About 100 residents of Sg Ara staged a protest this morning against an RM800m luxury property development project on the hill-slopes of their area.
They are peeved that the MPPP approved planning permission for a hill-slope development project in their area in March 2012. The planning permission permission was given subject to technical conditions in a geotech report and an EIA report being fulfilled.
Sunway City (Penang) Sdn Bhd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Sunway City Berhad (controlled by Jeffrey Cheah), acquired 81 acres of freehold land for RM39m in 2010. According to the residents, the developer plans to build 600 homes (including 92 three-plus-one storey bungalows and 14 condominium blocks ranging from nine to 18 storeys) over the 81 acres, or 7.4 homes/acre. The residents claim this exceeds the guidelines for permissible hill-slope development of 6 homes/acre and a two-storey height limit.
The history of this area dates back to 1996, under the previous administration. The area was categorised as low density perumahan am in the MPPP’s Development Control and Planning Master Plan (Plan Dasar Perancangan dan Kawalan Kemajuan), essentially a zoning plan, which was approved on 13 September 1996.
In 2007, the Penang Structure Plan was approved and gazetted. This plan forbids development in areas exceeding 250 feet above sea level and on hill-slopes with a gradient of more than 25 degrees. But according to the state government, there is an exceptional projects (projek istimewa) category for those projects that had been classified as low density general housing before the Structure Plan was tabled and these may be exempted from the prohibitions subject to meeting technical conditions. Such projects are also believed to require the approval of the State Planning Committee.
The project land could also be subject to the provisions of the Land Conservation Act 1960 as, according to the residents, much of the land is zoned as forest land in the Penang Structure Plan.
The application for planning permission was submitted on 21 December 2011 and approved on 26 March 2012, after the MPPP went through the motions of seeking public objections last June. The approval was based on the green light given to the geotech report by a committee on high-risk development and the EIA by an environmental committee.
The neighbouring residents who had objected were told they could appeal to the Appeals Board, and they have since submitted their appeals.
The question remains: why did the MPPP approve this project when there are new guidelines on hill-slopes in place? Based on its old zoning plan in 1996? Surely times have changed and that zoning plan should be superseded in view of the state government’s policy of not approving any more new hill-slope developments. After all, the present state government claims that it has not approved a single hill-slope project since taking over in 2008.
Who decided that this particular project is a projek istimewa and on what legal grounds?
Doesn’t the MPPP now have the right to reject planning permission for projects that are not in the public interest – e.g. congestion, environmental destruction, and hill-slope risk? Does it really have no choice but to approve?
A Penang state exco member has denied allegations that the state government had tried to influence the MPPP to approve the hill-side projects in Sungai Ara.
Sunway City has now submitted its building plan application for Phase 1 (on 30 April 2012).
A lot has changed in our awareness of hill-slope development since 1996. Why should we allow a 1996 MPPP zoning plan to trump the over-riding restrictions on hill-slope development that should be strictly enforced?
And what has happened to the Penang Island Local Plan?
These are all valid public interest questions.
Under subsection 25(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1976, “If it appears to the local planning authority to be in the public interest that a planning permission granted under section 22 (3) or an approval of a building plan given under any of the previous local government laws should be revoked or modified, the local planning authority may order the permission or approval to be revoked or modified to such extent as appears to it to be necessary.”
The Penang public will be closely watching the proceedings of the Appeals Board, fixed for 18 July 2012. The residents are expected to argue that the project has exceeded permissible height and density limits for hill-slope development and to question the rationale for regarding this as a projek istimewa.