Why Penang must say no to cable car project

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water catchement area and forests in Penang
Lush forests cover the hilly terrain between Bukit Laksamana and Western Hill, divided by a deep valley - Photo: Penang Hills Watch

Penang Hills Watch (PHW) refers to a news report which highlighted the proposal for an over RM300m cable car route from Penang Hill to Teluk Bahang.

We are gravely concerned by the announcement of this proposal for the following reasons:

1. The route passes through a well-preserved hill dipterocarp forest

The alignment of the cable car would pass through two forest reserves, namely the Teluk Bahang permanent forest reserve and the Bukit Kerajaan permanent forest reserve.

Parts of this proposed line, especially between Bukit Laksamana and Western Hill are steep hill slopes (photo above), posing a substantial natural geo hazard.

Building 20 pylons over 6km and constructing a 10km maintenance road through this well-preserved forested area will fragment the forest, through the removal of trees and the necessary excavation and terracing to stabilise cut-and-fill slopes alongside the road.

Any sort of construction activity – regardless of the claim that the “footprints of the pylons will be unbelievably small” – will contribute to soil erosion. The soil erosion risk is particularly high in the steep terrain where the construction will take place.

2. The route passes through a major water catchment area

The Batu Ferringhi, Waterfall and Teluk Bahang Catchment areas will be affected by the construction of a cable car route from Penang Hill top to Teluk Bahang. The red line indicates a rough straight-line distance from the Penang Hill top to Teluk Bahang

The hilly area between the Penang Hill summit and Teluk Bahang constitutes the most important water catchments on Penang Island.

The proposed cable car would traverse three of these catchment areas: the Teluk Bahang, Batu Ferringhi and Waterfall catchments (map above). These are important water catchments that supply raw water to the northern coast of Penang as well as parts of George Town.

Soil erosion resulting from removal of tree cover to accommodate the pylons and for the construction of the maintenance road will increase sediment yield and siltation in the streams within the catchment areas.

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The maintenance road will inevitably cause a long linear break through the forest, hence altering the microclimate of the area and changing the conditions that induce rainfall necessary to ensure sustained yield of water in the catchment.

3. It would stretch the carrying capacity of Penang Hill

Enabling more people to access the summit of Penang Hill through this proposed Teluk Bahang route creates conditions for more crowds at the summit of Penang Hill because people reach the summit simultaneously along the different routes.

The Penang Hill Special Area Plan sets a limit of 4,800 visitors at any one time on the hill. With an extra route and excess people accessing the summit, there will be more burden to build more facilities on the Penang Hill summit, straining the water and electricity supply and stretching associated services (food and sewage) on the hill.

This will inevitably affect the fragile environment of Penang Hill.

4. The alignment would pass near a restricted military zone of Western Hill

The artist’s impression of the proposed 6-km cable car line from Penang Hill to Teluk Bahang – Source: www.thestar.com.my Note: The yellow box close to the drawn pylons indicates the location of Western Hill where the RMAF complex is located

Referring to the alignment map which was shared in the news report, the cable car alignment would pass along one of the ridges close to a sensitive security installation on the summit of Western Hill, 833m A.S.L. (indicated in map above). This is a restricted zone, with a major long-range air surveillance radar station and security installations belonging to the RMAF (SKN 312 Western Hill).

There would be a national security risk to have cable car gondolas passing at the same or at higher elevation than the summit of Western Hill, providing an unobstructed view and even an opportunity for tourists to photograph these sensitive security installations.

READ MORE:  Don't proceed with cable car proposal, groups urge Penang government

With the above reasons we would strongly urge that the Penang state government to say a firm no to this cable car project linking Penang Hill to Teluk Bahang.

As the environmental group Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) has rightly suggested in relation to this matter, there needs to be “a serious rethink of the kind of investments that should be promoted”.

The future of tourism in post-Covid-19 Penang should be one that is focused on the unique and original experiences that Penang has to offer, and not a relentless effort in building attractions.

The charm of Penang Island lies in its beautiful beaches, verdant hills and unique cultural and historical features. Tourism in Penang Island should be geared to promoting these elements in an environmentally sensitive and sustainable manner.

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