Suspend Penang Island’s mega-projects until proper local plan is in place

An unsightly large overhead light rail station in Kuala Lumpur

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Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) calls on the Penang state government to put on hold all approvals for any mega-projects on the island such as the elevated light rail transit (LRT) and the Penang Hill cable car project until a proper local plan for the island is in place.

Although the Penang Island Structure Plan 2030 is in place and it contains references to the LRT and cable cars, there are no further details in terms of a detailed zoning of areas, which will only be shown in a local plan.

As for the developments on Penang Hill, there is the Penang Hill special area plan, which stipulates details about the zoning of areas and what can and cannot be done on the hill. However, there will be areas outside the area plan, especially in the foothills of the bottom station involving areas in the Penang Botanic Garden and its surrounding areas which require proper planning considerations.

As for the LRT project, once the alignment is finalised, it will involve massive social and environmental impacts in the immediate neighbourhoods along the alignment – which require details of the zoning plans in these areas.

Regrettably, for decades now, Penang Island does not have a proper local plan to guide the details of planning and zoning. What the Penang state government and the Penang Island City Council have been doing thus far is to approve planning applications without proper accountability and transparency.

In fact, in the Sunrise Condominium vs Sunway City case, the Federal Court in January 2023 chided the authorities. It said: “no local plan was ever drawn up by the local authority despite the Penang Structure Plan 2020 being gazetted in June 2007 and the express provision of section 12 of the TCPA (Town and Country Planning Act 1976) which envisaged that work on the local plan ought to commence before or soon after the Penang Structure Plan comes into effect.”

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The Federal Court judges stated: “The development plan takes the form of the structural plan and ensuing from the structural plan, the local plan. The local plan details how the structural plan is to be implemented in each area and zone.”

The Federal Court also stressed: “Another fundamental aspect of the TCPA is the inclusion of the element of public participation in the land planning process. This element is an integral part of the democratic process which enables the public to require accountability in relation to development in and around where they live…which requires public participation in the drawing up of both structure plans and local plans.”

Therefore, without a local plan, which requires transparency and the democratic participation of the public in the detailed planning, the Penang state government and the Penang Island City Council will be acting without any accountability whatsoever. This cannot be consistent with the planning process as envisaged by the TCPA.

SAM urges the Penang state authorities to follow the law and halt further decision-making in relation to these projects, until a proper local plan is in place, so that development planning is done properly and with proper accountability and transparency. – SAM

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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