Penang Turf Club land (240 acres)
Sold to Abad Naluri ("open recreational space"): RM43 per square foot
After re-zoning (to "mixed development"): value soars to RM250-300psf
Developer makes windfall profits before work can even begin!
Aliran puts the spotlight on an iconic monument to folly known as the Penang Global City Centre Project with an eye-popping development value estimated at RM25 billion. Critics have dubbed it the "Penang Graveyard and Crematorium Complex" because of its proximity to a crematorium and a cemetery. Already a civil society campaign against the PGCC is gaining momentum as more and more Penangites become aware of its horrendous environmental implications. Instead of creating a concrete monstrosity with 40 towers, the government must convert the Turf Club land into a State Park as a legacy for future generations
We are dismayed that the PM has launched the Penang Global City Centre (PGCC) project, because in doing so he has given legitimacy to a project that has not yet been approved by the MPPP and is clearly opposed by large sections of the community. With the enormous prestige and weight of his office behind it and with his call for approvals to be fast-tracked, it will be difficult for the government and municipal council officials concerned to decide and act impartially and objectively. They will be under tremendous pressure to deliver not withstanding the obvious shortcomings of the project.
Moreover it is also shrouded in serious controversy, which he must surely be aware of. Serious questions have been raised about the manner in which the land was converted from ‘Open Space’ to ‘Mixed Development’, about likely traffic congestion, the lack of public consultation, the absence of provision for social housing on the site and the shortage of recreational space in the state.
Private profits trump public park
The site of the project – the present Turf Club racecourse – was originally acquired for a nominal sum and was zoned as ‘Open Space’. This was changed very recently to ‘Mixed Development’, even though public opinion was unanimously against it, judging from the submissions sent in by the public during the 2007 Structure Plan exercise.
By going ahead with the rezoning, the State has acted arbitrarily and sacrificed the interests of the community to abet a group of land speculators who now stand to reap billions of ringgit in profit. Is the developer going to see through the project for the next 15 years or is he going to inflate the land price, make a quick profit and resell the land as was the case in the sale of the land for the Port Klang Free Zone? In the first place, how did the developer acquire the land at such a low price of RM488 million? And where did the money come from?
What any responsible government concerned about the lack of green spaces for the public should have done was to acquire the property from the previous owner at a fair price (based on the recreational value of the land) and then turn it into a public park for the people of Penang and as a legacy for generations to come.
Raising carbon emissions – not cutting them
The developer claims dubiously that the project will have a zero carbon target. This is a misleading claim, because carbon emissions should be measured from the moment work on the project begins and not after it is up and running. The destruction of the turf club environment and the construction of 40 towers, most of them over 40 storeys, are going to generate carbon emissions – not reduce them. Most of the towers will come with five-storey car-parks. And what about the increased volume of traffic and the elevated and widened roads that are bound to add rather than diminish carbon emissions?
If the developer is serious about zero carbon emissions or greening the earth, he would be better off turning the place into a park and planting trees. Since it is quite obvious from the project plans that the developer is more intent on making profits, we have to dismiss the zero-carbon emissions claim as a PR ploy aimed at winning over public support for the plans.
No public consultation
The project is so large that it will affect almost every person in Penang, but there has been very little public consultation or transparent information forthcoming. By our estimate it will generate about 60,000 traffic movements daily which will be channelled into Scotland Road and Jalan Utama (via Jalan Brook). Even now these roads are heavily congested and we worry what effect the huge additional traffic will have. For sure, we can expect more carbon emissions and noise pollution.
The traffic dispersal plan for the project leaves much to be desired based on such failed feeble attempts previously undertaken by the state government. We are therefore asking that the space be preserved for recreational use as a public park.
For such a large project, public consultation was minimal, perfunctory and the areas of concern entirely ignored.
The project was obviously approved in Putrajaya, the plans were finalised without any local input, and it has now been publicly launched with much fanfare. That is not consultation. It smacks of an attempt to ride roughshod over all objections. It is top-down planning of the worst type and is against all principles of participatory democracy.
We call for greater genuine public consultation, as we believe many Penangites would rather see this space as a green lung, which is sadly lacking on the island.
No place for the poor and marginalised
Even though it is official policy that all development must include 30 per cent low-cost housing, inexplicably none will be built on the site. Instead the developer is proposing to build low and low-medium cost housing somewhere else, away from the site, on land he does not even own. We do not understand why he wants to deliberately keep away low income folks – including poor and marginalised Malays, Chinese, Indians and others – from this site.
We urge the Penang Municipal Council to act transparently and in the interest of Penangites by withholding approval for this luxury project, which caters only to the well-heeled. Instead, we call for this land to be turned into an iconic public park that will belong to everyone and be preserved as part of the authentic greening of the earth.
Where is the detailed EIA?
Given the size of the project, we are alarmed that it is being fast-tracked. A preliminary study would only be an eyewash and would not honestly address all the issues that are of serious concern.
We are confident that an honest independent EIA would show up the negative aspects of the project with all its adverse consequences for the environment and traffic as well as the tragic loss of future recreational space.
A major election issue
For all these reasons, we categorically reject the PGCC. We regret that the PM is giving this controversial and unapproved project legitimacy and urging the state authorities to expedite approval for a private firm’s project that would result in huge profits for the developer at the expense of the people of Penang.
We call on the Federal Government, the Penang State Government, the Penang Municipal Council, the Department of the Environment and other relevant approving bodies to reject the plans because it will result in tons of concrete being poured on the last remaining huge open green space on the island that could be turned into a public park.
We serve notice that we will be taking this campaign to the people of Penang through signature petitions, pamphleteering, independent media reports and the Internet to raise awareness of the need to protect and preserve the natural environment for future generations. We will make this a major issue in Penang for the coming general election.
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