‘Special projects’ on hills: Penang Forum vindicated

special projects

Penang Forum’s position against special projects on the hills of Penang, put forward by prominent lawyer Agatha Foo, has been vindicated in recent weeks by three developments. [Basically, Penang Forum said that the Penang state government had come up with guidelines in 2009 that interpreted too broadly the term special projects contained in the Penang Structure Plan, gazetted in 2007. The Structure Plan prohibits development on hill land more than 250 feet above sea level, allowing only “limited development” for special projects under exceptional circumstances.]

  1. A decision by the Appeals Board, chaired by Yeo Yang Poh, in favour of the residents of Sungai Ara, who had appealed against the MBPP’s approval of developer Sunway’s ‘special project’ on a hill in their vicinity.
  2. An article by University of Malaya law professor Gurdial Singh Nijar which affirmed the Appeals Board decision and Penang Forum’s position on special projects.
  3. A statement by the Human Rights Society of Malaysia (Hakam), issued by Ambiga Sreenevasan and Gurdial Singh, supporting Penang Forum’s position and the Appeals Board decision on special projects.

The ball is now in the Penang state government’s court. As Hakam says, “the government is now presented with an excellent opportunity and basis to implement, and if necessary defend, the Appeals Board’s decision in the public interest”. No more talk of having to pay “hundreds of millions in compensation”, please.

Items 2 and 3 above are reproduced below:

Gurdial Singh’s article on special projects: Hill lands and development

The Penang government has been plagued by accusations that the city council is willy-nilly granting approvals to developers to build on vulnerable hill lands –that is, land 76m above sea level and with a steep slope exceeding 25 degrees described by the Penang Structure Plan 2020 (in effect since 2007).

Despite the fact that strict controls are required and development prohibited, developers have been getting approvals. On the basis of an exception which allows “limited development” for “special projects”.

Those who opposed the approvals have been publicly admonished, even vilified as stooges of opposing political parties.

Now the Appeal Board – which decides objections for the grant of such approvals – has laid the matter to rest.

It ruled recently that the council was wrong in granting approvals to a developer, Sunway City, for 630 dwelling places some in multi-storied condominiums on such a hill land.

The decision upholds citizens’ rights, ecological integrity and safety. It balances rather delicately the fundamental values of societies with the desire by developers to construct houses in salubrious hill surroundings in expectation of higher prices and profits. In short – it restores the “people before profits” ethos.

The lucid reasoning of the board makes clear that the proposed housing development could not be a “special project” under guidelines established to clarify “special projects”.

According to these guidelines, to qualify as a special project, there must be approval of an application for the change of land use to housing before the adoption of the Structure Plan in 2007. But the Sunway City developer applied way after the structure plan came into effect – only in March 2011. The approval was in February 2012.

Sunway also argued that its project qualified as a special project under the 2009 guidelines because it was zoned for housing development.

This, said the board, was irrelevant. The zoning did not dispense with the need to get approval of the change of the land use to housing under the structure plan before 2007.

Further “limited development” was allowed. But a project to build 600 dwellings in multi-storied condominiums – between five and 16 storeys in some cases – could hardly qualify as such, said the board.

Finally, the council could not by itself decide that this was a special project. The discretion was given to the State Planning Committee.

Its approval was necessary. The council could not say that it was delegated the power to decide. Because this could only apply to cases of necessity and such like circumstances.

This decision is in line with – and vindicates – the position that civil society had been advocating all along. So the admonishment by authority on high must be a matter of regret.

Now at long last the controversy surrounding hill lands development approvals can be laid to rest. A victory for the ordinary citizen vis-à-vis developers. And opportunity for the state to advance the public interest.


Hakam statement: On Penang chief minister’s statement regarding Penang Forum

We refer to the remarks made at the recent press conference by the Penang Chief Minister (CM) on 13 December 2015, a day after a public forum organised by the Penang Forum on hill development. These related to the approval of development projects on sensitive hill land – 250 feet above sea level and/or with a slope of greater than 25 degrees. Development is prohibited on such vulnerable land except for “limited development for special projects”.

The CM at this press conference said that the development was approved by the previous BN government and that it had not approved any such development. Second that comments should be based on facts. He then went on to say that this credible NGO “has fallen into the misinformation trap set up by the BN and some media who are anti-government”.

The Penang Forum’s information relating to development on sensitive hill land between 2008 and 2015 was provided by the State Government Exco to the Adun at the State Assembly. The recent decision of the Appeals Board – which deals with objections by land owners in respect of approval of development projects – also confirms that planning permission for such development was given during the tenure of the present government. In this case, the application was made by a developer on March 2011 and approved in February 2012 for condominium development on sensitive hill land in Sungai Ara. That explains the Penang Forum addressing these concerns to the present State government. Secondly, the Board set aside this approval as it was flawed. It was neither a ‘special project’ nor a ‘limited development’.

The Penang Forum has been vindicated. Their grounds have been largely accepted by the Board. We note that the State government approved some 55 blocks of high rise development on delicate hill lands between 2008 and 2015.

With the benefit of hindsight we are sure that the Penang Government now realises that they should not so readily malign civil society, howsoever obliquely – for the legitimate and well-founded articulation of matters of great concern to civil society.

For this undermines the fundamental values of a functioning democracy and fundamental human rights of the populace at large.

The government is now presented with an excellent opportunity and basis to implement, and if necessary defend, the Appeals Board’s decision in the public interest. We urge them to do so.

Issued on behalf of the Hakam Executive Committee by

Prof. Gurdial Singh Nijar
Vice-President, Hakam
Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan
President, Hakam

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“The animals outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, but it was already impossible to say which was which.” – George Orwell, Animal Farm, 1945

Cecelia Goon Yoke Sim

I wish to highlight Siara 81 residence @ Cngkat Sg Ara 19 and 20 is also facing the same problem. There a developer going to built 600 units of affordable flats next door to our taman. 70 over residence protest, MBPP only reply to 3 residence. 2 receive amother 1 did not. Can u advise us?


I recently went to search for an address in Cangkat Sg Ara 20 which Google map led me to Holland hill!
Finally I reached a seemingly small lane with a T junction at entry to Cangkat Sg Ara 20. This inconspicuous junction at this lorong (a narrow 2-lane road) is prime for accident if one does not know it is a service road. After selling landed properties for God knows how much, the developer has forgotten about this inconspicuous lorong?
Cosmopolitan Penang for risky living?


(Does this mean) the CM lied and lied repeatedly to the public on the “Special projects” and hill slope developments(?) Can the CM be impeached or referred to a special committee for action? Did he lie knowingly or fed wrong info my his minions? If it is the later case, he should take actions against those responsible. However we need to hear from the CM on what he intends to do with those responsible for the approval? Hopefully not another “Case closed”?


Very good. What about the Ali baba with his billions? Wsj reiterated in ABC interview on what they reported.


Anil, did you draw that green line ‘fat monster’ on the hills?
Good riddance of greed, incompetent state administration & itchy hands of hill rapist.




To keep DAP which much more better than UMNO is to tamed the WILD CAT demi god by people’s power of Penang.

rajraman.Demi God must be tamed at all cost since UMNO can’t be tamed at whatever cost at this moment.$$$ and power do change most peoples and one of them the DEMI GOD. Demi God tasted that and he want more. Tame the WILD CAT and leashed him to people’s power.


Absolute Vodka minus the drunken incense from worshipper joss sticks.
If one wishes to keep DAP, get rid of hegemonism, personality idolism, political-corporate tango & the nonsensicality of perennial blaming game. And of course, show us the Penang Local Plan still in hiding for some ulterior motives other than special projects. And UBAH Botak Hill to its original forest state without a tar road nor cement drains (if it dares to do so against Ah Piang’s wishes).

BTW, we did not ask for a CAT That Bluffs.


Most people’s buy the Political Traders who sells their “Bluffs” expecially someone who keep posting favaurable link about the bluffing CAT.

rajraman. Cheap Minister ( borrow from your words Tunglang) manage to sell his BLUFF but luckly someone like you and Anil never give up to exposed their multiple tonque.


Why must you insult Taoist believers with Vodka and drunken incense?
If the Christians like you are virtuous, then we will not see child abuse (sexually) among the Catholic priests!

English Guru Ang Moh Kia

Absolute could be meant “certainly”. A metaphorical speech?


So you must be drunk with Komtar CAT joss sticks from Carnarvon Street?
Go drink more Kopi-O kau kau & pray less to idols.


A genuine heritage lover would not use joss stick as a mocking reference sincea it is a heritage and tradition of the Chinese community. Have some respect, can or not?

Carnarvon Joss Stick Seller

People worship to deities with joss sticks.
Pray pray to Tokong, also with joss sticks.
Please come to Carnarvon Street, no GST, also can pray pray facing direct Komtar.


they cant debate but love to hit below the belt

Patricia Anne Martinez

Well done!


Heritage lovers don’t fancy high rise structures, not knowing the new McD cultivated generation love the cosmopolitan lifestyles. I am from rural area and we come to Penang island to absorb the hips and hypes of new world. So I suggest those who cannot tolerate latest development on island to retire in mainland rural environment.

Youth Park YogaGuru

Helo, you don’t own Penang lah.
Let the locals decide. Jangan kacau like gatai Botanical…!!!!!!
Anyhow, Penang coconut trees are also high rise, suit you fine!!!!!!!

gk ong

Penang island is a city that will not escape rapid modern development. Luckily there are SP as rural alternatives nearby in Seberang Prai and Sungai Petani, for old times sake and lower cost of living.


Good advice for those who complain about cosmopolitan lifestyle on the Penang island.


Come to Penang to see many uninhabited new high-end condos full of wandering ghosts! Just look for signs of unlit units. Even uninhabited landed properties have whispering voices inviting you to their new world of cosmopolitan homes. If you are the McD Gen with a penchant for x-ploring haunted sites, Penang’s the place. Caution: Do not challenge these ghosts like Zak Bagans (of Ghost Adventures) lest you ask for troubles. You might be scratched by a cat ghost from Komtar! if you cannot tolerate the torments from these ghosts, go see the King of Ghost for immediate relief. Here’s: https://www.facebook.com/GhostKingFanClub… Read more »

Tua Pai Kiah

a balanced mix of McD diet and ori-maestro local heritage dishes is the menu for new cosmopolitan Penang like it or not….

Sia Boey Tua Cheng

No Mac Donald in Sia Boey. Lu kong ha mi?


Penang wants their sons, daughter in laws, grandsons and their grand daughter in laws house all under one roof. No body offers any ideas where they can leave and have their sweet home sweet but sour slum sour

4-SeKawan Gelak-Gelak

Build more affordable housing (rm150K-200K) on island and mainland for Penangites (only).
Forget about high end expensive and unaffordable ones.
Those old housing estates with low rise be torn down to rebuild high rise.
Round up speculators and developers with habits of speculating.
That way, sons, daughters, grandchildren and in-laws can stay together in same housing estates for life!
And this will guarantee CAT gets votes GE after GE.


Can or cannot … to tell where are the cheap non hill land available
In Penang island? Please go around and ask rich towkays to donate any land in Penang island like the Arab royalty donate to ah jibb. Ask 1MDB since they bought a piece of land.

Old housing? They are untouchable. Heritage. Further existing residents are not space men shuttling from one place to another to relocate to a new place and then back again. Please don’t treat developers and spectators like cattle rounding up. U can ask igp or SB.

… can or not!


when i first landed in penang and was close to penang police station in morning i wss welcome with a guy pointing a knief at me. another guy. also eye on me what a culture


Niao Kong can lie for all it can meow to the worshippers (still in Absolute Vodka drunken denial), but the fact is that it approved some 55 blocks of high rise development on delicate hill lands between 2008 and 2015. The Botak Hill saga is alleged one of them, (the rezoning) approved by the State Planning Committee chaired by your highly venerable … which holds absolute discretion of approval above established hill land laws. To those who think they can play-play with land issues, better think twice. To those who ask ordinary folks to fork out funds to save heritage… Read more »