Monday, July 9, 2012

An amazing show of demagoguery on hill slope issues by Lim Guan Eng

In a dialog session with Sungai Ara resident on June 10, 2012, Lim Guan Eng as usual blamed the previous state government for hill slope development. This time round, Lim was caught with pants down when he was rebuked by Sungai Ara residents that the Sunway City project at Sungai Ara was approved by MPPP in March 2012.

Lim said he was surprise and furious to find out from news report that the Sungai Ara project is more than 250ft above sea level. Lim Guan Eng accused Koh Tsu Koon administration for the project approval.

The Penang Structure Plan,which was approved and gazzetted in 2007, forbids development in areas exceeding 250ft above sea level and on hill-slopes with a gradient of more than 25 degrees. Any exemption from the prohibitions required the approval of the State Planning Committe.

Planning approval for the Sunway City project 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.

Guess what happened when Lim Guan Eng was told by the Sungai Ara residents that it is his administration that approved the project?

Lim Guan Eng as usual start his famous finger pointing , buck passing blame game accusing Koh Tsu Koon administration for approving the project as special project on 13.9.1996. According to the Penang Structure Plan 2020, special project with low development density can be built on land above 250ft or more under stringent control and comply to all guidelines pertaining to risky development,  after obtaining the EIA and the State Planning committee approval. How can the previous state government approved the project without the developer submitting any EIA report?  The developer only submitted EIA report on August 2011. How can a project that has not exhausting the approval process is considered as approved? Even if all those projects were granted approval for planning permission, the building plan approval were still not given. The MPPP or the State Planning Committee still can reject whatever application for approval if they go against the plot ratio, development density or whatever requirements of any guideline.

Lim Guan Eng in his response to the front-page story by The Star with its sensational headline of “The Dying Hills”, claims that the present Penang PR state government has not approved a single project above 250 feet.
Lim Guan Eng said since the previous state administration had approved the development they should be held responsible for them. Lim claimed that some 37 (hillslope) projects were approved by the previous administration, 19 of which were labelled special projects. The 19 so called projects don't even have any project planning reference number been given when they were allegedly approved on 13-09-1996. How can such projects be considered as approved?

Even if all those projects were granted planning permission before, the permission already lapse after 12 months. Un der the Town and Country planning Act 1976, A planning permission granted under subsection 22(3) shall, unless extended, lapse twelve months after the date of the grant thereof if, within that time, the development had not commenced in the manner specified in the planning permission.

On revocation and modification of planning permission and approval of building plans, according to 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 subsection 22(3) or an approval of a building plan given under any of the Town and Country Planning 47 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.

Lim claimed that his hand is tied, he has no choice but to continue to grant the developers planning permissions as they were previously approved is a complete lie.

The truth is the lots from  the 19 projects are classified for general residential use on 13-09-1996 under the Pelan Dasar Perancangan dan Kawalan Pemajuan MPPP by the State Planning Committee.  Under the Penang Structure Plan 2020, those areas can only be developed if they are classified as “projek istemewa” and subject to stringent control and guidelines with low development density. There is no clause in the Pelan Dasar Perancangan dan Kawalan Pemajuan MPPP make it mandatory for MPPP to approve any “projek istemewa” without questioning. or served as an escape clause. by granting it special privilege to flout all the rules or guidelines.

In the EIA report, the developer define the development density of Sunway City project as medium which is between 15 to 30 units per acre. This is clearly against the requirement of special project . The worst thing about this project is that the site has been de-gazetted for general housing purpose. Why should we allow a 1996 MPPP zoning plan to trump the over-riding restrictions on hill-slope development that should be strictly enforced? How can Lim Guan Eng administration continue to grant the project planning approval and used the previous planning  approval as the main criteria for approval consideration?

Both Lim Guan Eng and  Patahiyah claim that planning approvals for the 19 special projects were based on the approval of Pelan Dasar Perancangan dan Kawalan Pemajuan MPPP by SPC on 13.9.1996 and as special projects in accordance with State Structure Plan 2020. They have no choice but to approve those projects if they meet all the technical requirements.

Both Lim Guan Eng and  Patahiyah have intentionally misinterpreted  the provisions of the  Pelan Dasar Perancangan dan Kawalan Pemajuan MPPP and the Penang Structure Plan 2020 to provide an escape clause for the 19 hill-slope projects to be built with higher plot ratio and development density and put the blame on Koh Tsu  Koon! 

Lim Guan Eng further argued that his administration only approved the amendment to the 19 projects. Is Lim really concern about the safety of the people over hill-slope development?  Instead of scale down those projects, Lim actually approved those amendments for higher plot ratio and development density in clear defiance of the special project requirements!

We remembered that the present state government also claims that it has not approved a single hill-slope project since taking over in 2008. Suddenly there are 38 hill-slope projects approved the last 2 years for heights below 250 ft, half of of them are for open space and green areas without any building structures. 

Persiaran Kelicap where the controversial Sunway City located is a hilly area with height between 87m to 297m which is 250ft above sea level. There is a lot of submission for development approval  at this area. 
How many projects have been approved in this area for the last 4 years? 

On June 10, Lim Guan Eng said no planning approval for projects above 250ft would be granted as long as his government was in power.

Lim Guan Eng should tell us in no uncertain term whether he has approved a hill-slope project located on Lot 11930 and Lot 70046, Mukim 12, Daerah Barat Daya, Persiaran Kelicap, Pulau Pinang, with the geo reference marked at 5o18’28.50”N 100o15’32.29E; 5o18’27.74”N 100o15’33.83E; 5o18’21.94”N 100o15’31.02E and 5o18’22.05”N 100o15’28.69E. Is this project classified as a special project? Is the development density of 87 units per acre the permissible density for special project?

Lim also claims that Penang has the most stringent guidelines for hillslope safety development in the country crafted by Oxford-trained geotechnical engineer Prof Dr Gue See Sew, a former international chairman of the coordinating committee of Apec Engineers and president of the Institute of Engineers Malaysia. The truth is for the last 20 years there is no guidelines at all until June 2012.

The Safety Guideline of Hill Site Development 2012 require a buffer zone in front of the slope based on slope safety consideration as in Figure 1.

Fig1. Buffer Zone.
Nadayu 290 in Gelugor, Penang is a high-end condominium project approved by Lim Guan Eng administration. The project is located along the hill side of a Class IV slope. If Lim Guan Eng ever adheres to the spirit of the Safety Guideline of Hill Site Development 2012, then he should demand the developer to comply with the buffer zone requirement. What is the point of telling us that we have the most stringent guideline, when the state authority refuses to comply or implement or enforce the guideline?

Fig2. The project site of Nadayu 290.

The Safety Guideline of Hill Site Development 2012 also stated that proposed development on potentially unstable slope as shown in Fig. 3, which could not be strengthened due to inaccessibility and/or land issues, should not be allowed.

Fig. 3 Development on slope

Do you need to be a geotechnical expert to draw a conclusion that the Nadayu 290 project is unable to meet the hill slope safety requirement? Show us the compliance!

Fig 4. Tell us how this hill-slope development meets the buffer zone requirement?

Fig 5. Work in progress: One of the development projects in Sungai Ara, Penang.

What sort of safety are we talking about? What stringent guidelines did we ever adhere to? What is the point of having the Penang Structure Plan 2020 when the state authority shown no respect to the plot ratio, development density and restrictions on hill slope development as defined in the plan?

So we only have the most stringent guidelines on paper which no one seems to bother to adhere to.

Hillside environments pose unique problems for construction and maintenance of housing and services. They are prone to natural hazards, they topographically constrain the design of developments and contain many natural features or aesthetic values that may need to be protected. Despite the constraints, they are attractive places to live. However, experience shows us that poor and excessive hillside development can diminish the very views and natural features that residents value. A poorly designed or constructed development can fail to harmonize with its surrounding neighbourhood. Any open space design needs to not only protect natural features and provide natural open space; it must also reflect the character and quality of its setting. The last 4 years, we have witness how our hillside environments have been destroyed by blasting, excavation and cutting of hill slopes, for the construction of concrete jungle. Environment degradation is being wantonly permitted by Lim Guan Eng administration.

Since Lim Guan Eng like to emulate from Hong Kong, he should devotes his time and effort on formulating policies on land use optimisation that:
  • promote an acceptable standard of environment and amenity for the population 
  • ensure an appropriate balance between the population and the capacity of infrastructure required to service it ; and 
  • maintain an efficient intensity of land use and safe levels of development and population
Messing with the plot ratio, development density, our hill slopes, our shorelines and our environments to enrich the pockets of developers is not what we entrust him to do as Chief Minister of Penang.

Is Lim Guan Eng really a people-centric leader or just another bad politician with a pro-businesses agenda which puts aside the needs of the people? Should we vote for change in the coming general election?


  1. No guidelines for 20 years
    Developers only required to exercise ‘stringent control’ over hill projects
    TUESDAY, JULY 10, 2012 - 12:14
    by A. Sangeetha - Malay Mail

    WHILE Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Nasional continue to play the blame game on which administration is responsible for approving controversial hillslope projects in the state, the root of the problem appears to stem from the lack of guidelines by the local authority.

    For 20 years, the guidelines set by the Penang Island Municipal Council for developers of hillslope projects only demanded that developers had to exercise stringent measures when developing on hill land.

    The laws before the implementation of the Penang Structure Plan 2020 in 2007 never outrightly disallowed environmentally-destructive development projects.

    Penang Island Municipal Council planning department director Roslan Ramly said that between 1987 and 2007 developers were given full reign to build as they please.

    “This is because the 1987 Structure Plan merely stated that development above 200ft can carry on, so long as they are ‘kawal rapi’ (stringently controlled) projects are not denied”, he said.

    Roslan said the 19 controversial hillslope projects comprised applications by developers submitted before the implementation of the Penang Structure Plan 2020, land conversion and those based on a 1996 zoning policy were known as “special projects”.

    “These projects are all special because they were part of approvals given before 2008. The ‘special’ category term was introduced in 2009 due to the ambiguity of the structure plan,” he said.

    He said that the hey days of developers who sought to build on prime hill land boasting scenic views of the sea, came to an end with the enactment of the current structure plan implemented in 2007.

    “The structure plan now states that development above 250ft will no longer be allowed,” he said.

    “However, the current plan does not indicate what happens when a project is above 250ft and approved after 1987 comes to us?

    “Hence, the extra clause ‘if a housing project to be built on land de-gazetted for housing by the Land Office was approved, then the permission for planning was acquired before the implementation of the structure plan was enacted to give effect to the present plan,” he said.

    He explained that a project with two citations comprising a previously approved planning permission and ‘special project’ carried more weight than a project with just one citation.

    “For instance, the condominium and bungalow project by Sunway City (Penang) Sdn Bhd in Sungai Ara was initially approved in 2001 under a different company but for the same spot.

    “The planning permission for the project to a previous developer was given based on our 1996 zoning policy plan — Controlled Development and Planning Policy Plan. The land in question was previously gazetted as public housing.

    However, the project never took off and in 2010, Sunway bought the land and drew up a new plan on that plot," Roslan said, adding that prior approval for the piece of land to the previous developer enabled Sunway to submit its proposal.

    After considering an existing approval for the converted land, the council granted planning permission in 2010 under the special category term introduced in 2009, he said.

  2. He also said that of the 19 special projects, four of them indicated both citations.

    “They comprise Sunway City, Nuwata Sdn (Jalan Bukit Gambir), Mutiara Premier Sdn Bhd (Jalan Teluk Kumbar), and PPH Resort (Pg) Sdn Bhd (Persiaran Kelicap),” he said. He said the only project considered new was Affin-i Goodyear Sdn Bhd of which application was submitted on March 16, 2009 and approved on Oct 12, 2010.

    The Affin-i project was introduced as Penang’s first green building index development that would feature green technology such as energy efficiency lighting, water harvesting and recycled construction material.

    The developer said they would only develop 2.46 acres of the 8.9 acres, stopping short at the 250ft line, of the class four land (more than 25 degrees in gradient) in Jalan Bukit Gambir while leaving the rest to remain as open space.

  3. Not all hillslope projects are high-rise buildings
    THURSDAY, JULY 05, 2012 - 12:45
    by A. Sangeetha - Malay Mail

    OUT of 38 hillslope development projects approved in the state between 2006 and 2011 only a handful of them boast of large plans involving tall blocks of condominiums in Batu Ferringhi, Paya Terubong and Bukit Gambir.

    This were the findings by The Malay Mail after going through declassified reports on hillslope development in the state yesterday.

    The documents included planning permissions, meetings notes and letters between developers and MPPP for both `special’ and regular development projects approved by MPPP’s one stop centre.

    The prominent projects include Ivory Continental Sdn Bhd’s three-phased plan of three blocks of 33-storey condominiums in Batu Ferringhi, and Sunway City Penang Sdn Bhd’s 80.9 acre development in Sungai Ara.

    Although the controversial Sunway project is currently being heard by Penang Island Municipal Council's appeals board, it still compelled the sight to its large-scale development in the list of hillslope projects.

    The same could be said about Ivory’s project whereby minutes of meetings convened by the council's one-stop centre (OSC) exposed much opposition put up against its approval by councillor Harvinder Singh in 2009.

    Harvinder, who sits in the OSC, was reported to have disagreed with the opinion of the head of the local council's planning department that Ivory should be given approval despite its failure to attach a document pertinent to its permission.

    He also accused the OSC of breach of trust for allegedly informing Ivory of an initial disapproval of its planning permission prior to the committee’s decision, which enabled the company to appeal against the decision.

    However, the rest of the minutes and council president Patahiyah Ismail’s subsequent speech on the day the approval was given were `missing’ in the declassified bundle of documents for 2010.

    The project was approved by the OSC on April 6, 2010.

    On Monday, the council made public reports on 38 projects approved between 2006 and 2012 for public viewing following calls by Barisan Nasional to the state government to enable them to review approvals given by previous and present governments.

    Twenty of those projects were approved before March 2008 while the remainder were approved by the council after Pakatan Rakyat took over the state administration.

    Hillslope development projects above 250ft had become a bone of contention for the present state government who had been under fire for seemingly approving them.

  4. We had no choice, says Guan Eng
    by A. Sangeetha

    PICTORAL EVIDENCE: Chow with a copies of the Google map picture circulated by BN allegedly showing forest destruction by Pakatan Rakyat within five months in 2010

    THE Penang government said yesterday all 19 hillslope development projects above 250ft approved by the state were from applications made before their takeover in March 2008.

    Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said his government did not give the nod to new applications but had no choice but to approve previous applications because they were either resubmissions or amended plans.

    This revelation comes following the Penang Island Municipal Council making public on Monday 38 reports regarding development projects on hillslopes above 250ft on the island approved between 2006 and this year.

    “Those applications existed before Pakatan Rakyat took over. However, due to the 1996 zoning policy and the lack of clarification by the Penang Structure Plan 2020, we were caught.

    “We had to let the plans through or risk paying compensation because the original planning permissions were submitted prior to our administration,” he said.

    The Malay Mail on Tuesday reported that following the declassification of the report, it was revealed that 20 projects were approved during the DAP-led government from 2008 while 18 projects were approved during the Gerakanled government from 2006.

    The project documents approved between 2006 and this year are open for public viewing at Bilik Perdana on Level Four, at the local council's office in Komtar till Sept 30.

    In all 38 planning permissions of hillslope development projects approved during that period are on display.

    Meanwhile, Local Government and Traffic Management committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow who was present at the press conference ridiculed state Barisan Nasional chairman Teng Chang Yeow for having a 'selective memory' after Teng had on Monday stated he was certain there were no approvals for hillside projects when Teng was a councillor between 1992 and 1995.

    Chow said Teng seemed to have forgotten that he sat in a meeting that approved two hillslope projects in 1994 and 1995 whilst he was a MPPP councillor between 1992 and 1995.

    “Teng said he did not recall hillslope projects above 250ft being approved by the state. Let me jog his memory. A project by PPH Resorts Sdn Bhd in Relau (now SP Setia’s project) was approved by the local council in 1994.

    “The meeting on April 4, 1994 headed by then council president Datuk Tan Gim Hwa and Teng was one of those that he (Teng) sat in.

    “If he keeps saying he does not remember this, that is alright but to say that you are certain of no approvals, then we have evidence that he was party to the meeting.

    Chow also poked fun at BN’s `attack and clarify’ tactic to strike Pakatan Rakyat which was involved in the circulation of a Google map showing development on hillslopes on Batu Ferringhi that were only months apart.

  5. Overhaul town planning - The Sun Daily
    Posted on 18 June 2012 – 09:17pm
    Last updated on 18 June 2012 – 09:43pm
    Goh Ban Lee
    THERE have been many comments lately on hill land development in Penang. Non-governmental organisations, including residents’ associations, called for more stringent control, especially on Penang Island. Some even called for the withdrawal of some approved projects.

    Complicating matters, there has been criticism of decisions to allow high density development in certain areas and the indiscriminate approval of very tall buildings. Then there have been complaints that property prices have gone through the roof and locals are being priced out of the market.

    Leaders of Barisan Nasional component parties have joined in and blamed the state government and the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) for being negligent in development control. State government leaders, including Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, pointed out that projects above 250 ft had been approved by the previous state government. This was confirmed by MPPP President Pathahiyah Ismail.

    With election fever in the air, there is bound to be more and more criticism and blame in the coming weeks. These are not doing any good to Penang and Penangites. Besides, it is doubtful if the criticism and blame will have any effect in the next general election.

    Simplistic “solutions” such as no high-rise buildings or no development above 250 ft above sea-level are not realistic considering that the amount of land available for development is limited despite the fact that modern technology has allowed for massive reclamation and instant use of reclaimed areas. What is important is that development projects fit into the landscape and pose no danger to the environment and people.

    A place must continue to develop or it will wither and die. With increasing population, there is a need for more houses, offices, factories, shopping centres, hotels, hospitals and eateries. Furthermore, increasing wealth has led to the phenomenon in which married children move out of their parents’ house.

    The situation is made worse by speculative buying. There are more housing units than households in Penang. The 2011 housing and population census shows that about 21% of the houses are vacant. Unfortunately, little has been done to curb speculative buying.

    Part of the problem of uncontrolled development is the absence of an up-to-date development plan. Penang and the country as a whole are stuck with a town planning system that was decided more than 38 years ago. While it is relatively easy to produce structure plans, it is difficult to produce local plans acceptable to the people.

    Both Penang Island and Seberang Perai still do not have gazetted local plans. The island does have a draft Local Plan, but this was prepared almost a decade ago. Without an up-to-date development control plan, most property developers, including those claiming to be good corporate citizens, will push for development projects that maximise profits.

    Even if there are gazetted local plans for Penang Island and Seberang Perai in the near future, it is doubtful if they are going to serve any useful purpose for a variety of reasons, including the out-of-date town planning system and the neglect of urban design in urban development. The sad reality is that the town planning needs an overhaul and this is basically the responsibility of the federal government.

  6. Furthermore, the archaic town planning system is complimented by an opaque development control procedure. One Stop Centre (OSC), the body that approves applications to undertake development projects, holds its meetings behind closed doors. The meetings should be opened to the public so that those interested are kept informed of development projects and why some are approved while others not.

    The State Planning Committee chaired by the chief minister should only consider and pass policy matters and not be involved in development projects. If it is used as a body to consider specific projects, including those on newly reclaimed land that has not been gazetted as within the municipal boundaries or in areas above 250 ft, the meetings should be well publicised and opened to the public.

    Transparency and accountability do not necessarily mean that all development projects will be acceptable to all. But a transparent decision-making process will ensure that those who felt short-changed by the decisions would understand why these are made. It will minimise the blame game and help people to decide which parties to support. It would also be good to see Penang lead in taking concrete steps in good urban governance.

  7. Time to come clean on hillside development
    MONDAY, JULY 16, 2012 - 17:23
    by Terence Fernandez

    FOUR years ago when the present Selangor government was formed, I had a run-in with several state leaders. This was due to a disagreement I had with some of them over their seemingly change of heart over hillside development.

    I had criticised several of them for supporting hillside development after they formed the state government, when prior to the elections, they had been opposed to it.

    “Developers also pay taxes”; “There are new safety measures in place”; “They can do it in Hong Kong, surely they can do it here … do you want to go to Hong Kong to see for yourself?”

    These were the same individuals who had screamed bloody murder when bungalows came crashing down in Bukit Antarabangsa and criticised the court’s decision to absolve the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council of any blame in the Highland Towers tragedy — a decision which set a precedent and emboldened rogue developers and corrupt politicians and civil servants whose signatures are needed for projects to go through.

    Many expected the Pakatan Rakyat-led (PR) state government to issue a freeze on hillslope development. That would have been easier said than done as many approvals were issued months, even years before 2008.

    After several meetings with stakeholders and the public, Mentri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim then suggested that developers were made to contribute towards a fund that would be used to pay for future structural reinforcement works as well as towards compensation in the event of a landslide.

    This suggestion has not been implemented as yet, although the next elections are looming.

    One reason given is that this would cause the cost of hillside homes to skyrocket, but in Abdul Khalid’s own words: “If you want to stay in such homes, you pay for it”.

    That would be logical. After all, hillslope homes are usually, if not always, high-end; catered to the elite as it brings some sort of prestige.

    There will always be demand for them by affluent Malaysians as well as foreigners, including the expatriate community, for whom many homes in prime areas are priced for and catered towards.

    Which is why developers will risk public relations nightmares and very expensive and very public legal actions to build these bungalows and apartments on slopes, even if it means taking residents’ groups to court, as in the case of Gasing Meridien in Bukit Gasing, Petaling Jaya.

    Over in Penang, there is a sudden interest in hillside development when mega projects that raped the island had been approved, built and occupied for the past 20 to30 years at frantic pace.

    The Penang government had argued it had only approved “special category” ones and had inherited most of the present development from its predecessor.

    A declassification of state documents revealed 38 projects were approved between 2006 and this year: 20 by the present PR government and the rest by the previous government.

    Over the weekend, critics, including media organisations, which had been hounding the state government over the destruction of Penang were taken to task by developers for their “hypocrisy”.

    Some were asked why the outcry erupted now, when the destruction had been on-going for years.

    Some were also chided for accepting advertisements on such projects while lambasting the hillslope approvals on the cover.

  8. Worse is hillside development is now bound to be among the hot topics at GE13 in Penang. This is because it resonates with the people here as it would appear to them that old government or new government, neither are able or committed to a ban on hillside development.

    The DAP-led state government would be wise to remember that the attempted bulldozing through of the Penang Global City Centre project was a core component for Gerakan losing the state in 2008.

    Hence, it would be wise to start listening to the people again, especially in this contentious area of hillside development.

    Eco destruction aside, people have died due to the callousness and greed of others and no government, in its right mind, would want to be accused of throwing caution to the wind, especially when lives are lost.

    Terence is managing editor
    of The Malay Mail.

  9. MPPP should follow Penang Structure Plan
    THURSDAY, JULY 19, 2012 - 11:58
    by A. Sangeetha

    ENVIRONMENTAL experts concur with Gerakan’s call for the Penang Island Municipal Council to adhere to the Penang Structure Plan 2005-2020 when addressing hillslope development projects in the state.

    Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) honorary secretary and environmental lawyer Meena Raman said in the absence of the Penang Island Local Plan, the structure plan will prevail and the council was obliged to use it to consider development projects.

    “The structure plan is a development policy drawn up under Section 7 of the Town and County Planning Act 1976, which maps out guidelines on how development can take place.”

    “In some instances, particularly in land disputes regarding sensitive development projects, the legal fraternity would invoke it as the ‘law’ and it must be abided,” Meena said.

    When asked about planning permissions granted by the council and how they should be viewed if they are resubmitted, albeit with amendments by developers, Meena told The Malay Mail they should be considered as new submissions.

    “Since the renewed submission has changes, it cannot be approved only because there is a pre-existing approval,” said Meena.

    She added in the event the local council decides to strike out a submission for planning permission, it could do so without having to pay compensation.

    Meena said that although Section 25(7) of the Town and Country Planning Act states that if a planning permission is revoked for reasons of public interest, the local planning authority shall offer compensation to the developer as the former thinks is adequate but the situation differs in this case.

    “When the planning permission is cancelled, there is compensation. But when a project’s proponent changes plans from that which was approved, a new planning permission is needed and thus there is no issue of compensation here.”

  10. Come clean on hillslope projects

    LONGSTANDING ISSUE: The frenzied clearing of hills on Penang island has alarmed not only residents but also several groups. Penang Malaysian Nature Society adviser-cum-spokesman and long-time social activist D. Kanda Kumar talks to Sharanjit Singh about what is happening

    Question: What is the Malaysian Nature Society's view on the rampant hillslope development in Penang? Answer: The Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) had highlighted the problem 30 years ago. It has been a longstanding issue.
    In the beginning, most of the hills were cleared for agricultural purposes but, now, it is mainly for the construction of high-rise apartments, exclusive villas and bungalows.
    When this kind of development takes place, hillside destruction becomes apparent. Since 2007, things have become worse. What we don't understand is the reason given by the authorities that all projects on hillslopes are categorised as "special projects".
    Just what are these "special projects"? Both the previous and present state governments have not been transparent about this. Everybody is trying to pass the buck and blame each other.

    Question: Has MNS raised these concerns with the state government?
    Answer: We used to raise our concerns directly but in the past few years, we have just been highlighting the problems. We cannot fight the battle alone, so we have tried to gain strength in numbers to highlight these issues.
    We are working with other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), residents' associations as well as interested groups to voice our concerns about what is going on in Penang.

    Question: Are the state leaders listening?
    Answer: They keep saying these are special projects which have to continue, and that they are following the law.

    Question: Are you satisfied with the answer? Answer: No. In the first place, most of these high-rise developments are high-end. There is already an over- supply of high-end properties.
    So, how can the state planning committee and Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) allow more high-end development? There is not enough medium- and low-cost development on the island.

    Question: There is a perception that NGOs are not as vocal as they used to be. What has happened?
    Answer: I blame the press. We have been highlighting the issues but we are not getting any publicity.

  11. Question: You say that you are not getting the publicity, yet when Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng did away with the density requirement, no one made the kind of noise that stopped the planned development on Penang Hill back in the early 1990s. Why is this so?
    Answer: We did make noise. The only thing is, we seldom release press statements these days. But, we have voiced our concerns directly with the state government. Again, we are not sure about what is going on.
    What people don't realise is that the opposition in Penang has taken up some of the roles we (NGOs) are playing. They are doing it, so we leave it to them. Ultimately, it does not matter who takes up the issue as long as it is brought to the attention of those in power. The objective is the same.

    Question: Is this the right thing to do? When political parties take up an issue, it is politicised. It will be different when NGOs take up the fight.
    Answer: The thing is, when NGOs take up an issue, we are accused of being anti-development or going against a particular project.
    When the politicians take over, they can fight from a political perspective and sometimes it can be more effective.

    Question: There seems to be a split among the NGOs in Penang. Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president S.M. Mohamed Idris was labelled as an "old man" by the chief minister but he appeared to receive little support from the other NGOs. What is going on?
    Answer: I don't think so. During the Penang Forum, we agreed to send a letter to the chief minister and make it clear to him that what he said was uncalled for.
    But then SAM came up with its own press statement. I am not too sure what happened after that as I was not involved in it.

    Question: Coming back to the issue of hillslope development, is there anything that can be done to save the hills in Penang?
    Answer: The state government must review its approval process. This matter about "special projects" must be put straight.
    They should also review all the projects that had been approved under this category.
    The developers who threatened to abandon Penang during chief minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon's time are now coming back. It looks like they are playing both sides. They are just here to make money and don't care about what happens to Penang. The state government should declare a moratorium on any new hillslope development.

    Question: What is MNS' view on the monitoring process of the hills in Penang?
    Answer: The MPPP and Department of Environment (DOE) are supposed to oversee it but, sadly, it is not happening.
    The DOE will not get involved if it does not require an environmental impact assessment report while the council's excuse is that it does not have enough manpower to do it.
    The problem is, developers are telling the state government what is good for Penang instead of the state government dictating to them what is needed for the island.

    Question: A state executive councillor has revealed that the whole process at the council level is corrupted. Do you agree with this statement?
    Answer: Yes, it has been going on. Developers seem to have a stranglehold on them (the council).
    It is about time the minutes of council deliberations were made public. Only then will we know whether anyone had objected to the projects that were approved.

  12. MPPP can reject renewals, says former town planner
    GEORGE TOWN: The Penang Municipal Council (MPPP) can reject the renewals of planning permission for special projects, according to a former town planning department director.

    Khoo Boo Soon, a registered urban planner who opted for early retirement in March 2010, said the Penang Island Structure Plan 2020 did not specify that such projects should be given automatic renewals.

    He said the term “special project” as indicated in the structure plan was not meant to be used as a prerequisite to grant permission for development above 76m or any other hillslope development.

    He said the term was not meant to be an “escape clause” for the state.

    “Although certain projects fall under the special project category, the structure plan does not say anything about automatic renewals or automatic approvals,” Khoo told a press conference yesterday.

    He said, as the guidelines were very clear, he did not understand why MPPP and state representatives were saying that their hands were tied.

    “They are leading the public to believe that they have no powers to disregard what has previously been approved. The fact is, they have every right to reject those renewals.

    “They should come out and tell the people the truth,” Khoo said, adding that he was speaking out as he felt the council and the state owed the public an explanation on the hillslope issue.

    MPPP president Datuk Patahiyah Ismail said last month that 19 hillslope approvals that exceeded the 76m-height limit could not be rejected based on height as they were classified “special projects”.

    Hillslope projects in Penang have come under intense scrutiny in recent months, with various groups staging protests against several of them.

    Khoo said the structure plan was initially vague on the definition of special projects but the MPPP and state planners drew up guidelines to define the term in 2009.

    The guidelines defined them as major infrastructure or government projects like roads, dams and telecommunication stations.

  13. Ex-town planner taken to task
    Posted on 5 August 2012 - 09:01pm
    Bernard Cheah and Edmund Lee -The Sun

    GEORGE TOWN (Aug 5, 2012): Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) has taken a former council town planner to task for criticising the renewal of planning permission of hill slope projects in the state.

    Its president, Datuk Patahiyah Ismail, said they were surprised that the former town planner, Khoo Boo Soon, was questioning its decision to approve such projects as he had been involved in approving them while he was working with the council.

    "Whilst MPPP is surprised at Khoo's sudden decision to go public against the institution he once worked for, he cannot run away from his own responsibility and refusal to admit the active role played by him," she said in a statement released today.

    Khoo had, in a press conference, said that the council could have rejected renewal of planning permission for special projects.

    Patahiyah said Khoo, as the director of Town Planning Department from Nov 16, 2009 to May 15, 2010, had even recommended approval of planning permission for special projects located on hill slopes.

    "One of these special projects recommended by Khoo is a project he presented to the council's One-Stop-Centre Committee (OSC) on Dec 1, 2009 with a height above 76.2 metres in Telok Kumbar.

    "Then Mr Khoo did not raise any objections to the OSC, which approved the planning permission for this special project," she added.

    She also said that a planning permission, granted under section 22(3) unless extended, shall lapse after 12 months.

    "Since the extension of planning permission is allowed under the Town and Country Planning Act (TCPA), the Penang Structure Plan 2020 gazetted on June 28, 2007 allows a planning permission to be extended five times or for five years, as compared with previous practice of 12 times."

    Patahiyah said that 'Special Projects' was mentioned under the State Structure Plan 2020, which was gazetted in 2007.

    "Prior to 2007, zoning and density were governed under the Zoning and Development Control Plan 1996 for projects where planning permission was granted previously or plots of land which were zoned as 'residential'.

    "These plots of land zoned as residential still existed and were still recognised after 2007 as the State Structure Plan did not rezone them.

    "These residential zones included areas with heights above 76.2 metres," she said, adding that refusal to give planning permission for these residential zones would require it to make compulsory acquisition under section 37 of the Town and Country Planning Act (TCPA)."

    Patahiyah said the council has the power under section 25 of the TCPA to revoke planning permission granted under section 22(3).

    "However, an Order revoking a planning permission requires compensation to be paid under section 25(7) of the TCPA which can burden the council with hundreds of million of Ringgit," she said.

    Patahiyah said that to avoid MPPP be exposed to risk of hefty compensation losses, the Penang State Planning Committee in 2009 recognised the Zoning and Development Control Plan and allowed MPPP to follow strict hill slope procedures before issuing planning permission.

  14. MPPP challenged to bare all
    Athi Shankar | August 8, 2012
    GEORGE TOWN: It’s finger pointing time at the Penang municipal council (MPPP). A former town planner and the council president are at odds about a hillside project in Telik Kumbar.
    Council president Patahiyah Ismail claims that town planner Khoo Boo Soon had supposedly recommended the project in 2009.
    Today Khoo challenged Patahiyah to prove her allegation that he had on Dec 1, 2009, recommended to the council’s one-stop-centre committee (OSC) the project which was on a height above 76.2 metres.
    Helmed by council president as chairman, OSC consists all heads of technical departments and councillors.
    “I had made only technical recommendations with facts for OSC to consider and decide on a project,” said Khoo.
    He was MPPP’s town planning department acting director for three months before his premature retirement on medical grounds in March 2010.
    Khoo said his recommendations have always been based on his knowledge and experience on existing MPPP guidelines and relevant laws on the behalf of council’s town planning department to the OSC.
    “I challenge Patahiyah to name the special project in Teluk Kumbar above 250 feet high that I allegedly recommended and make public its whole planning permission file,” he said.
    Khoo was responding to Patahiyah’s claim that he was involved in recommending approvals of planning permissions for special projects located on hill slopes, including one in Teluk Kumbar, during his time as the council senior town planner between 1993 and 2010.
    Khoo is an urban planner registered with the Malaysia Institute of Planners (MIP) and a member of Board of Town Planners (BTP).
    Conflict over compensation requirment
    “Whilst MPPP is surprised at Khoo’s sudden decision to go public against the institution he once worked for, he cannot run away from his own responsibility and refusal to admit the active role played by him,” Patahiyah reportedly said early this week.
    Khoo had said last week that the council had powers to reject renewal applications of planning permissions for special projects.
    A planning permission, granted under Section 22(3) under the Town and Country Planning Act (TCPA) will lapse after 12 months.
    The Penang Structure Plan (PSP) 2020 gazetted on June 28, 2007 allowed a planning permission to be renewed or extended five times or for five years, as compared with previous practice of 12 times.
    The council has the power under Section 25 of the TCPA to revoke planning permission granted under Section 22(3).
    However, Patahiyah claimed that an order revoking a planning permission required compensation to be paid under Section 25(7) of the TCPA which can burden the council with hundreds of millions of ringgit.
    But Khoo rebutted her claims, pointing out that the authorities could be liable for huge compensation only if a project has commenced, been fully or half completed or sold to buyers.
    “But not for renewal of planning permission for a project that has not taken off at all,” he noted.
    On the special projects mentioned under PSP gazetted in June 2007, Khoo said it shall not be used as an escape clause to approve rezoning of hill land areas under the Land Conservation Act (LCA) 1960.
    PSP prohibits any development on high land gazette under the LCA.
    Khoo said the special projects clause was not to be used as pre-requisite to grant planning permission for development above 76m or any other hill slope development.

  15. HILL SLOPE DEVELOPMENT : WHAT IS ' SPECIAL PROJECT ' ? - as highlighted Rancangan Struktur Negeri Pulau Pinang 2020 (RSNPP 2020)

    1. I am khoo boo soon an Urban Planner, formerly I am a senior town planner with mppp from 1993 -2010 ; last position held was Acting Director for the Town Planning Dept. MPPP from .JAN.2010 to March 2010 and subsequently opted for early retirement on medical ground.

    2. Lately there are lots of press coverage on hill slope development with comments coming from both sides of politically divide, mppp, the developers, NGOs and the public. Some claimed approvals were given because it is under "special project " in the Penang Island Structure Plan 2020 or the projects had been approved under Pelan Dasar Perancangan dan Kawalan Pembangunan MPPP 1996 . It lead to confusion among the general public to why "certain hill slope projects" are still being approved ? The decision makers blame each other and even MPPP came out with a list of projects approved before March 2008 and also after March 2008.

    So the purpose of today briefing is :-

    a) To address the meaning of " special project " and it's objective.

    b) To make the general public understand what actually is Penang Island Structural Plan 2020 and also the Pelan Dasar Perancangan Dan Kawalan Pembangunan MPPP 1996.

    c) Function of both these two plans in relation to development approvals.

    3. Firstly, a Structure Plan encompass only policies and strategies of the State Authority in respect of the development and use of land in the State. It inclines towards sectorial development for whole of Penang Island ranging from housing sector, commerce, industry, agriculture etc.

    The Penang Island Structure Plan 2020(RSNPP2020) was prepared by Jabatan Perancang Bandar Dan Desa Negeri Pulau Pinang and was gazetted in Jun 2007.

    In comparision with the previous Penang Island Structure Plan which was prepared by MPPP and approved in 1986, this new plan in recognising the need to protect environment went a step further to address the issue of illegal clearing of hill land and to impose control on these activities. The previous 1986 Structure Plan does not have this policy.

    RSNPP2020 states that no " Development " and agriculture activities will be allowed in :-

    (i) Hill land Areas that has been gazetted under Land Conservation Act 1960

    (ii) Any land that is more than 76m

    (iii) Land that is steep, gradient more than 25 degree

    However there are considerations for development above 76m if it falls under the term "special projects" but there is no clear defination indicated here.

  16. 4. Defination/ Interpretation : " Special Project " falls under three categories namely :-

    (i) Is meant to be to be associated with major infrastucture projects or government projects like roads /transportation purpose, security reasons like for satellite stations/telecommunications, dam or pumping stations for public use.

    (ii) Land that had been coverted to residential prior to the approval and adoption of the RSNPP2020 or land that is shown as" residential Zoning" in the Pelan Dasar Perancangan Dan Kawalan Pembangunan MPPP 1996.( Pelan Dasar is only a zoning plan which only indicates what kind " land use" that is deemed compatible for development eg residential, commercial, industry etc; all together in this plan there are only 8 classes of landuse ) Under this category it was never an intention to grant automatic approval for development. It still has to adhere to stringent vetting by relevant technical departments before the approval is given in the form of Planning Permission by MPPP.


    1. PLANNING PERMISSION – relevant documents includes a survey plan

    Even though one obtains planning permission under the Town and Country Planning Act 1976(Act 172), the validity is only 1 year. Without renewal a building plan cannot be approved. Local authority has every right under Act 172 to impose further conditions or even reject a renewal of planning permission.
    (iii) Meant to be associated with earthworks activities like quarry, however under this category application must be made to the state authority.

    5. In conclusion , it is clear :-

    i) " Special Project" as indicated in Penang Island Structure Plan 2020 and also Pelan Dasar Kawalan Perancangan Dan Kawalan Pembangunan MPPP 1996 are not meant to be use as a "pre-requisite" to grant planning permission for development above 76m or any other hill slope development for that matter.

    ii) The term " Special Project" also must not be used by State Authority as an "escape clause" to approve Rezoning of Hill Land areas under Land Conservation Act 1960 to other category of use because the Penang Island Structure Plan 2020 is already in place since June 2007.

    iii) In granting Planning Permission up to Commencement of Work it goes through various approval process where Local Planning Authority is empowered by Town And Country Planning Act 1976 (Act 172) to intervene to the extend of revoking planning permission if it serves public interest.

    iv) With reference to Section 22(4) Act 172 , it states " The local planning authority shall not grant planning permission if -
    (a) the development in respect of which the permission is applied for would contravene any provision of the development plan;

    Here in Penang Island, in the absence of Local Plan, Penang Island Structure Plan 2020 is the " Development Plan " in accordance to Act 172 so in my opinion if MPPP finds that projects that had been approved after March 2008 and between June 2007 till March 2008 that contradict to the Development Plan, then in the name of "Public Interest" for the people of Penang all these planning permission should be revoked.
    MPPP had done it before.

  17. Statement by YDP MPPP Dato Patahiyah binti Ismail on 4 August 2012 ( Reply To Ex Town Planner Statement in Malaysia Kini on 3rd August 2012. )

    With reference to the statement in Malaysiakini yesterday 3rd August 2012 by Mr. Khoo Boo Soon an ex-MPPP Town Planner, MPPP regrets Khoo's questioning of decisions made by MPPP on hill projects based on existing laws and guidelines, when he was a direct and active participant of these decisions. Whilst MPPP is surprised at Khoo's sudden decision to go public against the institution he once worked for, Khoo can not run away from his own responsibility and refusal to admit the active role played by him.

    As the local planning authority , MPPP has the power under section 25 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 (TCPA) to revoke planning permission granted under section 22(3). However, an Order revoking a planning permission requires compensation to be paid under section 25(7) of the TCPA which can burden MPPP with hundreds of million of Ringgit.

  18. Generally, a planning permission granted under section 22(3) unless extended, shall lapsed after 12 months. Since the extension of planning permission is allowed under TCPA, the State Structure Plan 2020 gazzeted on 28th June 2007 allows a planning permission to be extended 5 times or 5 years. This compares with previous practice of 12 times or for some other local authorities. Applicants for planning permission shall under the Penang Structure Plan 2020 expect their planning permission to be extended if they have complied with all the planning requirements and the local authorities guidelines including the 1996 Zoning and Development Control Plan.

    If further conditions were to be imposed on every extension of planning permission, certain criteria must be followed. The criteria to be followed are that the new conditions imposed must be reasonable, can be complied with and must at least be agreed by both the local planning authority and the applicant for planning permission. This criteria were spelt out clearly on the 1999 Federal Court decision in the case of MPPP vs Syarikat Bekerjasama-sama Gabungan Sungai Gelugor Dengan Tanggungan(SB), which MPPP lost when MPPP was challenged for trying to impose new conditions on the extension of planning permission.

    There are huge financial implications if MPPP were to revoke planning permission granted especially those with building plans approval by reason of public interest. Apart from public monies being involved, MPPP still has to consider the public interest of third parties ie the purchasers who had bought the parcel units. Therefore there should be weightage and balance between the two public interests.

    The planning permission granted to the former Shih Tung Primary School was not revoked. The application for extension was rejected on 3rd November 2004 and the developer has not pursued the matter for compensation which he could by virtue of the Federal Court Case of SB. However there are 19 planning permissions granted by MPPP after 2008 and if they were to be revoked, the developers might pursue the matter which is too reckless and risky to gamble as it may result in financial bankruptcy for MPPP.

    "Special projects" were mentioned under the State Structure Plan 2020, which was gazetted in 2007. Prior to 2007, zoning and density was governed under the 1996 Zoning and Development Control Plan for projects where planning permission were granted previously or plots of land which is zoned as `residential'. These plots of land zoned as residential still existed and was still recognised after 2007 as the State Structure Plan did not rezone them. These residential zones included areas with heights above 250 feet.

    Refusal to give planning permission for these residential zones would result in MPPP requiring to make compulsory acquisition under section 37 of TCPA. To avoid MPPP be exposed to risk of hefty compensation losses, the Penang State Planning Committee in 2009 recognised these 1996 Zoning and Development Control Plan and allowed MPPP to follow strict hill slope procedures before issuing planning permission. Penang imposes the most stringent hill slope safety guidelines in the country crafted by famous Oxford trained geotechnical engineer Dr Gue See Saw.

    Mr. Khoo Boo Soon while he was acting as the Director of Town Planning Department in MPPP from 16th November 2009 to 15th May 2010 has even recommended for approval of planning permission for special projects. One of these special projects recommended by Mr Khoo is a paper he presented to the MPPP One-Stop-Center Committee (OSC) on 1st December 2009 with a height above 250 feet in Telok Kumbar. Then Mr Khoo did not raise any objections to the OSC, who then approved the planning permission for this special project above 250 feet as recommended by Mr Khoo.

    Sekian, terima kasih.

    Dato Patahiyah binti Ismali

    GEORGE TOWN, Aug 8 (Bernama) -- The Penang Municipal Council (MPPP) as a
    local government has lost its independence in terms of function under the Local
    Government Act 1976, said a former town planner with the council.
    A local government was supposed to protect public interest, Khoo Boo Soon, a
    registered urban planner who opted for early retirement in March 2010, told
    reporters, here, today.
    He was responding to MPPP president Datuk Patahiyah Ismail''s alleged
    twisting of the fact that if the council revoked planning permission for
    special projects, it would involve huge compensation.
    Khoo said he felt sorry for Patahiyah "if she still does not understand the
    contents and inter-relation between the Penang Island Structure Plan 2020
    and the Town and Country Planning Act 1996".
    According to Khoo, the term special project only appeared in the Penang
    Island Structure Plan 2020 gazetted in June 2007, and not prior to this and in
    the Structure Plan 1986.
    -- MORE
    He said "special project" had been defined clearly in 2009 to allow for MPPP
    to consider development in three categories, namely infrastructure and
    government projects like roads and dams, for security use and sites with ongoing
    quarrying activities.
    Khoo said the term "special project" was not meant to be used as a
    prerequisite to grant planning permission for development above 76 metres or any
    other hillslope development.
    "The term ''special project'' also must not be used by the state authority as
    an escape clause to approve rezoning of hill land areas under the Land
    Conservation Act 1960 to other category of use because the Structure Plan 2020
    is already in place since June 2007.
    "The Structure Plan 2020 also states that no development will be allowed in
    hill land areas that have been gazetted under the Land Conservation Act 1960.
    "Therefore, in my opinion if MPPP finds that projects that had been approved
    after March 2008 and between June 2007 and March 2008 contradict the development
    plan, then in the name of public interest in Penang, all these planning
    permission should be revoked," he said.
    -- MORE
    Khoo also challenged the MPPP president to name the special project in Teluk
    Kumbar above 250 feet high recommended by him during his tenure and make public
    the whole planning permission file to the One-Stop Committee.
    "I regret that she (Patahiyah) had made a U-turn to hit me from the back
    with this sort of accusation. As an urban planner registered with the Malaysia
    Institute of Planners and a member of the Board of Town Planners, this is an
    insult to my profession and I will pursue this matter further," he said.
    On word circulating that Khoo was asked to leave MPPP because of corruption,
    he said it was not true as he left for health reason and all his health records
    were with the state health authority.
    "If they think it is true, they should go to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption
    Commission (MACC) and call for investigation. This is again an irresponsible
    action," he said.

  20. Only two EIA reports after 2008
    No studies required for other projects lower than 250ft, says DOE officer
    FRIDAY, AUGUST 10, 2012 - 12:47
    by A. Sangeetha

    SINCE Pakatan Rakyat took over the Penang government in 2008, only two developers had submitted environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports on their hillslope development projects in the state.

    A state Department of Environment (DOE) officer, who asked not to be named, said Sunway City Penang Sdn Bhd submitted its report last year, and Affin-i Goodyear Sdn Bhd two years ago.

    The EIA report is part of two crucial criteria in the Penang Structure Plan 2005-2020 that need to be fulfilled if “special project” development were to take place on hillslopes above 250ft.

    The other involves the State Planning Committee’s review on these projects as they are seen as sensitive to the environment.

    “Of 19 special projects approved by the present state government, only two submitted EIA reports after 2008, and four submitted theirs before 2008,” said the officer.

    “The rest did not require EIA studies as their projects were less than 250ft. I know the development may look high but when you measure them, they are actually less than 250ft.”

    The Sunway City project had raised the ire of some 5,000 residents in Desaria, Sungai Ara, after they learned that it was being built on an 80.9-acre hilly site. The project consists of 14 blocks of condominium units ranging from five to 16 storeys, 92 units of bungalows, and two clubhouses next to a water catchment.

    Affin-i Goodyear had applied to develop 2.46 acres of 8.9 acres of Class Four land and hoped to leave the rest of the site as open space.

    The officer said although an EIA was not required, geotechnical reports were compulsory as the projects would require hill cutting and soil exposure.

    The four developers who submitted EIAs before 2008 are PPH Resort (Pg) Sdn Bhd, for a project in Persiaran Kelicap, Sungai Ara, Mutiara Premier Sdn Bhd (Jalan Teluk Kumbar), Vienna Home Sdn Bhd (Batu Maung), and Setia Promenade Sdn Bhd (second phase, Lebuh Relau).

    “Our initial response is to object to the project when it comes up for discussion in the Penang Island Municipal Council’s (MPPP) one-stop agency. However, after that, we review the EIA,” said the officer.

    The officer said the three criteria for special projects were public projects, such as infrastructure upgrading or construction; agriculture land, where low density development is allowed; and development above 250ft approved before the gazetting of the structure plan.

    “In any case, the policy contained in the structure plan here is strict as opposed to other states or even the national level,” said the officer.

    “While the structure plan’s criteria is such, DOE can also impose the need for an EIA if a project is more than five acres on hillslope below 250ft, but with a gradient of 25 degrees.”

  21. Hill projects respond to demand
    By Looi Sue Chern - NST

    IF you are asked to sum up all the big issues that are being discussed and debated in Penang, what words would you use?
    Frankly, we can hardly think of anything else but the Malay expression pi mai pi mai tang tu. It means going round and round but ending up in the same place.
    We have talked endlessly about hill slope developments here, but what exactly are we trying to achieve? Are we trying to stop them completely, control them or allow developers to do what they want?
    When the issue grew hotter in the state, a blame game started between the present state government and the previous Barisan Nasional state government, as expected. While the politicians continued to play ball with the issue, the people were left wondering where all this was actually going.
    Recently, the state government came up with the new Safety Guideline for Hillsite Development 2012 -- possibly as a response to the many debates about such projects here, and which quite a few non-governmental organisations (NGOs) including residents associations had considered as bad news.
    This guideline, which is available online in PDF format, offers a clear classification for slopes and has made it mandatory for developers to hire competent and qualified engineers and independent inspectors with expertise and experience in hillsite developments to design and supervise constructions.
    It also outlines the required qualifications and duties of engineers and independent inspectors, as well as contractors, who must comply with design drawings and specifications for slope works.
    With the aim of creating a "safe and green environment", the guideline reduces the maximum allowed hard surface footprint for buildings on Class 3 and Class 4 hill slopes to preserve more green areas, and requires engineered slopes to have green features to enhance the natural environment.
    These slopes, whether natural or man-made, are considered medium to very high risk. They make up about 40 per cent of hill land in Penang, according to the guidelines. To build on these slopes, a geo-technical report by a geo-technical engineer and a geo-technical review and regular site supervisions by an independent inspector are some of the requirements.
    The guidelines seem pretty optimistic about such projects. As long as everybody, including the local authorities and the developers, work together and fulfil their responsibilities, hillsite development safety can be improved. That is "the way forward".
    Oxford-schooled geo-technical engineer Dr Gue See-Sew said that hill slope developments are technically sustainable as long as high professional standards and integrity are observed. What he said is true. We just have to look at Hong Kong.
    Gue, who chairs the state government's hillsite advisory panel, recently spoke on this hot issue at a talk organised by the International Real Estate Federation Malaysian Penang Chapter at Gurney Paragon. It was a rather insightful session.
    He said it was better to build high-density projects on hill slopes than landed property. The logic is because units like bungalows would cause more land to be cleared. High-risers, whether 20 or 30 storeys, would need only one area to be cleared. Can't argue with that, right?
    He also said the concern should not be over how high the land on the hill was above sea level, but rather how steep the slope was.
    When asked what he thought about the NGOs and the people's negative impression on hill slope projects, Gue said this wrong perception needed to be corrected through public education.
    What Gue said must had been music to the ears of developers and real estate players who attended the talk, judging from the thundering applause and cheers. To some others, like those representing NGOs, further debates were warranted.

  22. Penang Island Municipal councillor Dr Lim Mah Hui, who has never failed to speak out against the clearing of hills and overdevelopment on the island, warned that developers should not simply take Gue's recommendations as a passport to cut trees and hills to build their projects.
    A project should be environmentally and culturally sustainable as well, and not just technically, Lim argued. He also questioned the professionalism of engineers hired by developers to prepare reports for project application approvals.
    Lim is right in asking, who checks the professionals? Who checks the decision-makers? Who checks the independent inspectors? How do the people make sure everything is done according to the book?
    Should closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) be installed in construction sites to capture everything on video? An NGO representative at the talk brought that up and Gue said the Public Works Department has used CCTVs for monitoring purposes before.
    Another NGO representative stood up several times during the talk's question-and-answer session, arguing that hill slope projects must be controlled and limited.
    The arguments go back and forth and over again. It has been like this for some time now. But after attending the talk, there are more signs pointing towards developments on hill slopes.
    Truly, is there a way to stop developers from buying land, building more commercial projects and selling them to make money? Is there a way to stop people and property investors from buying them?
    Until demand stops, we will just keep going round and round.