Flash protest breaks out during Penang government’s forum on SRS mega transport plans

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A silent flash protest by a blossoming green movement, many of them young people, took place in full view of Penang state government leaders and their consultants and contractors during a public forum on the RM46bn SRS transport proposals (see video above).

This was the result of growing green activism in the state by those concerned about the quality of life in Penang in the face of unsustainable transport plans. This time, I would say the crowd of about 700 in the auditorium was 60:40 against the SRS proposal, going by their reactions and applause against the plans.

Protest inside Dewan Sri Pinang – Photograph by a concerned Penangite

But what for me was most unexpected and the biggest insight I got from today’s proceedings was that all is not well with the timing and financing of the SRS transport proposal.

From my earlier stint in the Penang Transport Council for a couple of years, I learned that SRS’ RM46bn mega transport proposal was to be carried out in two phases:

Phase 1 (until about 2023-2024)

  • LRT Komtar-airport (RM8bn)
  • Pan Island Link highway Phases 1 and 2A (RM6bn, later increased to RM8bn, after expanding the highway from four lanes to six lanes)
  • This was to be financed by land reclamation of Islands A (nearest the airport) and B.
The RM46bn SRS plan

Phase 2 (from about 2023 to 2030)

  • LRT (airport to three islands)
  • PIL Phase 2 to link up to the three islands
  • Monorails, BRT, etc
  • This was to be financed by the land reclamation to create Island C.

The three islands would cover some 4,500 acres – much larger than the Forest City land reclamation.

Fresh delays?

All this seems to have changed. What was revealed in passing at the forum suggests there has been a major delay in the timing of the SRS projects.

Someone from the floor asked why the state government was seeking a RM1bn soft loan from the federal government when previously SRS had said the public would not have to come up with any financing apart from the land reclamation.

The state government responded that if it gets the RM1bn loan from the federal government, it could carry out the Komtar-Airport LRT and PIL1 simultaneously. (But even so RM1bn interim financing seems too little for projects totalling about RM17bn.)

READ MORE:  Tanjung Bunga residents object to 'north coast paired road' on hill slopes

Otherwise – and this looks like their fall-back plan – the state/SRS would begin by building only the LRT line in 2020 and reclaim just Island A, for a start. Only towards the end of the LRT construction would work on the PIL highway begin around 2027 – unlike previously when both were to be constructed simultaenously. If that’s the case, it looks like PIL has been shelved for now.

And because of the longer timeline, a new “Phase 3” was mentioned for the first time.

Glut in high-end property

Why all this delay?

The elephant in the room, which the state didn’t mention, was of course a recent Bank Negara report which pointed to a huge glut or overhang in high-end homes – the highest in a decade. This is going to cast a serious cloud over not just the reclamation of the three islands (for high-end property development) but all the other reclamation projects in the state, including the just announced Pantai Bersih-Teluk Ayer Tawar land reclamation in Butterworth on the mainland.

After all, only 20% of the homes in SRS’ three islands are supposed to be ‘affordable’ and the rest, by extension, unaffordable (except to the wealthy – but where will these wealthy buyers come from?).

Check out this parody of all the reclamation going on which someone uploaded:

Security was tighter during the forum today at the Dewan Sri Pinang this afternoon. About a dozen uniformed security personnel ringed the interior of the auditorium. Even the state police chief was present. But they had little to do apart from a few personnel approaching those who had brought in protest posters into the auditorium before the start of the forum.

But the protesters in the new Malaysia stood their ground and asked the uniformed personnel what section of which law their protest material violated. They asserted their right to freedom of expression. Eventually the security personnel backed off.

Once again, to their credit, the Penang government allowed Penang Forum to make a presentation after the state had presented their plans.

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The Penang Forum presentation, made by Penang Forum’s Dr Lim Mah Hui and Youth 4 Transport’s Andrew Ng, was well-received. This time, along with points previously made, they pointed to automated rapid trackless trams now being rolled out in China and Europe at a fraction of the cost of LRT construction and a much-faster construction period.

At the last town hall meeting in Spice on 20 September, only a couple of people from the floor spoke in favour of the SRS plan; the rest strongly against.

This time the pro-SRS camp came better prepared and were fastest to the mikes on both aisles. So the first few pro-SRS speakers generally gave what amounted to long-winded mini-ceramahs. It was only after they had said their piece that the opponents of the plan could reach the mike.

Again, the state government had learned some tricks from Spice. This time they took a few questions from a few people from the floor and then gave lengthy answers, whereas at Spice they left the answers to the end. The panellists from the SRS Consortium team also droned on with lengthy explanations assuring the public of the safety of their drill-and-blast methods and why trams were supposedly unsuitable for Penang (whereas many other cities in the world have successfully implemented them). This ate into the precious time allocated for questions and concerns from the floor.

The state government or SRS Consortium speakers (hard to tell the difference; they are singing the same tune) even screened a video clip showing how drill-and-blast was carried out near tall buildings, although their video was about blasting on flat land. This video may have been counterproductive to their cause as the explosion managed to heave the thick rubber mat (that was supposed to cushion the impact of the blast) several feet up the air despite several heavy boulders placed on it. What happens if hill slopes are blasted like that? The somewhat scary background music did not help allay such concerns either.

Someone from the floor then asked if any guarantee could be given about the safety of the earthen Air Itam Dam, near which PIL is supposed to pass. How can anyone trust the engineers’ assurances and monitoring departments after what happened at the Granito landslide in Tanjung Bungah?

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Another asked for details of the 59 conditions that the DoE has imposed on Zenith’s three highways. Surprisingly, the chief minister had not received the information and had to ask the consultants to pass him the details later. What happened to transparency?

With lengthy responses by the state and SRS to each cluster of questions from the floor, about 15 people at the mikes were not able to voice out their questions in public by the time the forum drew to a close at about 5.30pm. Instead they were told to put their questions in writing and submit them using the available forms. In the end, they were denied the right to voice out their concerns by what seemed almost like filibusterring by the pro-SRS side.

But no amount of lengthy explanations can hide the fact that there is a serious glut in high-end homes. After the forum, an experienced engineer told me there was no way that the Penang government could sell industrial land at RM300psf on island A, even if, as the SRS rep had said gamely, they target high-end industries that want to be near the airport.

Clearly, the highly controversial PIL is unlikely to happen for almost a decade. No wonder the state government recently made a beeline to see the transport minister to make him “see the light” about the wonders of much more expensive elevated LRT – over Halcrow and Spad’s preference for bus rapid transit and trams. In short, politicians think they know better than the real transport experts who have recommended more sustainable and cheaper transport solutions. All this in a desperate bid to justify the politicians and developers’ massive land reclamation plans?

Meanwhile, reflecting the growing opposition to the SRS plan, the online petition opposing it has surged past 14,000 signatures – well ahead of the petition in support of the plan, which remains rooted at 12,200.

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Aaron Kong
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Aaron Kong

I was there. Do not see any constructive feedback.
Sadly protest by certain groups without questioning why there are so many cars on the roads.

PenangFirst
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PenangFirst

Delay of PIL is good, maybe now Penangites have a chance to consider a change of state government, subject to the rise of a real issue based(not race/religion)opposition in Penang again. I’ve voted DAP all my life, but three terms as Penang state government is long enough. For DAPs own good, they need to disentangle themselves from the developers before the corruption rot sets in.

Cygnus Knight
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Cygnus Knight

GEORGE TOWN, Oct 1 — Penang’s bid for the Pan Island Link (PIL1) highway could come at the expense of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) that will run the same route, according to a Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) transport system lecturer.

Associate Professor Ahmad Hilmy Abdul Hamid said the highway link would make the light rail system redundant, especially with Malaysians’ preference for cars over public transport.

Shriek
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Shriek

You mean the professor thinks buses cannot run on highways? During peak hours like to and immediately after works, why pg forum does not pressure rapid to have express buses as there are many stay near the ends. Buses not need to go merry round like bozo circus. Guess pg forum go take buses but drive. If express buses more productivity. More time with family, sleep and relax.

Aaron Kong
Guest
Aaron Kong

We do need a professor to tell us that Penangites prefer to drive own cars.

Yoges
Guest
Yoges

That professor should use his expertise, if any, to promote public bus ridership. No value add if just highlight priblems without offering solutions. But that is how our local professors tend to operate, as they are recognised even without making any tanguble contribution.

Shriek
Guest
Shriek

Question us what kind of transport. Bus or lrt? Even today how many pg forum use rapid buses when they come to protest or present their views? If brt, will more people use buses.But lrt is from different. Polis can patrol making it safe. As it is not share with other road users, it will be not time and not delayed by busrs , cars and pedestrians. Ah pek and pg first complain of waiting time. But will others keep taking buses if they are unsure of its reliability? Further by adding more buses, we are warming the earth more… Read more »

Cygnus Knight
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Cygnus Knight

Summarised outcome of the Forum:
Penang Forum switched from Tram option to ART. LRT to commence in 2020, PIL in 2027, pending RM1 billion financing/loan.

Pek Koon
Guest
Pek Koon

Penang people love their cars.
Their cars will travel on highways, not on LRT. They will leave home with their cars, treated like spouses.

Yoges
Guest
Yoges

My neighbour treats his MyVi better than his wife.

Phua Kai Lit
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Phua Kai Lit

Dear Mr Anil

Two things

1) May I have your permission to submit the article I wrote on Lynas (seven reasons why Lynas should not be granted a permanent operating license), and published on your blog on August 8 2014, to other Malaysian shapers of public opinion such as the progressive news sites ? Lynas is gearing up its propaganda campaign, in order to continue operating (and polluting).

2) Concerning Penang — it is illogical to carry out land reclamation projects when the world is facing SLR (sea level rise) as a result of anthropogenic adverse climate change (“global warming”).

Cygnus Knight
Guest
Cygnus Knight

Why Lynas in Malaysia, not Australia?

Shriek
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Shriek

Go and tell sing land to stop reclaiming? The amount is insignificant as to 3/4 of the earth are covered with water. But frozen water in terns of fiords and ice bergs are melting and breaking. Eskimos find that they can’t travel by foot from Alaska to Siberia. Polar bears also trapped with waters around them. Paris conference is on global warming and is near half way mark of no return. Malaysia miss the point

quan
Guest
quan

Haha, very soon people will not trust the Developer Association of Pig anymore !

shriek
Guest
shriek

There are silence are the majority

Shriek
Guest
Shriek

Trust umno more.

Wei
Guest
Wei

hehe,using dirty language won’t help your course..is this what NGOs and fans of NGOs made of ? I thought only NGOs like Jamal Jamban and Lokman are samseng..

Aaron Kong
Guest
Aaron Kong

Desperate already?

J P Allain
Guest
J P Allain

You should never trust any developers’ association. Their aim is to make money, as much as possible. It is not to develop anything. The name is a misnomer. They should be called destroyers, because almost overtime they ‘develop’ something, i.e. put up buildings or roads, they destroy nature or existing, often beautiful, heritage. The whole PTMP is a farce and a misnomer too. PTMP = Penang Transport Master Plan. As someone said in the meeting, it is not a transport plan but a road plan. The problem in Penang is not lack of roads, it is too many cars on… Read more »

tunglang
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tunglang

EXACTLY what we feel that this PTMP is just a development disguise to get super-rich @ the tax expense of Penangites (soon the Assessment Rates will become the highest in Malaysia). But does / can CM Chow see the massive greed for the 3-islands? No excuse even if he’s not an accountant like LGE.

Greed of PTMP developers: PIL 1 doing the exact job of LRT Komtar-airport is absolut vodka financially insane! CM Chow, are you now sober?

shriek
Guest
shriek

Tell MIT to close down for they graduate engineers to destroy nature. Tell edu minister not to teach science, maths and industrial arts as they will become engineers. Why don’t you go and ride a donkey or mule? Don’t use planes buses cars or bicycles. Go and live in tree tops and not in condos like tung lang. He sits in the comfort of his condo build by developers which are designed by engineers and architects.

Ley
Guest
Ley

“Tambak”… harm our sea life ecosystems. No more greener… stupid capitalist government.

Steve
Guest
Steve

In the meantime while plans for an LRT, ART or flyovers are shaping up for implementation and construction, could the state government encourage factories to run buses for their employees? The buses could start from Tanjung Bungah, Tanjung Tokong, Air Itam and Weld Quay along selected roads to and from their factories. Employees living along the route could avail themselves of the shuttle service and help reduce the number of vehicles on the road during peak office hours, especially on Fridays. In return, such transportation expenses incurred by the factories could be tax-deductible. Along certain roads where it is permissible,… Read more »

Aaron Kong
Guest
Aaron Kong

ART is not on elevated platform, can withstand Penang flood water?

Cygnus Knight
Guest
Cygnus Knight

Tanjung Bungah Residents Association chairman Meenakshi Raman, who was strongly opposed to the plan, said car-lovers were trading the “visual vista” of Penang’s lush greeneries for the comforts of their vehicles.

Aaron Kong
Guest
Aaron Kong

Again we are reminded that Penang people prefer to drive own cars. Have you seen any Chinese teenager on Honda kapcai lately? Most Chinese teens will buy Axia or MyVi as their first motorised vehicles. Boon Siew Motors will now depend on aspiring Mat Rempits to buy their kapcais.

Vivo99
Guest
Vivo99

He himself must be a car lover.

Shriek
Guest
Shriek

Why pg forum hide the fact that Edinburgh had failed in its tram works. Supposed to covers the city but only build a third, delays and over cost. Same with present Sydney tram. Third Xmas, city still like war zones, Spanish contractor billion claim. Worst talk about western trans not not even mention trams in hong land. Trams in hong land has been in existence for a long time.

tunglang
Guest
tunglang

Q: If PIL 1 will be delayed for a few years, what are they going to do with the already botak-ed hill slopes (of Bukit Kukus) evident from Taman Seri Rambai/Lau Geok Swee to Sun Moon City meant for a paired road?
It looks like they changed plan (from paired road to tunnel highways) at their whims despite already proceeding with extensive hill cuttings since 2016 at Bukit Kukus, Paya Terubong.
Will they compensate Penangites should another major flash flood occur (because of hill cutting) like the ones last year during the rainy season from October to December?

Shriek
Guest
Shriek

Are the drains designed for 1 in 100 years events? Rawang town was badly flooded once many years ago. Heaven wants to cry more. Super typhoon hits Philippines and hong lad but Taiwan unaffected.

Vivo99
Guest
Vivo99

You want Penang to use just red soil road (angel to lor)?