Go-ahead likely for Penang LRT


GEORGE TOWN: The approvals from the federal authorities for the RM8.4bil Bayan Lepas light rail transit (LRT) and the massive Penang South Reclamation (PSR) scheme on the southern coast of the island are expected to be obtained before the end of the year.

Sources told The Star that the approvals would be from the Department of Environment, the federal regulator overseeing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), and the Transport Ministry.

The sources said if everything goes on as scheduled, the reclamation project for the three man-made islands would start early next year.

“The LRT project might begin in January 2020,” they said.

The LRT, together with a monorail, cable cars and water taxis, is part of the state government’s RM46bil Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP).

It will begin from Komtar in the northeast corner of the island and pass through Jelutong, Gelugor, Bayan Lepas and Penang International Airport before ending at the proposed PSR development comprising three man-made islands totalling 1,800ha near Teluk Kumbar.

It is expected to provide a fast route to the airport and will traverse densely populated residential, commercial and industrial areas.

There are 27 LRT stations along the alignment, with the maintenance depot located on the first island that is to be reclaimed on the island’s south coast.

The alignment also factors in interchanges with future LRT, Sky Cab and monorail lines that are being planned, including one that will cross the channel to connect Gelugor on the island with the Penang Sentral transport hub in mainland Butterworth. The success of the PTMP depends on funding from property development on the PSR scheme.

The Pan Island Link (PIL) 1 is another component which came to light recently as its Detailed EIA was on display at 10 locations in Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur and Penang until yesterday.

The proposed 19.5km highway links Gurney Drive to the Penang International Airport.

SRS Consortium Sdn Bhd, the Project Delivery Partner (PDP), will call for the tender of the LRT and PSR via a Request for Proposal (RFP) exercise early next year, the sources said.

SRS’s role is to supervise the projects until their completion and scale down the cost.

It is learnt that there are currently six or seven companies interested in carrying out the LRT project and the reclamation work for the islands.

“SRS will scale down the cost of the urban rail transport link connecting Komtar and Bayan Lepas, and also consider alternative proposals such as a monorail,” said sources.

It is learnt that Scomi Engineering has recently proposed a monorail project costing about RM6bil, to the state government.

A China company has also proposed to build a LRT link costing less than RM6bil.

On the three man-made islands, it is said that more than RM4bil would be spent on the reclamation.

“The cost is estimated to be over RM4bil because there will be a need to construct a dam and three power plants for the islands.

“One of the islands will be used for indus­trial activities. There will be industrial lots developed for sale to overseas and local investors to generate funds for the urban rail transport link.

“The other two islands will be used for building commercial and residential properties,” sources explained, adding that about RM17bil, which includes the cost for the LRT and PIL 1, has been approved.

On the viability of trams as an alternative to LRT, the sources said the move would require relocating underground sewage infrastructure, power and telecommunications cables.

“They have to be relocated because laying the rails for trams involves a lot of costly road digging. The LRT is constructed on an elevated platform and does not involve digging into the ground.

“Furthermore, the roads in Penang are narrow, so using trams with other vehicles on the same road could cause accidents,” a source added.

SRS Consortium, a 60:20:20 joint venture involving Gamuda Bhd, Loh Phoy Yen Holdings Sdn Bhd and Ideal Property Development Sdn Bhd, was appointed by the Penang government as the PDP for the implementation of the PTMP.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said he has written a letter to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on June 29 to seek funds for the LRT project.

“We have yet to receive a reply.

“If the South island reclamation projects are not carried out, the state has no choice but to seek federal funds for the LRT,” he said during his speech at the state assembly yesterday.

Chow had earlier said the major components of PTMP would be fully funded by revenues generated from the sale of reclaimed land of the PSR project.

He said the fully funded nature of the components – the LRT and the PIL 1 – was unlike any other mega infrastructure projects currently being critically reviewed by the Council of Eminent Persons.

The SRS Consortium was concluded to have the best overall proposal among six local and international bidders, which were evaluated based on qualities such as transport master plan proposal, delivery track record, financial standing and funding/business models.

By David Tan The Star

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Has Penang Island’s growth & development become a hazard to life?


  • Malaysia’s Penang Island has undergone massive development since the 1960s, a process that continues today with plans for transit and land-reclamation megaprojects.
  • The island is increasingly facing floods and landslides, problems environmentalists link to paving land and building on steep slopes.
  • This is the second in a six-part series of articles on infrastructure projects in Peninsular Malaysia.

GEORGE TOWN, Malaysia — Muddy carpets and soaked furniture lay in moldering piles on the streets of this state capital. It was Sunday morning, Oct. 29, 2017. Eight days earlier, torrents of water had poured off the steep slopes of the island’s central mountain range. Flash floods ripped through neighborhoods. A landslide killed 11 workers at a construction site for a high-rise apartment tower, burying them in mud. It was Penang Island’s second catastrophic deluge in five weeks.

Kam Suan Pheng, an island resident and one of Malaysia’s most prominent soil scientists, stepped to the microphone in front of 200 people hastily gathered for an urgent forum on public safety. Calmly, as she’s done several times before, Kam explained that the contest between Mother Earth’s increasingly fierce meteorological outbursts and the islanders’ affection for building on steep slopes and replacing water-absorbing forest and farmland with roads and buildings would inevitably lead to more tragedies.

“When places get urbanized, the sponge gets smaller. So when there is development, the excess rainwater gets less absorbed into the ground and comes off as flash floods,” she said. “The flood situation is bound to worsen if climate change brings more rain and more intense rainfall.”

Five days later it got worse. Much worse. On Nov. 4, and for the next two days, Penang was inundated by the heaviest rainfall ever recorded on the island. Water flooded streets 3.6 meters (12 feet) deep. Seven people died. The long-running civic discussion that weighed new construction against the risks of increasingly fierce ecological impediments grew more urgent. George Town last year joined an increasing number of the world’s great coastal cities — Houston, New Orleans, New York, Cape Town, Chennai, Jakarta, Melbourne, São Paulo — where the consequences are especially vivid.

The empty apartment construction  site where 11 men died in an October 2017 landslide. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

Penang’s state government and Chow Kon Yeow, its new chief minister, recognize the dilemma. Three weeks after being named in May to lead the island, Chow told two reporters from The Star newspaper that “[e]conomic growth with environmental sustainability would be an ideal situation rather than sacrificing the environment for the sake of development.”

But Chow also favors more growth. He is the lead proponent for building one of the largest and most expensive transportation projects ever undertaken by a Malaysian city: a $11.4 billion scheme that includes an underwater tunnel linking to peninsular Malaysia, three highways, a light rail line, a monorail, and a 4.8-kilometer (3-mile) gondola from the island to the rest of Penang state on the Malay peninsula.

The state plans to finance construction with proceeds from the sale of 1,800 hectares (4,500 acres) of new land reclaimed from the sea along the island’s southern shore. The Southern Reclamation Project calls for building three artificial islands for manufacturing, retail, offices, and housing for 300,000 residents.

Awarded rights to build the reclamation project in 2015, the SRS Consortium, the primary contractors, are a group of national and local construction companies awaiting the federal government’s decision to proceed. Island fishermen and their allies in Penang’s community of environmental organizations and residential associations oppose the project, and they proposed a competing transport plan that calls for constructing a streetcar and bus rapid transit network at one-third the cost. (See Mongabay –https://news.mongabay.com/2017/04/is-a-property-boom-in-malaysia-causing-a-fisheries-bust-in-penang/)

For a time the national government stood with the fishermen. Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, the former minister of natural resources and environment and a member of Barisan Nasional (BN), the ruling coalition, refused to allow the project. “The 1,800-hectare project is too massive and can change the shoreline in the area,” he told reporters. “It will not only affect the environment but also the forest such as mangroves. Wildlife and marine life, their breeding habitats will be destroyed.”

The state, and Penang Island, however, have been governed since 2008 by leaders of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, which supported the transport and reclamation mega projects. In May 2018, Pakatan Harapan routed the BN in parliamentary elections. Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamed, the leader of Pakatan Harapan, assumed power once again. Island leaders anticipate that their mega transport and reclamation projects will be approved.

It is plain, though, that last year’s floods opened a new era of civic reflection and reckoning with growth. Proof is everywhere, like the proliferation of huge blue tarps draped across flood-scarred hillsides outside of George Town’s central business district. Intended to block heavy rain from pushing more mud into apartment districts close by, the blue tarps are a distinct signal of ecological distress.

Or the flood-damaged construction sites in Tanjung Bungah, a fast-growing George Town suburb. A lone guard keeps visitors from peering through the gates of the empty apartment construction site where 11 men died in the October 2017 landslide. About a mile away, a row of empty, cracked, expensive and never-occupied hillside townhouses are pitched beside a road buckled like an accordion. The retaining wall supporting the road and development collapsed in the November 2017 flood, causing expensive property damage.

  • A row of empty, cracked, expensive and never-occupied hillside  townhouses are pitched beside a road buckled like an accordion. The retaining wall supporting the road and development collapsed in a November 2017 flood, causing extensive property damage. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

    Gurmit Singh, founder and chairman of the Centre for Environment, Technology and Development, Malaysia (CETDEM), and dean of the nation’s conservation activists, called Penang state government’s campaign for more growth and mega infrastructure development “a folly.”

    “It exceeds the carrying capacity of the island. It should never be approved,” he said in an interview in his Kuala Lumpur office.

    Singh, who is in his 70s and still active, was raised on Penang Island. He is an eyewitness to the construction that made much of his boyhood geography unrecognizable. “Everything built there now is unsustainable,” he said.

    It’s taken decades to reach that point. Before 1969, when state authorities turned to Robert Nathan and Associates, a U.S. consultancy, to draw up a master plan for economic development, Penang Island was a 293-square-kilometer (113-square-mile) haven of steep mountain forests, ample rice paddies, and fishing villages reachable only by boat.

    For most residents, though, Penang Island was no tropical paradise. Nearly one out of five working adults was jobless, and poverty was endemic in George Town, its colonial capital, according to national records.

    Nathan proposed a path to prosperity: recruiting electronics manufacturers to settle on the island and export their products globally. His plan emphasized the island’s location on the Strait of Malacca, a trading route popular since the 16th century that tied George Town to Singapore and put other big Asian ports in close proximity.

  • Sea and harbor traffic on the Strait of Malacca. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

    As a 20th century strategy focused on stimulating the economy, Nathan’s plan yielded real dividends. The island’s population nearly doubled to 755,000, according to national estimates. Joblessness hovers in the 2 percent range.

    Foreign investors poured billions of dollars into manufacturing, retail and residential development, and all the supporting port, energy, road, and water supply and wastewater treatment infrastructure. In 1960, the island’s urbanized area totaled 29.5 square kilometers (11.4 square miles), almost all of it in and immediately surrounding George Town. In 2015, the urban area had spread across 112 square kilometers (43 square miles) and replaced the mangroves, rubber plantations, rice paddies and fishing villages along the island’s northern and eastern coasts.

    There are now 220,000 homes on the island, with more than 10,000 new units added annually, according to National Property Information Center. George Town’s colonial center, which dates to its founding in 1786, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008, like Venice and Angkor Wat. The distinction helped George Town evolve into a seaside tourist mecca. The state of Penang, which includes 751 square kilometers (290 square miles) on the Malay peninsula, attracts over 6 million visitors annually, roughly half from outside Malaysia. Most of the visitors head to the island, according to Tourism Malaysia.

    Nathan’s plan, though, did not anticipate the powerful ecological and social responses that runaway shoreline and hillside development would wreak in the 21st century. Traffic congestion in George Town is the worst of any Malaysian city. Air pollution is increasing. Flooding is endemic.

  • Blue tarps drape the steep and muddy hillsides in George Town to slow erosion during heavy rain storms. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

    Nor in the years since have Penang’s civic authorities adequately heeded mounting evidence of impending catastrophes, despite a series of government-sponsored reports calling for economic and environmental sustainability.

    Things came to a head late last year. Flooding caused thousands of people to be evacuated from their homes. Water tore at hillsides, opening the forest to big muddy wounds the color of dried blood. Never had Penang Island sustained such damage from storms that have become more frequent, according to meteorological records. Rain in November that measured over 400 millimeters (13 inches) in a day. The damage and deaths added fresh urgency and new recruits to Penang Island’s longest-running civic argument: Had the island’s growth become a hazard to life?

    George Town is far from alone in considering the answer. The 20th century-inspired patterns of rambunctious residential, industrial and infrastructure development have run headlong into the ferocious meteorological conditions of the 21st century. Coastal cities, where 60 percent of the world’s people live, are being challenged like never before by battering storms and deadly droughts. For instance, during a two-year period that ended in 2016, Chennai, India, along the Bay of Bengal, was brutalized by a typhoon and floods that killed over 400 people, and by a drought that prompted deadly protests over water scarcity. Houston drowned in a storm. Cape Town is in the midst of a two-year drought emergency.

    George Town last year joined the expanding list of cities forced by Nature to a profound reckoning. Between 2013 and mid-October 2017, according to state records, Penang recorded 119 flash floods. The annual incidence is increasing: 22 in 2013; 30 in 2016. Residents talk about a change in weather patterns for an island that once was distinguished by a mild and gentle climate but is now experiencing much more powerful storms with cyclone-force winds and deadly rain.

    Billions of dollars in new investment are at stake. Apartment towers in the path of mudslides and flash flooding rise on the north shore near George Town. Fresh timber clearing continues apace on the steep slopes of the island’s central mountain range, despite regulations that prohibit such activity. Demographers project that the island’s population could reach nearly 1 million by mid-century. That is, if the monstrous storms don’t drive people and businesses away — a trend that has put Chennai’s new high-tech corridor at risk.

    The urgency of the debate has pushed new advocates to join Kam Suan Pheng at the forefront of Penang Island’s environmental activism. One of them is Andrew Ng Yew Han, a 34-year-old teacher and documentary filmmaker whose “The Hills and the Sea” describes how big seabed reclamation projects on the island’s north end have significantly diminished fish stocks and hurt fishing villages. High-rise towers are swiftly pushing a centuries-old way of life out of existence. The same could happen to the more than 2,000 licensed fishermen and women contending with the much bigger reclamation proposals on the south coast.

    “How are they going to survive?” Han said in an interview. “This generation of fisherman will be wiped out. None of their kids want to be fisherman. Penang is holding a world fisherman conference in 2019. The city had the gall to use a picture of local fisherman as the poster. No one who’s coming here knows, ‘Hey you are reclaiming land and destroying livelihood of an entire fishing village.’”

    “We all want Penang to be progressive. To grow. To become a great city,” he adds on one of his videos. “But at whose expense? That’s the question. That’s the story I’m covering.”

  • Andrew Ng Yew Han, a 34-year-old teacher and documentary film maker whose “The Hills and the Sea” describes how big seabed reclamation projects on the island’s north end have significantly diminished fish  stocks and hurt fishing villages. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

    Another young advocate for sustainable growth is Rexy Prakash Chacko, a 26-year-old engineer documenting illegal forest clearing. Chacko is an active participant in the Penang Forum, the citizens’ group that held the big meeting on flooding last October. Nearly two years ago, he helped launch Penang Hills Watch, an online site that uses satellite imagery and photographs from residents to identify and map big cuts in the Penang hills — cuts that are illegal according to seldom-enforced state and federal laws.

    Kam Suan Pheng and other scientists link the hill clearing to the proliferation of flash flooding and extensive landslides that occur on the island now, even with moderate rainfall.

    In 1960, Malaysia anticipated a future problem with erosion when it passed the Land Conservation Act that designated much of Penang Island’s mountain forests off-limits to development. In 2007, Penang state prohibited development on slopes above an elevation of 76 meters (250 feet), and any slope with an incline greater than 25 degrees, or 47 percent.

    Images on Penang Hills Watch make it plainly apparent that both measures are routinely ignored. In 2015, the state confirmed as much when it made public a list of 55 blocks of high-rise housing, what the state called “special projects,” that had been built on hillsides above 76 meters or on slopes steeper than 25 degrees. The “special projects” encompassed 10,000 residences and buildings as tall as 45 stories.

 

Rexy Prakash Chacko, a 26-year-old engineer who helped launch Penang Hills Watch, an online site that uses satellite imagery and photographs from residents to identify and map big cuts in the Penang hills. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

“There is a lot of water coming down the hills now,” Chacko said in an interview. “It’s a lack of foresight. Planning has to take into account what happens when climate change is a factor. Clearing is happening. And in the last two years the rain is getting worse.

“You can imagine. People are concerned about this. There was so much lost from the water and the mud last year.”

Ignoring rules restricting development has consequences, as Kam Suan Pheng has pointed out since getting involved in the civic discussion about growth in 2015. After the October 2017 landslide, she noted that local officials insisted the apartment building where the 11 deaths occurred was under construction on flat ground. But, she told Mongabay, an investigation by the State Commission of Inquiry (SCI) found that the apartment construction site abutted a 60-degree slope made of granite, which is notoriously unstable when it becomes rain-saturated.

“State authorities continued to insist that development above protected hill land is prohibited,” Kam said in an email. “There is little to show that more stringent enforcement on hill slope development has been undertaken. Hopefully the findings of the SCI will serve as lessons for more stringent monitoring and enforcement of similar development projects so that the 11 lives have not been sacrificed in vain.”

 

Penang undersea tunnel developer CZC ‘duped into paying RM22mil’ at gun point?


GEORGE TOWN: The developer of the Penang undersea tunnel project claims it was duped into paying two individuals RM22mil to stop graft investigations.

Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd (CZC) senior executive director Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli (pic) said they were told that action would be taken against them if they did not pay.

“They (the duo) claimed to be the powers that be. Eventually, we found out it was not true. We were conned,” he said.

He said the company had previously followed all the rules.

“But at that particular period of time, we didn’t know what was the rule of law. It’s not bribery but the act was akin to putting a gun to my head,” he said.

Zarul Ahmad said he could not disclose the details because the case was still being investigated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

“I believe soon they will come out with something pertaining to those issues,” he said.

Zarul Ahmad said things were different now after the outcome of GE14 on May 9.

“On May 10, I opened my window and I took a nice breath of fresh air and it was wonderful.

“Last time, I couldn’t answer certain things but now, I can because there is freedom of speech. I know I won’t get into trouble for making statements that I want to make,” he said at a hotel here yesterday.

In March, a 37-year-old Datuk Seri was picked up by MACC for allegedly receiving RM19mil from CZC to “help settle” investigations into the controversial RM6.3bil mega project comprising an undersea tunnel and three highways.

Former chief minister Lim Guan Eng said the state government was shocked at the news that CZC allegedly paid RM19mil to an unnamed businessman and RM3mil to an MP.

Zarul Ahmad said they had provided an explanation about the incident which was accepted by the Penang government two weeks ago.

CZC, the special purpose vehicle of the Penang project, had come under the spotlight after its two senior directors were picked up to assist in MACC investigations over alleged corruption claims.

MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong had raised numerous concerns about the project, including why the special pur­pose vehicle did not meet the RM381mil minimum paid-up capital requirement during the tender process.

Zarul Ahmad said they were adopting the just-in-time (JiT) philosophy, meaning the paid-up capital would only be increased when necessary.

He said 90% of the financing was done through the banks and they did not want to incur interests for nothing.

“That is the only way to reduce our cost and maximise returns.

“Why should we increase our paid-up capital to RM300mil or 400mil when we are only using a certain amount,” he said.

By Tan Sin Chow and Saran Yeoh The Star
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Huge landslide in Tg Bungah hill


Disaster zone: An aerial view of the recent landslide in Tanjung Bungah, Penang.
An aerial view of the brown water flowing into the sea from Sungai Kelian.

GEORGE TOWN: Nobody knew a natural disaster was waiting to happen until Sungai Kelian in Tanjung Bungah turned brown and silty.

The sudden profusion of laterite mud flowing out to sea was caused by a landslide even bigger than the one that killed 11 people at a Tanjung Bungah construction site last year.

But it was so far uphill – 231m above sea level – that Penang Island City Council (MBPP) had to use a drone to find it.

As it was a natural landslide, residents are now worried about the fragility of slopes in the Tanjung Bungah hill range and want tighter scrutiny on the many development projects slated for their neighbourhood all the way to Batu Ferringhi.
MBPP issued a statement on Sunday after discovering the landslide on Bukit Batu Ferringhi, in the forest reserve about 1.5km uphill of a disused Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP) intake station.

PBAPP chief executive officer Datuk Jaseni Maidinsa clarified that the station had not been in use since 1999, after the Teluk Bahang Dam was completed.

An MBPP engineer said the landslide was about 40m long and 20m wide, but geo-technical experts were unable to reach the site to determine what happened because there are no jungle trails to reach it.

A group called Nelayan Tanjung Tokong shared a video on Facebook last Thursday, showing the russet brown water flowing into the sea from Sungai Kelian and expressed concern.

Tanjung Bungah Residents Asso­ciation chairman Meenakshi Ra­­man said it was worrying because the landslide happened without any human disturbance.

“It shows the hills in the vicinity are ecologically fragile, and we don’t want any untoward incidents to happen again.

“We hope the authorities will tell us what is being done to prevent further landslides,” she said yesterday.

Former Tanjung Bungah assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu said he knew the area well and believed that the landslide took place near the source of Sungai Kelian.

“I have always stressed on how sensitive the hill slopes here are. There are many underground springs in the hills,” he said.

State Works, Utilities and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said the landslide happened in the middle of a forest reserve and experts need time to study the slope to understand how it gave way.

He gave an assurance that the mud washing down the river would clear up in due course without long-term damage.

Zairil also stressed that no deve­lopment had been approved near the landslide area.

“The state government’s guidelines on hill slope development are tighter than those used by the Federal Government. We will not approve developments without pro­per compliance,” he added.

Penang Drainage and Irrigation Department director Mohd Azmin Hussin said that it would be difficult to transport machinery to the source of the landslide for mitigation works.

“There are no access roads and the team will have to hike to the site,” he said. – The Star

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STATE exco member Jagdeep Singh Deo should stop talking only of the 76m altitude restriction and also talk of 25-degree slope gradient restriction on hillside development.

According to The Star on Labour Day, state exco member Jagdeep Singh Deo wrote in his Facebook page: “I want everyone to get their facts right during this election campaign…”, and he went on to state that the Penang government did not approve projects on land more than 76m (250 ft) above sea level.

The Penang Structure Plan clearly states that sensitive hill land is defined not only as land over 76m above sea level but also slopes of more than 25 degrees; the development of such land is restricted to “special projects” only.

Any construction on slopes of more than 25 degree contravenes the second condition. Hillside development cannot be discussed only with reference to the altitude.

For slope stability, the higher the slope face and the steeper the angle, the higher the risk of slope failure.

While the previous Barisan Nasional government here approved many such hillside developments, the record of the present state government shows that more development on sensitive hillsides have been approved.

State exco member Chow Kon Yeow, in his reply to an enquiry in the State Assembly on November 2015, revealed that 56 high-rise towers have been approved on sensitive hill land between 2008 and end-2015.

In the case of the Tanjung Bungah landslide tragedy, DAP leaders claimed that the project was on flat land when it was evident that it was built on land that was once a slope and had been cut flat.

During the earthworks stage of that project, a 20m high, 60-degree angle slope was then formed at the boundary.

It was this slope that failed and buried 11 workers alive.

Under the Hillside Development Guidelines 2012, such a slope is classified as Class Three. Submission requirements include a geo-technical report by a geo-technical engineer and a geo-technical review report by an independent checker.

At present, another proposed project above the Miami Green Resort Condominium is on Class Four land (with slopes greater than 35 degrees) which is classified as “Environmentally Sensitive Areas with Disaster Risk”.

Under the draft Penang Structure Plan 2020, no form of development is allowed on such land.

A technical review of the site by Zeezy Global, a consulting firm, found that the proposed development is on a hill, on Lot 62, with height ranges from 40m to 140m above sea level.

Almost 50% of the slopes have a gradient of more than 25 degrees, and in some areas as steep as 40 to 50 degrees. Some parts of the area designated for construction are higher than 76m.

The project consists of two 34-storey towers of serviced apartments, each with 336 units, and a 20-storey “affordable housing” tower with 197 units.

Two retention ponds larger than an Olympic-sized pool with total capacity of 5.2 millon litres on the hill are planned to cater to expected high surface run-offs during and after construction.

The existence of such a huge mass of water poses potential risks to residents if the slopes de-stabilise during or after construction, particularly if monitoring, maintenance and enforcement are weak.

Existing gunite slopes in Miami Green are not designed for additional loading.

With the new project, exertion of loads at the upper slopes could endanger the residents.

The disturbance from the construction could affect the integrity of the existing slope. No assurance has been made regarding risks of landslides or slope failures during and after construction.

In light of the Tanjung Bungah tragedy, lessons must be learned. If the local and state authorities do not have the technical capacity to implement, monitor and enforce the present hillside guidelines, a moratorium on hillside development should be imposed until such time that this problem is resolved.

The public should not be put at risk anymore. Eleven lives were lost and hopefully not in vain.

By Dr Lim Mah Hui Former Penang Island City councillor
Dr Lim says hillside development cannot be discussed only with reference to the altitude

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Geotechnical engineer Aziz Noor says the new project puts the people and the place in danger

 

Engineer: Lives at risk in Penang hill project

 

GEORGE TOWN: The DAP-led state government has turned a blind eye on the imminent danger of hill slope development, said a Tanjung Bungah resident.

At a forum-cum-press conference yesterday, geotechnical consultant Aziz Noor (pic) said building the proposed multi-storey mixed development behind the Miami Green Resort Condominium would pose a danger to the condo and its residents.

The development which has been approved on the class four hill, comprises five 29-storey building blocks, two 34-storey serviced apartments with 336 units each and one block of affordable apartments with 197 units.

Meanwhile, former Bukit Bendera MP Zairil Khir Johari, who is the Tanjong Bungah candidate for Pakatan Harapan, said the state government would review the guidelines on hill slope development. – Bernama

 


GEORGE TOWN: An engineer has sounded a warning about “imminent danger” from a new hillside development of eight tower blocks of apartments planned in an environmentally-sensitive area of Tanjung Bungah.

Geotechnical consultant Aziz Noor, speaking at a forum-cum-press conference today, accused the DAP-led state government of turning a blind eye on the imminent danger of hill slope development.

The proposed mixed development behind Miami Green Resort condominium puts the existing residence and its people in danger, he said.

The development has been approved on a 12-acre plot with a 35-degree slope on a Class Four hill, which exceeds 250 feet above sea level.

It comprises five 29-storey tower blocks, two 34-storey blocks of 336 serviced apartments each, and one block of 197 units of affordable apartments.

Aziz said that the project was not only in an environmentally sensitive area, it also contradicts the 2007 Penang Structure Plan that forbid any development above a gradient of 25-degree gradient and 250 feet above sea-level.

The design of one development does not guarantee safety. A Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment must be conducted and reviewed. This development puts the place and people in imminent danger,” he said.

Residents of the area said they had vented their frustration multiple times since November but had not received any response from the state government and Penang Island City Council.

The residents, together with the Tanjung Bunga residents association, had spoken on the matter many times, but no one seemed bothered, said one of the residents, Lim Liew Ming.

“Our lives are at risk. The upcoming development is a ticking time-bomb. Are the authorities waiting for a tragedy to happen, and only then act on it?,” she asked.

State Barisan Nasional chairman Teng Chang Yeow, who is also BN candidate for the Tanjong Bunga state seat in the general election, said the project should have been shelved from the beginning.

“We will put a stop to this. Even if we need to pay compensation,” he said.

The Barisan Nasional has pledged to declare all highland and hill slope areas of 250 feet above sea-level as permanent forest reserve.

Former Bukit Bendera MP Zairil Khir Johari, who is the Pakatan Harapan candidate for Tanjong Bunga, said the state government would review the guidelines on hill slope development.

Source:FMT.Click here to get live updates throughout the GE14 season

 

GEORGE TOWN: An MCA state leader has criticised Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng over the latter’s statement that more stop-work orders have been issued against hillside development by the current state government.

State MCA Wanita chairman Tan Cheng Liang said Lim, who is also the DAP secretary-general, had “conveniently avoided” revealing the increase in number of protests in the state since 2008.

“He boasts about more stop-work orders being issued now compared to when Barisan Nasional was helming the state government.

“However, he failed to reveal that there have been more protests by Penangites against hillside development since Pakatan Rakyat took over.

“The latest is the chorus of dissatisfaction by residents of Mount Pleasure in Batu Ferringhi, objecting against approval accorded by the Penang Municipal Council (MPPP) for the construction of 21 four-storey villas and 80 two-storey bungalows there,” she said.

She said the 2008 DAP general election manifesto unveiled by Lim promised to “preserve our forest, wetlands and bio-diversity” while Pakatan Rakyat’s common policy framework stressed that the “environment must be preserved for the sustainability of future generations.”

“Just six weeks ago, Lim said in a speech that the Pakatan government was proud of its record of not approving any hillside development.

“However, the voices of disapproval by Penangites are evidence that Lim, the DAP and Pakatan are deceptive,” she claimed.

Citing examples, she said on April 8 this year, Sungai Ara residents protested against approval issued by MPPP Planning Department for two hillside development projects and in February 2009, Tanjung Bungah residents protested and submitted a memorandum calling on the state government to ban all current and future Class III and Class IV hillslope development projects.

“In view of these protests and to deliver the DAP and Pakatan’s pledge to protect the environment, I challenge Lim and the state government to issue a stop-work orders against all hillside development projects approved by MPPP,” she said in a press release yesterday.

Tan also took a swipe at Lim for focusing on luxury residences but allegedly had no regard for the poor.

“Approvals are given for exclusive housing and condominium projects on hills, but scant attention is given to low-cost housing for the poor where no low or medium cost units were constructed between 2008 to 2011,” she claimed.

On Tuesday, Lim said more stop-work orders had been issued by both local councils since 2008 compared to previously.

He said this proved that the state government was “more stringent in upholding the rule of law, demanding strict compliance with technical requirements and more unforgiving than Barisan.” – The Star

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Absorb New ways to prevent floods


Sponge City: Solutions for China’s Thirsty & Flooded cities

 China’s ‘sponge city’ projects may be worthwhile examples for Malaysia.

“Only about 20~30% of rainwater infiltrates the ground in urban areas, so it breaks the naturual water circulation.– Wen Mei Dubbelaar”

Last week, it was the turn of Petaling Jaya, Gombak and Sungai Buloh to be the latest major urban areas in Malaysia to suffer flash floods (Flash floods wreak havoc in PJ – Nation). Scenes of cars and buildings submerged in muddy water are now almost an everyday thing. The focus should now shift from the bad situations to the solutions.

It was also last week that I attended a briefing organised by civil society groups for Penang and Seberang Perai municipal officials and members. The briefing was on the recent floods.

Later, I came across several articles on how China is turning 30 of its flood-prone areas into “sponge cities” to prevent floods and retain rainwater.

The Chinese plan big and fast. It launched the sponge city project only in 2015, but it aims to retain 70% of rain in 80% of urban areas by 2020. The sponge concept is set to spread rapidly as part of global efforts to reduce the impact of increased rainfall and floods, and climate change.

The concept figured prominently at the briefing chaired by Penang state exco member Chow Kon Yeow. Scientist Dr Kam Suan Pheng introduced it when explaining the floods.

She contrasted the present situation when rain falls with what used to happen. In the past, 50% of the rain seeped through the natural ground cover (trees, grass, etc) and into the ground. There was 10% water runoff (to rivers and drains) and 40% evapotranspiration (water going back to the atmosphere).

The trees and green spaces act as a sponge to absorb the rainwater that infiltrates the soil, preventing the water from building up into flash floods.

Due to urbanisation, the green spaces have been paved over with cement and concrete. Now, only 15% of the rain infiltrates the soil, while the runoff has increased to 55% and evapotranspiration is 30%. The sponge now absorbs 15% of the rainwater compared to the previous 50%.

Dr Kam quoted former Penang Water Authority general manager Kam U-Tee as saying that the October 2008 Penang floods were caused by conversion of the valleys into “concrete aprons that do not retain water”. As a result, the water immediately flowed into streams, causing flash floods, even with moderate rainfall.

Given this analysis, a key part of tackling the floods is to reverse the loss of the sponge. In recent decades, Malaysia has seen the conversion of a lot of farms, parks, trees and grass areas into concrete jungles of roads, houses, commercial buildings and car parks.

There now has to be high sensitivity to the valuable environmental and economic roles of trees, gardens, fields and grasslands, and parks. The aim of garden cities is not just to be pleasing to the eye but to be a very important part of development as well.

Now comes the role of sponge cities. The world is applauding the Chinese initiative to counter floods and improve water security by building up the natural cover (or sponge) in its cities.

In 2010, landslides during flooding killed 700 in three quarters of China’s provinces. Last year, rains flooded southern China, destroying homes and killing around 60 people.

In 2015, China launched the Sponge City initiative, which now covers 30 cities, including Shanghai, Xiamen and Wuhan. The target: by 2020, 80% of its urban areas will absorb and re-use 70% of rainwater.

The many types of projects include:

  • > Constructing permeable roads that enable water to infiltrate the ground;
  • > Replacing pavements on roads and parks to make them permeable;
  • > Building wetlands to absorb and store rainwater;
  • > Constructing rooftop gardens (for example, 4.3 million square feet in Shanghai);
  • > Plant trees on streets and public squares;
  • > Build community gardens and parks to expand green spaces; and
  • > Build manmade lakes and preserve agricultural land to hold water.

“In the natural environment, most precipitation infiltrates the ground or is received by surface water, but this is disrupted when there are large-scale hard pavements,” said Wen Mei Dubbelaar, water management director at China Arcadis, in words similar to Dr Kam’s.

“Now only about 20-30% of rainwater infiltrates the ground in urban areas, so it breaks the natural water circulation and causes water logging and surface water pollution,” said Wen in an interview with The Guardian.

In Shanghai’s Lingang district, the streets are built with permeable pavements. There are rain gardens filled with soil and plants, buildings feature green rooftops and water tanks, and a manmade lake controls water flows, reports The Guardian.

Prof Hui Li at Tongji University said the first thing is to preserve or restore natural waterways as that is the natural way to reduce flooding risk.

The problem in Wuhan is that a lot of small rivers were filled in during building. But Lingang still has agriculture land and a lake to hold more water during heavy rain.

What about the cost factor? So far the cities have received over US$12bil (RM47.4bil) for sponge projects. The central government funds 15-20% of costs, and the rest is from local governments and private developers.

But compare this to the US$100bil (RM395bil) of direct economic losses due to floods in China between 2011 and 2014, plus the human lives lost.

Sponge cities are the way to go for the future. Our own governments – federal, state and municipal – should study this option seriously, as the public braces itself for more floods ahead.

– Global Trends by Martin Khor

Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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