The Penang Global City Centre (PGCC) is being developed by Abad Naluri, a
25 percent-owned associate firm of Taman Equine, which in turn is
wholly owned by developer Equine Capital. Equine’s executive chairman
is Patrick Lim, widely seen as one of the most influential businessmen
in Malaysia. Former premier Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, himself often accused of cronyism
during his 22-year tenure at the helm, has reportedly referred to Lim
as ‘’Patrick Badawi’’, alluding to the perceived close ties between
Abdullah and Lim.
The project will be developed on the current 105ha Penang Turf Club land on Scotland Road at an estimated development value of about RM25 billion.
The PGCC, billed as the largest commercial development in Penang, will feature two five-star hotels, a performing arts centre, high-end retail outlets, two crooked towers, residential properties and a convention centre. It has a stupendous proposed built-up area of 2.5 million sq m (30,000,000 square feet) and will include 7,000 upmarket homes.
The site will be a dizzying maze of 40 towers ranging between 12 floors and 66 floors, including two “iconic” crooked towers. The blocks include two five-star hotels – one which is 53 stories high and the other 22 stories. There will be 6,933 luxury residential homes, including 100 bungalows. It obviously caters only to the well-heeled.
According to Equine, the project will combine 34.4ha of parkland, including a 10.4ha one kilometre-long linear park, but about 24ha of that is a hill site that cannot be developed.
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The PGGC developer has hired a new but well-connected local public relations firm, Fox Communication, whose key staff are former senior journalists from the English-language Malaysian mainstream press. The PGCC is being marketed as ‘one of the world’s first zero-carbon cities where pollution will be kept to a minimum’ – which critics have dismissed as a PR gimmick.
Fox Communication and the mainstream media have tried to counter the major sources of concern by highlighting the PGCC’s green credentials. These include a “zero carbon” target and 40 ha allocation for recreational parks, including a 10-ha narrow kilometre-long ‘’Central Park’’. But they have not highlighted the 37 tower blocks
The project was launched on 12 September 2007 by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on 12 Sept 2007, the same day that an 8.4 earthquake struck off nearby Sumatra.
Six of the main Penang-based NGOs have expressed shock that the PGCC has been launched even before obtaining all major planning approvals. The government should not have granted fast-track status for the project, seeing that the scale of the development is going to have a drastic impact on the traffic and the environment on Penang Island.
The move to rezone the existing Penang Turf Club land from ‘open space’ to ‘mixed development’ was initiated in November 2002. Last year, residents of the quiet upper-class residential area in neighbouring Jesselton registered their objections to the rezoning.
In November 2002 as well, Penang Turf Club members were persuaded to vote in favour of a new racecourse on the mainland.
As part of the quid-pro-quo of the PGCC deal, Equine will build a 375 million ringgit euphemistically named ‘’Penang International Equestrian Centre’’ on the mainland in Batu Kawan — even though the horse racing industry faces an uncertain future. A racecourse on the mainland would draw gamblers to a site that is just a few dozen km south of the Kepala Batas parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Abdullah.
Earthworks on the new racecourse began in late 2005 after the government announced it was going ahead with plans to build South-east Asia’s longest bridge, a 3 billion ringgit (800 million dollar) 24-km link between Batu Kawan and Penang Island.
Equine has another major project, Crescentia Park, which would turn 180 ha of land in Batu Kawan into Penang’s third satellite town at a gross development value of over 800 million ringgit (230 million dollars).
Both Crescentia and the new race course are located close to the site of the proposed bridge, turning Equine’s land bank on the mainland into a gold mine.
It is not clear how the PGCC developer actually paid for the Turf Club land on the island. Reports say that Abad Naluri bought the land for 488 million ringgit in 2002. The Penang Turf Club, established in 1864, acquired the land in 1935. According to another report, the Turf Club land would only be transferred to the PGCC developers once the Batu Kawan racecourse is completed in 2009.
Whoever owns the Turf Club land on the island stands to profit handsomely from a leap in land valuation if the rezoning to ‘’mixed development’’ is confirmed. In rezoning the land, the state has enabled some land speculators to make literally billions of ringgit of profit when it could have acquired the land and turned it into a Penang State Park for the benefit of future generations – Aliran
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