Penang Hill cable cars: Wrong to approve environmental assessment without public participation

A cable car system - WIKIPEDIA

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Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) believes it is wrong for the director general of the Department of Environment (DoE) to approve the environmental impact assessment report for the Penang hill cable car project without public display and public feedback.

This is because, under the Environmental Quality (Prescribed Activities) (Environmental Impact Assessment) Order 2015 (EIA Order), all activities that relate to “transportation” are listed as a Second Schedule activity, which under the order, requires public display and public comment.

In the Second Schedule of the EIA Order, “transportation” is listed as a prescribed activity and includes the “construction of new routes or branch line for a mass rapid transport project”.

Our view is that the cable car project is indeed a “mass rapid transport project”, as it involves the transportation of 1,000 passengers per hour to the top of the hill as announced recently by Penang Hill Corporation general manager Cheok Lay Leng.

The cable car line may only be 2.7km, but the entire system is being constructed on very environmentally sensitive areas involving both Penang Hill, which is a biosphere reserve, and the Penang Botanic Garden.

Moreover, the cable car project also involves slopes which are steep and beyond 35-degree gradient in parts – which requires the environmental impact assessment be under the Second Schedule of the EIA Order, thus requiring public display and comments.

Hence, from the legal, environmental and social impact standpoints, it would have been proper and prudent for the environmental impact assessment to be made public for comments and feedback. 

We are told that only 50 trees will be moved for the RM245m cable car project and the project is environmentally friendly. That may be the view of the authorities, but it is for the public to make an independent assessment of these assurances.

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Our point is that the law must be obeyed, and public display and comment is mandatory, prior to any approval under the law on environmental impact assessments, for such a mass rapid transport, which is on very steep slopes in an environmentally sensitive area.

Moreover, even in obtaining planning approvals under the Town and Country Planning Act 1976, a social impact assessment has to be done, including a traffic impact assessment. None of these has been made public.

Penang Hill and the Botanic Garden are areas of much public interest.

Apart from the legalities, it is indeed good governance and practice to publicly display the environmental, social and traffic impact assessments for public feedback and comments.

Granting approvals without transparency undermines public confidence.

We call on the DoE and the Penang state government to make public these documents and not commence further work until the public are given a chance to provide their feedback on the cable car project.

Meenakshi Raman is president of Sahabat Alam Malaysia

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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