The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) are disappointed with the Penang State Planning Committee (SPC) chaired by the Chief Minister for approving conversion of hill reserve land to residential zones. In addition to this the State has also announced several other massive projects. We view that the State is not respecting the sanctity of the hills and other natural resources in Penang by pushing for colossal development on the island.
The conversion of Bukit Relau or popularly known as “Botak Hill” due to its bald hill top is not the only gazetted Hill Land converted for housing development. Among others, there have been cases of conversion in Sungai Ara, Paya Terubong, Sungai Batu near Bayan Lepas and the hill range at Bukit Gambier has been similarly affected. Recently an assemblyman took the state government to task for approving a 51-storey high-rise project on a hillslope near the Tunku Abdul Rahman University College in Tanjung Bungah.
CAP and SAM have been calling for development to be restricted in hill zones because the ecosystems in the hills are particularly fragile and play important roles in sustaining life. The highlands are environmentally sensitive and important water catchment areas. They are particularly vulnerable to soil erosion due to their steep slopes and the heavy rainfall that we have been experiencing lately will increase incidences of soil erosion and floods.
Sadly, the Penang government comes up with more new infrastructure projects such as the newly proposed Light Rail Transit project, new expressways, the undersea tunnel and the latest ludicrous proposal of a 3km mainland-to-island cable car project. Now the Chief Minister backtracks and says the proposed Sky Cab is a tourism product, not a public transport system. Do we even need these expensive projects and are they feasible or economically viable?
The State seems to be living in a dreamland thinking that such mega projects will be feasible for the island whereas till now no study on the island’s carrying capacity has been reported. Wouldn’t a bus rapid transit system with dedicated bus lanes and giving importance to pedestrians and cyclists serve the purpose of moving people?
Is the government even thinking of the cumulative environmental impacts and socio-economic impacts due to the displacement of people living around the affected areas? Several reclamation projects such as the Seri Tanjung Pinang 2 in Tanjung Tokong and along south-east coast of the island will also threaten the livelihood of coastal fishermen due to loss of fishing area.
In its pursuits of iconic development, the Penang State Government has failed to preserve the natural heritage of the island. We call upon the State Government to stop converting gazetted hill land for other development purposes. The state should be vying to be “Greenest Island City on Earth” and not “Concrete Island”.
S.M. Mohamed Idris
CAP & SAM