Penang City Council Speeches


Address to the Full Council Meeting of MPPP

September 25, 2014

Selamat pagi dan selamat sejahtera. Dato’ YDP Patahiyah, Ir Ang Aing Thye, Ahli2 Majlis, Pengarah2 dan Ketua2 Jabatan, Para Wartawan, tuan2 dan puan2. Pagi ini saya ingin membincang mengenai isu2 kecemaran visual di Pulau Pinang. Saya minta izin membentang dalam Bahasa Inggeris

Last Thursday, a big billboard fell during a storm and crashed on a few cars in Sungei Nibong. Fortunately no one was hurt. This should serve as a wake-up call for Council to take stern action against those who are responsible for this incident and to start cleaning up the proliferation of both illegal and legal billboards, signboards, streamers and poster throughout our city. This is visual pollution; an eye sore to the public and is against efforts to create a cleaner and greener Penang.

Clear signage is important, but billboards are the height of bad taste. Many cities in the world do not allow for billboards particularly in a historic city. Even a modern city like Honolulu bans large billboards.

The main beneficiaries of billboards and signboards are the land and building owners who charge enormous fees and the advertisers. Council licensing fees collected are paltry; I am told less than RM100,000 per year. Council has removed recently 254 illegal billboards; but many more need to be removed. On top of this, Council is spending RM500,000 next year just to remove illegal posters and streamers.

Council should do the following:

  1. Clear all illegal billboards, signboards, posters and streamers and make the violators pay for the cost
  2. Start aggressively to prosecute violators to the full extent of the law to serve as examples of deterrence. Under the Local Government Act of 1976, violators can be fined not exceeding RM2000, or face a one-year jail term, or both
  3. Come out with new guidelines to control the number and the size of such boards and eventually to ban billboards
  4. Follow good practices in other cities, like Singapore and Hong Kong, that limit public advertising to street furniture such as bus shelters. This will limit visual pollution and increase the revenue of sponsors of bus shelters (show slide).
  5. Reduce and simplify our own signboards. Learn from other cities that have clear and small signboards. I show two examples – one in San Francisco and one in Melbourne. Compare these to the ones we have in Penang (show slide)

I end with showing a short presentation that was given in 2006. Unfortunately little has been done to clean up since. I hope last week’s accident Unfortunately little has been done to clean up the problem. I hope last week’s accident will serve as a call to Council to clean up the visual pollution in our city.

Thank you.

Preservation and Destruction in Penang’s Development

At the Full Council Meeting of MPPP, 24th February 2012

In the past 12 months, we have painfully witnessed the demolition of several historic buildings, some illegally. The latest victim is a mansion at 177 Jalan Macalister, opposite Loh Guan Lye Specialist Centre.

First, I would like to request the Council to provide data on all the historically, architecturally and/or culturally significant buildings that have been demolished last year and this year, or for which demolition was approved since 2008.

Let me mention a few of these buildings that were torn down. The beautiful mansion of Khaw Bian Cheng (son of Khaw Sim Bee) at Pykett Avenue, two historic bungalows on Burma Lane, one of them once occupied by a former prime minister of Thailand, Phraya Manopakorn Nititada (1884-1948) and two bungalows along Brooks Road. Khaw Bian Cheng’s mansion was torn down without permit. In the case of the Burma Lane and Brooks Road residences, two of three buildings in each location were torn down and only one building in each location was left standing. This is not preservation. This is architectural and historical mutilation. It is like cutting off one limb and preserving the other limb.

Prime Minister Phraya Mano sought refuge in Penang island when the military launched a coup in Thailand in 1932. He lived in Penang for several years and passed away here 1948. Mano Road in Pulau Tikus is named after him. In many ways, his history is similar to that of Dr. Sun Yet Sun, who also took refuge in Penang during his struggle for Chinese independence. We are fortunate to maintain the heritage and history of Dr Sun in terms of a museum and the house where he spoke and launched his fund raising campaign. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for celebrating the history of Prime Minister Phraya Mano in Penang. The houses in which he once stayed have been demolished and an important part of the history of the Thai Malaysians in Penang has been destroyed in the pursuit of profit but under the rationale of “development”.

The present attitude is that only houses in the heritage zone, or those that are designated heritage, are protected. We need to take a more holistic view of heritage. One reason Penang was awarded the world heritage status is because of the large stock of pre-war houses in the island. It is myopic to only preserve the buildings in the core heritage zone and wantonly destroy important buildings in the buffer zones and other parts of the city. Tourists come to Penang to experience the whole city, not just the heritage zone.

Many Japanese and European visitors have commented to me their disappointment at the demolition of beautiful buildings. The building of 30 stories apartments surrounding a heritage building is not preservation; it is suffocation of heritage sites.

Show Slides of these houses.

It is convenient to justify what is happening in the name of development. As I said last year, we must be more thoughtful. We must ask the following questions:

  • What kind of development do we want?
  • Is it development that destroys our heritage and culture?
  • Is it sustainable development?
  • Is it green development or development that aggravates climate change?
  • Who benefits most from this development?
  • Who loses out in this process?
  • Is it development for the top 1% or development for the 99%?

Development must be located within a vision. What is the vision for Penang’s development? Perhaps the best way to concretize this vision is to ask ourselves what is the “model” city that best approximates our vision? I am not suggesting we copy blindly another city. But what I am suggesting is we learn from and choose what are the best characteristics to suit our own situation.

I have heard from some people and policy makers they would like Penang to model itself after Singapore and Hong Kong, both are densely populated international financial centers in the world. Are they appropriate for Penang? Might it not be more appropriate to look at a combination of Kyoto, a heritage city, and Xiamen, a city with similar characteristics in size, geography (hills and sea), and services (education, high tech and former trading ports) as models.

Let me say something about Singapore. There is much that can be said for Singapore – it is a clean, safe and a well-planned city with good public transportation system. These are some of the positive lessons we can draw from it. But we can also learn some negative lessons from it, of which I mention two. First, is Singapore in the early days of development, demolished many of its traditional houses and buildings (not necessarily heritage). They have since learned it was a mistake and are now taking pains to preserve them. We should not repeat the same mistake. Second, in their quest to make Singapore an international city, the government has swung to the extreme so that many of its local citizens are left behind in this “development” process. Despite Singapore having the best public housing schemes in the world, many of its young population feel they cannot afford housing or find good jobs. The dissatisfaction is so great that it cost the PAP government many seats in the Parliament. This could also happen to Penang if more and more middle and lower class citizens feel they are left behind in this frenzy of property development.

Finally, allow me to suggest that for the moment, we should impose a moratorium on granting approval for demolition of all buildings in the island that were built before 1962 (more than 50 years old) and have architectural value. The present list of protected buildings should be immediately made available, and a technical committee made up of qualified professionals, civil society and input from other relevant bodies be established to study this matter immediately.

Thank you for your attention.

Address to the Full Council Meeting of MPPP – August 28, 2014

Conservation in Penang

Selamat pagi dan selamat sejahtera. Dato’ YDP Patahiyah, Ir Ang Aing Thye, Ahli2 Majlis, Pengarah2 dan Ketua2 Jabatan, Para Wartawan, tuan2 dan puan2. Pagi ini saya ingin membincang mengenai isu2 warisan di Pulau Pinang. Saya minta izin membentang dalam Bahasa Inggeris

We ignore history at our own peril or as George Santayana, the philosopher puts it, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

On Christmas eve, 1993, a developer illegally demolished Hotel Metropole, a MPPP listed heritage building. On 26, July 2010, another developer illegally tore down 20 Pykett Ave, the mansion of Khaw Sim Bee. How many more of our historical and heritage sites, including our hills, do we need to destroy before we say enough is enough.

Let me quote at length parts of an eloquent and impassioned speech made on conservation.

“After the scandalous and outrageous demolition of the 100-year Hotel Metropole…the people of Penang have a right to demand to know the full facts about the MPPP stand and list of conservation buildings.” Tan Gim Hwa should not continue to behave as if he has never heard of the democratic principles of accountability and transparency, and he should make public the heritage buildings along Jln Sultan Ahmad Shah which had been “released” for development.”

In October 1989, the MPPP drew up a list of 20 heritage buildings and sites along Jln Sultan Ahman Shah for preservation. Some of the more famous include: Shi Chung Primary School, former Runnymede Hotel, Hotel Metropole, Telekoms, Soonstead, Maple Gold, Homestead, Istana Kedah, Hardwich, and Woodville.

MPPP also drew up conservation control guidelines with three objectives:

  1. To conserve the character of Jln Sultan Ahmad Shah
  2. To ensure land and building use compatible with the image of the road as a distinctive area for good class residences and prestige establishments
  3. To ensure new developments to harmonise with activities, image, scale, proportion, streetscape, skyline and design of heritage building and sites

Some of the detailed guidelines include the following:

– No demolition, alteration or extension of the building other than development or works necessary for restoring it or maintain it to a proper state.

– Limited alterations and extensions may be permitted provided the character and architectural value of the buildings and sites are not impaired.

– When repairing buildings, care should be taken that the colour harmonise with the character of the building and the environment in general.

– For commercial uses that are detrimental to the environment visually, such as coffee shops, motor workshops or showrooms, are not permitted.

My fellow ahli majlis, these are not my words. These are the words of YB Lim Kit Siang uttered 20 years ago. How many of these guidelines have been broken since? These words come back to haunt us today. The DAP then was an opposition party in Penang and championed the rights of people and issues of conservation of sites and hills. Today it and its Pakatan partners rule Penang.

Twenty years ago, YB Lim Kit Siang, along with civil society, championed the cause to save Jln Sultan Ahmad Shah. Today, Penang Heritage Trust has to take up the same cause again and calls on this government to honour the words of YB Lim Kit Siang. PHT launched a campaign to save Soonstead last Friday and to date has obtained over 2000 signatures. Among the signatories is Richard Englehardt, a UNESCO advisor whose words we should heed. He wrote:

“A city can compare well (and compete successfully) with others only if its identity is proud and unique. Heritage is a source of a city’s pride and one of the things that make a city unique. A hotel, an office tower block, a parking garage — these things can be built anywhere. To sacrifice the heritage of Soonstead to such projects is not development, it is vandalism….Government has the responsibility to act on behalf of the public, past present and future — not on behalf of some selfish property speculator whose intention it is to rob Penang’s public of a piece of its rightful heritage, expropriating it for his own personal profit.”

I end my speech with a plea and a question.

My plea is for the MPPP to start following its own conservation guidelines and to save Soonstead, other heritage sites, and the hills of Penang.

My question is what has happened to the MPPP’s directive (Section 19 of the Town and Country Planning Act) to rebuild 20 Pykett Ave. It has been 4 years since the directive was issued. Why is the building not rebuilt? Was a contribution given in lieu of rebuilding? I ask the MPPP to have 20 Pykett Ave rebuilt and to approve low-density houses/apartments there.

Thank you for your attention.

Reference:

Speech by Lim Kit Siang “Tan Gim Hwa should release the full list of the Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah buildings which are on the MPPP conservation list”

http://bibliotheca.limkitsiang.com/1994/01/11/tan-gim-hwa-should-release-the-full-list-of-the-jalan-sultan-ahmad-shah-buildings-which-are-on-the-mppp-conservation-list/

Address to the Full Council Meeting of MPPP

July 23, 2014

Selamat pagi dan selamat sejahtera. Dato’ YDP Patahiyah, Ir Ang Aing Thye, Ahli2 Majlis, Pengarah2 dan Ketua2 Jabatan, Para Wartawan, tuan2 dan puan2. Saya telah diminta oleh beberapa NGO membangkit beberapa perkara tentang warisan. Saya minta izin membahas dalam Bahasa Inggeris

Last month, I raised questions on two heritage buildings that were threatened by demolition and disfigurement. One was Soonstead and the other at jalan Evergreen. I hope the Council has taken note and do whatever to preserve the integrity of these heritage buildings.

Today, I have been asked to inquire about another category 2 building that has been torn down recently to make way for Tropicana. This is 218 Macalister Road.

Who gave permission for this building to be torn down? Why was permission granted for a category 2 building to be torn down? If it is being dismantled to be rebuilt, where are the materials kept and where will it be rebuilt? At the same site or a different site altogether? If the latter, why?

Conservation is not simply about keeping a building intact. It is about preserving the architectural, cultural and historical context intact. It must be done holistically.

George Town, being a world heritage city, should be a model for what to do to conserve heritage and beauty. Instead, it has become a model of what NOT to do in conservation. When I bring my foreign tourist friends to Penang, they invariably ask why are so many beautiful buildings surrounded by massive modern structures that destroy the original beauty of the heritage buildings. There is simply no harmony between the two.

Let me illustrate with a few examples.

note – photos are in the Power Point linked at the bottom of this article

  1. The first picture is of Hardwicke overshadowed by Northam Towers
  2. The second is Homestead, dwarfed by a shiny towering box behind it.
  3. The same can be said for Metropole, illegally demolished in 1993, rebuilt as a travesty to conservation, unrecognisable from the original buildings and mocked at by all who treasure our heritage. Its only saving grace was that it galvanised the entire conservation movement and forced the setting up of the BCAC -Building Conservation Advisory Council – 17 professional and civil society bodies –  which then went on to draft guidelines that were later used to form the 1997 MPPP Guidelines.
  4. The fourth is Setia Residence literally squatting on top of what used to be Manu residence
  5. Then we have Gurney Paragon with its octopus like tentacles wrapping and suffocating what used to be a chapel and now called St Jo. And we are told that Gurney Paragon won an award for conserving the building
  6. Runnymede – used as residence by Stamford Raffles – will now be diminished by huge towers surrounding it.

The above should serve as stark examples of what one should avoid doing in the name of conservation. I hope the Council will start taking conservation seriously and not continue to allow such disfigurement of heritage buildings.

Power Point on Conservation

 Address to the Full Council Meeting of MPPP

October 25, 2013

Bicycling As One Component, within a Comprehensive Transport Plan, to Solving Traffic Congestion

Selamat pagi dan selamat sejahtera. Dato’ YDP Patahiyah, Ir Ang Aing Thye, Pengarah2 dan Ketua2 Jabatan, Ahli2 Majlis, Para Wartawan, tuan2 dan puan2. Saya harap membahas tentang “Baisikal, sebagai salah satu pengangkutan alternatif untuk mengurankan kesesakan trafik”. Saya minta izin memberi pembentangan dalam Bahasa Inggeris

There are 3 hot issues facing Penang. I call them the 3 Cs – Condos, Cars, Crime representing housing, traffic congestion and crime problems.

The fundamental source of our transport and traffic problem stems from the fact there are too many cars on the road. There will never be enough roads built to accommodate the 10,000 vehicles added every month in Penang. It is well known in transportation studies that the supply of more roads just creates the demand for their usage. The solution lies in better public transport, alternative forms of transportation, and most importantly controlling the use of vehicles. Just building more roads does not solve the problem. Yet this is where I see most of our resources are directed at.

Today, I will just touch on one alternative form of transportation – the bicycle. It is one component of the comprehensive master transport plan in Penang. In human history, the bicycle is the most efficient and cost effective mode of transportation ever invented for moving within a radius of 20 km. Just reflect on these statistics. A car weighs about 1.5 tons and carries one person weighing 70 kg most of the time, i.e. only 15% of its weight; a bicycle weighs 20 kg and can carry 10x or 1000% of its weight.

A bicycle takes up minimum road space; it can go anywhere and does not cause traffic jam. All it needs is a 3-foot lane. Remember the Japanese army conquered Malaya not on armoured tanks but on bicycles. And the Vietnamese beat the French at Dien Bien Phu using bicycles.

A bicycle does not emit any pollution while a car spews tons of CO2 that cause global warming and climate change. Worldwide emission from vehicles is responsible for over 20% of total CO2 emission.

Many cities in the world now have woken to this fact and the more progressive cities are actively promoting bicycling as a form of transport in the cities. The two most progressive cities in the world in this regard are Copenhagen and Amsterdam. Even Singapore is now drafting a comprehensive plan for making bicycle one alternative form of transportation (see Anil Netto’s blog). Penang has taken some baby steps but much more needs to be done.

Copenhagen had its first ten-year bicycle policy from 2002-2012 which made cycling a priority in its city plan. It had 10 KPIs that included – length of bike network, coherence of network, bike modal share of road use, targets for reducing accidents, comfort, speed etc. It had a budget of RM250 million. Bicycle modal share, i.e., percentage of people using bicycle as form of transport within the city, rose from 20% to 50% by 2010. For the larger metropolitan Copenhagen with population of 1.2 million, 21% people use bicycles daily in 2011. The city is now into its second 10-year bicycle plan (2012-2025) which targets 4 core areas – city life, safety, comfort and speed.

People complain that the weather in Malaysia is too hot for cycling. But in Copenhagen the weather is too cold for cycling. The winter average temperature is 32 F i.e. freezing temperature. In Penang, we must plant more trees in the city to provide shade for cyclists and pedestrians. This reduces the temperature by at least 10 degree F.

Georgetown is very suitable for promoting bicycling as an alternative form of transport because it is small only 47 sq mile (i.e. 7 mile by 7 mile) and flat. One can easily cycle within the city limit in 20 minutes. Imagine how traffic will be reduced if more people just cycle around the city during lunchtime instead of driving.

Penang has taken some steps to promote bicycling but mainly for weekend recreation. We now seriously need to promote cycling as one alternative form of transportation for work and commuting. MPPP can be a pioneer in this effort.

The following steps (not exhaustive) should be taken:

  • Provide dedicated bicycle lanes to be painted and reflective road studs laid on the roads to improve safety for these users.
  • Plant more trees to provide shade
  • Provide proper parking space for bicycles
  • MPPP work with private entrepreneurs to start bike-renting and/or bike-sharing schemes
  • We must start to draw up a bicycle strategy, policy and plan and this must be integrated into town planning. It should be coherent, not piece-meal and ad hoc. It must be bottom-up and not just top-down, i.e., the bicyclists must be intimately involved in the planning.   The plan must include a budget.

Lastly, I believe in the concept of leading by example. The mayors of London and few other cities use bicycle as a form of transportation. I propose that our leaders at least occasionally cycle to meetings. This will be a major psychological boost for bicycling and provide an example for the public to follow – to show that it’s cool to bike.

Thank you.

Address to the Full Council Meeting of MPPP

May 31, 2013

Hill Development or Hill Destruction in Penang: No More Business As Usual

Selamat pagi and selamat sejahtera. Dato YDP Patahiyah, Pengarah dan Ketua Jabatan, Ahli Majlis, Para wartan, tuan dan puan. Saya harapmembincang tentang satu issue yang amat penting and panas pada kiniia itu perkembangan atau pencerobohan cerun bukit. Saya minta izin untuk memberi pembentangan dalam bahasa Inggeris.

It is with a heavy heart that I am addressing the council on this topic. Two days ago, a section of a so-called retaining wall in Bukit Gambier collapsed. We are fortunate that it did not claim any lives. But this disaster was just waiting to happen. It is not a question of IF, but just WHEN, the disaster will happen. It is not an act of nature or of God. It is simply a result of bad government policy and the dismal and unacceptable performance of our city and state government officials.

Residents and the public in Penang have been appealing to the state and local authorities to stop approval for hill slope development. Many, such as residents in Sungai Ara, Chee Seng Gardens, Majestic Heights etc., are living in fear as they see their surrounding environment destroyed. But so far, their voices have fallen on deaf ears. But this week’s incident should be a wake-up call to our authorities that it should NOT be business as usual anymore.

Penang island has two very important assets that make it an attractive place – the hills and the heritage. It is fortunate that Penang heritage has been internationally recognized now and certain areas are under protection.

As for the hills, they are under grave threat even though they are supposed to be under conservation and protection. Sustainable development is one of the objectives in the 2007 Penang State Structure Plan- hill land above 250 feet OR with slope of more than 25 degree is classified as under conservation unless it is “special project”. But because there are too many exceptions, developers have exploited the loopholes and are having a field day.

To date the people of Penang have not been given a good explanation from the authorities what are special projects that are so special as to be exempt from conservation. In the name of special projects developers with or without permission have started to gouge into hills to build luxury projects causing environmental destruction and consternation among affected residents. (Show slides of Bukit Gambier).

Because Penang Hill is protected, Bukit Gambier is now free for all. The most recent flagrant violation of hill slopes is the wanton destruction of Bukit Gambier. I am told this landowner and developer has bulldozed the hills WITHOUT any planning approval. This must be confirmed. This is not a case of a few workers cutting down some trees in the middle of the night. It is sending in heavy equipment felling trees and cutting huge swath of land, removing all the topsoil in bright daylight under our noses. It is equivalent to a rape of our hills. For the authorities, the following questions need to be answered:

  1. How is it possible for MPPP not to know of this massive destruction?  We want the council to provide the names of its engineers and site inspectors who are in charge in this area. Why did they not monitor the situation and take early preventive action?  Isn’t this a dereliction of duties and what action will be taken?
  2. Why are the State government, the MPPP, the Forestry Department, the Department of Environment, the newly set up Penang Green Council silent on this matter? They are sending wrong signals to landowners and developers?

I call upon the council to set up an independent committee (including people outside MPPP) of up to 5 people to study why such a serious lapse occurred and how it can be prevented in the future.

The public is rightly incensed with this latest episode of hill destruction and demands answers and accountability. This newly elected state government promised us CAT governance and we demand it be practiced.

The public has a right to know the following facts:

  • What is the name of the company that owns this plot of land and who are the ultimate owner(s) of this land and project?
  • What is the classification of this land?  Has there been a reclassification or rezoning of this land?  If so, when was it approved and by which government agencies?
  • Why has such reclassification been allowed?
  • How does the government reconcile this to its talk of sustainable development?
  • Was there any planning or other approvals given for this project?
  • If not, will the authorities proceed with to prosecute and ask for the full force of the law to be applied, including imprisonment, as provided for by the law, and not just settle for a paltry fine. The directors and managers of the company should be personally liable, not just the company.

The company should not be allowed to apply for permit on a retroactive basis as this would set a precedent for other developers who will just factor a paltry fine into their project. This company and all other companies associated with the directors of this company, should be blacklisted for all future development.

Furthermore, the developer must be asked to replant back the area that has been destroyed. There is a recent field of study called “restoration ecology” that deals with how to restore environmentally destroyed area. The Green Council of Penang should be spearheading this.

Besides, this illegal project, there are other projects in Bukit Gambier, one of which is Beverly Heights. It is advertised and marketed on its website as an exclusive hill top residence with houses costing between RM4.9 million to RM6 million and was launched in March 2013. I understand that the project where the retaining wall collapsed this week belongs to another developer. What other projects have been approved in Bukit Gambier?

I call on the MPPP to provide the public with all the below details for this project and all other hill slope projects approved in the last 3 years as well as those pending approval on its website by the end of June.

(i) Location of project

(ii) Height and slope of the hill

(iii) Name of developer and all their directors

(iv) Type of units built

(v) Number of units built

(vi) Which committees gave approval to exempt the project from the

restrictions in Rancangan Struktur Negeri.

(vii) When was this approval given?

(viii) What is the basis for this exemption?

(ix) When did the One-Stop Committee approve the project?

Why are we still approving projects base on 1996 guidelines Who is responsible for maintaining the slopes and retaining walls after development is completed and for how long? Who bears the costs of maintenance?

In conclusion, given the dismal and unworthy track record of hill slope construction and maintenance in Malaysia, Penang state and local governments should LEAD and be the first to ban further hill development of above 250 feet or 25 degree slope. Penang should preserve its pristine hills and not allow for more residential hill developments that cater to only high-end investors and speculators. We have a glut of such projects and many of them are unoccupied. Such projects do not contribute to affordable housing.

This State government talks of reform. We should start by reforming our councils for which it has the powers to do. For a start, the One-Stop-Committee, the most powerful committee in council, should be democratized. Public information should be posted for all projects beyond a certain size, way ahead of approval process and the meetings of the OSC be opened to members of public to attend and to ask questions.

Address to the Full Council Meeting of MPPP

High Density in Penang – 87 units per acre and SOHO

November 26, 2012

Selamat pagi and selamat sejahtera. Dato YDP Patahiyah, Pengarah2 dan Ketua2 Jabatan, Ahli2 Majlis, Para wartan, tuan2 dan puan2. Saya harap membincang tentang ketumpatan tinggi di Pulau Pinang dan SOHO. Saya minta izin untuk memberi pembentangan dalam bahasa Inggeris.

I would like to raise 2 urgent issues – the guidelines for 87 units per acre and for SOHO – that require public consultation under the policy of CAT. These two issues will significantly impact on the lives of residents in Penang because of the 3 fold increase in density (87/acre) for the first set of guidelines and possible 5 fold (156/acre) increase under the guidelines for SOHO compared to the PGCC project of 37 units per acre.

I will address this policy from three aspects: objective, planning process, and consultation process.

The objective of increasing density was to make housing more affordable. But there is no evidence of this happening? On the other hand, it has led to other negative social and environmental consequences including more traffic congestion. We should explore more effective policies to make housing affordable such as discouraging building more high-end property, already in glut, by imposing higher development charges and fees on them, and providing incentives and cross subsidy for building affordable housing.

I am not against higher density per se. But higher density must not be haphazard and driven by private interest. It must be guided by proper planning and preceded by adequate social and physical infrastructures. The original idea of increased density was limited to transit nodes. Why has this requirement has disappeared in the present guidelines? The present policy of traffic impact studies on individual project basis has failed. The results are evident everywhere. It can only be solved on a holistic basis with integration of land use and transport planning as recommended by the Penang Master Transport Plan. Is the Council using this Master Plan in its land use planning? The State’s general policy of 87 units per acre only sets a ceiling. The Council is responsible for approving the final density (it can be under 87) based on local conditions and requirements.

Third, the present consultation process is lop-sided. In formulating the present guidelines, only selected stakeholders like developers and architects are consulted. The majority of stakeholders, i.e., the public and the community who are directly affected are not consulted. I propose that the Council organize a public forum on these issues. Penang Forum will be happy to be a co-organizer.

I would like to raise some questions regarding the building of commercial suites or SOHO (small office, home office) in Penang. Why are developers clamouring to build commercial suites? Developers are presently using commercial land to build residential apartments, disguised as commercial suites, because they are able to build more apartments this way. Furthermore they avoid providing open space and other social facilities necessary under residential building guidelines. If we are worried about the high density of 87 units per acre, developers using the commercial suite (SOHO) route can build up to 156 units per acre based on a maximum plot ratio of 1:5. What are consequences of this higher density on the public? Is it permissible to sell commercial suites as residential apartments?

Finally, I would like Council to provide a map of areas zoned that permitting 87 units per acre and SOHO projects and to invite public comments before these guidelines are approved by Council. What is the total acreage that falls under these proposed guidelines? To date how many 87 units per acre and SOHO projects have been approved and where? Do they fit with the Master Transport Plan? Are there adequate open space, roads, schools and social facilities to support them? How many more projects are pending approval and where? I call for a moratorium on these projects pending public consultation.

Thank you.

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