Why is Penang forecasting a higher population in 2030 than the Statistics Department’s projection?

The Department of Statistics projects a lower population figure for Penang

Ah, population. Much of our development planning for housing and mobility including transport infrastructure hinges on what we expect our future population to be.

If the population forecast is unrealistically higher, then we would be planning and building more homes, highways and transport infrastructure than what we would actually need – which would be a colossal waste of our resources. Think of the property glut and over-the-top spending on transport infrastructure.

Let’s take a look at the population of the state of Penang;

Present population (Department of Statistics): 1.75m (2017)

Department of Statistics forecasts 1.98m (2030 revised) and 2.05m (2035)


Survey report, Penang Structure Plan projects 2.53m (2035)
SRS Consortium (for land reclamation and transport infrastructure) projects 2.45m (2030)

Immediately, we can see there is a disparity of about half a million between the Department of Statistics’ figures and those projected by others.

Those higher projections of about 2.5m appear to be based on historical growth rates for the population extrapolated forward, whereas the Department of Statistics projects a much lower figure of around 2.0m.

Which is more accurate?

The Department of Statistics has access to more reliable and up-to-date data on migration, mortality and fertility. It also uses more sophisticated, internationally recognised projection techniques looking into each age group and gender.

Declining fertility

Of interest are the fertility rate and migration.

Let us look at the fertility rate, which is the average number of children each woman can be expected to have. All other things being equal, you would need a fertility rate of 2.1 for the population to replace itself ie for the population to remain stable.

Back in 1995, the total fertility rate in Penang in 1995 was 2.5. No wonder the population was growing steadily back then.

The fertility rate in Penang has plunged below the crucial 2.1 mark as people have fewer children.

But by 2015, the fertility rate had plunged by 40 per cent to just 1.5. (In Singapore, the total fertility rate is 1.24 and Hong Kong 1.2.) Just look around at your friends and relatives and see how few children they have now compared to the previous generation. (That’s not surprising, given the higher cost of living and higher level of education.) That’s not all. The Department of Statistics projects the fertility rate for Penang to drop even further to just 1.3 in 2040.

So the natural population of Penang is hardly soaring!

Now, let’s look at migrants. How you project the population of Penang depends largely on this.

Bear in mind over the last 20 years (a period which covers times of economic boom as well as lean years), the average net inward migration (those settling in Penang minus those leaving Penang) was about 9,300 per year. Net migration for the period from 2010 to 2015 was even lower than this figure.

So the declining fertility rate and the low net migration into Penang help explain why the Department of Statistics projects only a small growth in the population of Penang from now. In fact, we are an aging population with the percentage of those over 60 rising from 9 per cent in 2017 to 15 per cent in 2030.

Now, why does this matter? If you ask most people, chances are they think that the population of Penang is rapidly expanding. This misconception is reinforced by state and developers’ propaganda that makes us believe that we have no choice but to reclaim more land and increase property density to cope with a surge in population.

But the reality is different: the Penang population is only rising very gradually due to a small net inward migration. After all, how many Malaysians can afford the state’s exorbitant property prices?

Build and ‘they’ will come?

So… if our population is hardly soaring – and instead increasing ever so slightly – do we really need to spend RM46bn on transport infrastructure which includes a six-lane north-south highway hugging Penang Hill and an eight-lane highway along Gurney Drive?

Do we really need to increase the maximum property development density by over four times (from 30 units per acre to 128)? Do we need to get rid of lower-density secondary corridors to raise the density in many places?

Do we really need another 381,000 homes until 2035 (as suggested in the Penang Structure Plan), which would double the number of existing homes of 387,000 (as recorded in the 2010 census) – and worsen the property glut.

Who are we building for? Is Penang adopting a build-and-they-will-come policy? But who are “They”? Wealthy foreigners?

I put across a couple of related questions on two different occasions:

My question during a Penang Transport Council workshop, which I attended as a representative of Aliran, in September 2016:

The three proposed artificial islands in the south of Penang Island are expected to house some 300,000 people. Where are these people coming from?

The answer I got was something along these lines: Well, the population is expected to grow because of economic activity, and these people will need a place to stay.

Then I asked, who are these 300,000 people that are expected to settle on these three islands – when only about 20 per cent of the homes on these three islands are going to be “affordable”? Who are we building for, really?

Are we going to create enclaves for the rich, especially on the second and third islands farther away from the noisy airport and the industrial zone, where there would very likely be fewer “affordable” homes amidst the exclusive condos and houses? (Most of the “affordable” homes will be concentrated in the first island nearest to Bayan Lepas.)

Someone from the planning section conceded that indeed these artificial islands in the south would cater mainly for the rich, especially the second and third islands. We knew that, didn’t we. But to actually hear them admitting it was something else.

Then at the Penang Structure Plan review briefing at Komtar on 8 December 2016, I asked why they were using a population forecast that was much higher than the Department of Statistics’ projection for Penang in 2030.

The answer: It would be better to plan for more people.

“Better” in what way and for whom I am not sure. Wouldn’t a much higher projected population figure lead to the creation of a glut in the property market, more towers and higher density than otherwise necessary?

Is the Penang Structure Plan in reality a developers’ plan that makes uses of the Town and Country Planning Act to justify more property development than necessary, as one observer suggested?

Does the planning department really think its forecast is more accurate than the Department of Statistics? Should they have a debate with the Department of Statistics about whose figure is more accurate?

With a population that is only creeping upwards, it is time to explore alternative, more sustainable development models, including the concept of a steady state economy.

Maybe then we won’t end up with a situation like this, as reported in The Edge – after all the propaganda we had been fed earlier:

The Business Processing Outsourcing Prime (BPO Prime) and Penang International Technology Park (PITP) projects worth a combined RM11.3 billion, which involve the Penang Development Corp (PDC) and Singapore’s Temasek Holdings Private Ltd, have been deferred due to current property market conditions.

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Could higher citizen mobility causing a false perception (what we see and feel) of increasing population? And also the increasing adoption of cars, causing congestion and lead to misconception of increasing population.

Joon Ping

The Gerakan and the MCA and MIC got zero for two straight elections and in all probability will get zero again this coming elections. Hence the only way they can control the rakyat in Penang is to impose federal rule in violation of the federal constitution. Rejected again and again by the rakyat of Penang and held in contempt for their incompetence and corrupted administration the UMNO /BN coalition which has looted the nation of its wealth is trying tp undermine the will of the people Penang who will reject them.


MCA and Gerakan are hoping to swap seats with Umno to stand in muslim majority area, knowing that they have lost the support of non-malays. How shameful?


Penang will continue to attract more local Chinese immigrants from the neighbouring states like Kedah, Perlis and Perak if these states continue to be ruled by BN.


Those who do not like the way Penang is developing could swap places with these neighboring folks!


Low fertility rate among the chinese is not as alarming as the high number of civil servants in Malaysia: 1 civil servant for every rakyat.

Read about the bloated civil service here:

Gin Tua Pooi

Marvis: Please continue to stop having children or don’t start at all. Men are all evil and children are bad for the environment and the body.


GEORGE TOWN – Ketua Menteri, Y.A.B. Tuan Lim Guan Eng menasihati Pengerusi UMNO Pulau Pinang, Datuk Seri Zainal Abidin Osman supaya tidak mengaitkan keputusan syarikat pelaburan dari Singapura, Temasek Holdings untuk menangguhkan projek Business Processing Outsourcing Prime (BPO Prime) dan Taman Teknologi Antarabangsa Pulau Pinang (PITP) di kawasan komersil utama di Batu Kawan dan Bayan Baru dengan keyakinan pelabur terhadap Pulau Pinang. Guan Eng berkata, kenyataan Zainal Abidin itu adalah tidak berasas memandangkan Temasek Holdings (Temasek) hanya menangguhkan projek tersebut buat sementara waktu dan bukannya menarik diri. “Dia (Zainal Abidin) tidak tahu latar belakang (projek berkaitan) dan hanya buat kritikan.… Read more »

Joon Ping

According to Oriental Press today, Temasik insisted on more joint property development in Penang as part of the conditions for BPO deal. So good that Penang government is suspending the negotiations.

Seng Aun Teoh

They must have learned a thing or two from Sabah.


Gerakan should invite Najib to hold his TN50 Town house-styled dialogue session in Penang to offer BN’s vision for Penang for the next 30 years. It will offera choice for Penangites to compare withthe current offerings by Pakatan government in Penang. MCA should not participate as it lacks ambition and happily settled and satisfied with the present 3 minister positions.


Gerakan needs to elaborate how come Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal cost in excess of RM500million during their time in power, as many now suspect potential “leakage” when present SPICE project cost RM600+million, take into account inflation after 10 years of comparison.
Present young Gerakan leaders need to admit past misdeeds of their ex elderly leaders otherwise they cannot win the hearts of the commoners now bleeding in barang naik situations.

Shum Shum

Anil I think you can verify with ex YB Teng Hock Nun on Sg Nibong Bus Terminal actual cost. If it cost half a billion ringgit, something must be wrong and MACC need to dig it out.
Rakyat money must be accounted.

Joon Ping

Just Google Star Online for the info.


The same “Who will take up these houses? in Johor. Expert sees spectre of ghost towns in Johor http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2017/01/24/expert-sees-spectre-of-ghost-towns-in-johor/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+FreeMalaysiaToday+%28FMT+News%29 PETALING JAYA: A veteran property consultant has warned that many places in Johor will become ghosts towns because of the top-down nature of development there, particularly in the Iskandar region. In an interview with FMT, chartered surveyor Ernest Cheong said he feared there wouldn’t be enough people to occupy the thousands of houses and commercial buildings being constructed. “Just Forest City alone is estimated to be able to house some 700,000 people,” he said. “Who will take up these houses? Johoreans?… Read more »

Joon Ping

Not all PRC Chinese want to stay in their homeland if they want to safeguard their ill-gotten gains and black money when President Xi is ‘beating tigers’ to curb corruption. Malaysia being a corrupted country is a sound place for them to park their black money, all in cash stashing in the condominiums bought. No hot has many international schools that these PRC folks could enrol their children to study.


Some developers in Iskandar have dropped prices to move leftover apartments, adding downward pressure on valuations. Buyers who took deferred payment plans and paid down less than 10% of purchase prices are walking away from their investments. Some investors have gone further, requesting developers to refund their downpayments by citing the inability to secure mortgages as the banks have tightened up on loans to foreigners.


Many SingLanders invested (to speculate) in Johor properties 5 years ago when the Ringgit was not free-falling. And till now, many of these speculators could not sell as many Johoreans cannot afford such high-end properties. Now, with the falling Ringgit (depreciating 35+%), even to sell any Johor property at 1st buyer price will not recoup back initial capital to send back to SingLand. What to do with unsaleable properties & capital stuck across the Straits of Johor? Just breed ghosts? With such dire straits property scenario in Johor, it is unthinkable that property gurus continue to sing the Johor property… Read more »


Use your own judgement and trust no property gurus.


Ernest Cheong predicted property bubble burst many years ago but the sector is still resilient with more condominiums being built including on reclaimed land all over Malaysian. Use your instinct, never believe in the words of the “Property Gurus”.


If kiasi kiasu don’t rush (herd mentality) to buy those overpriced condos, then there is less demand to finance the buildings of more condos.
Those who pay the premium actually finance the start up, and the developers can afford to leave vacant units unoccupied by living souls so you can witness majority of new condos with low occupancy.


Quote: The Department of Statistics has access to more reliable and up-to-date data on migration, mortality and fertility. Reality Plus: More Bo-Bin-Chui Penangites will have to emigrate to SP, Taiping, Ipoh & further (other states) since property prices in Penang are projected (by property gurus) to hold on for the foreseeable future. Quote: Bear in mind over the last 20 years (a period which covers times of economic boom as well as lean years), the average net inward migration (those settling in Penang minus those leaving Penang) was about 9,300 per year. Net migration for the period from 2010 to… Read more »

Kang JB

I think the hawkers in Penang could afford the high price properties since they enjoy good business despite increasing their selling price of hawker food.