-end homes – but to whom? This is camouflaged with rhetoric about “economic development”, “tourism products” and reduction of congestion (for just five to seven years). They don’t tell you that those islands, where 300,000 people will live, are going to be so densely populated. But where are the people coming from when the total fertility rate for Penang has dropped below population replacement level?
This is where I fail to understand Mahathir. If he is so against Forest City and the sale of large amounts of property to foreigners, how can the National Physical Planning Council he chairs approve the reclamation in Penang, which will cover an area larger than Forest City?
When I asked the Penang state executive council member for housing at a recent NGO-organised workshop on housing if it was true that only 20% of the homes on the three islands would be affordable, he did not seem entirely certain, but then he said it was probably the case. The 20% figure was mentioned by SRS Consortium at a Penang Transport Council meeting some time ago. At another workshop organised by the state government, one of the state planners agreed that a couple of the artificial islands would be islands for the wealthy.
So the question remains, where are the 80% of the buyers of the unaffordable homes going to come from? Why are we sacrificing so much of the Commons – which belongs to the public, including the fisherfolk – to build homes for the wealthy and superrich and to enrich a group of developers and contractors with fabulous profits. All for the sake of some of the most exorbitant transport infrastructure recommended by the very corporations who will profit from this outlandish scheme.
Today is Thursday of Holy Week, the day we recall how Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Today too a sense of betrayal has enveloped Penang.