Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) and the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) wish to reiterate our stand that we do not support the proposal for a cable car project for Penang Hill as such a project would affect negatively the sensitive and fragile ecosystems of both the hill and the Penang Botanic Gardens.
The breakdown of the existing funicular railway cannot be used as an excuse to push the cable-car project, without investigating the causes for the breakdown and how to prevent them in the future.
We understand that maintenance work for the funicular railway is carried out only once in 12 months. With the overuse of the railway and infrequent maintenance, there is bound to be a breakdown. What must now happen is more frequent maintenance work – it could be once in nine months instead – which can prevent the railway from breaking down.
Hence, improving the frequency of the maintenance of the railway must be the most immediate step that will avert the need for the cable car project.
The cable car project is not environmentally sustainable, both for the hill and the gardens, and to assume so, would be misleading. In addition, the cable car project, if implemented, will cause irreparable damage to the gardens and Penang Hill through the building of more hotels, bungalows for the rich elites, cafes, amusement joints and roads.
According to media reports, the chief minister has said that eight to 10 pylons would be needed to support the cable-car network, which connects at a station near the Penang Rifle Club at the Botanic Gardens to the hilltop at the entrance of the Habitat.
Firstly, the Penang Rifle Club is not outside the Botanic Gardens as claimed by the chief minister as it is within the special area plan of the gardens. Already, on a daily basis in the mornings and on public holidays, the gardens are very crowded with large numbers of people and there are massive jams. With a cable car station near the Rifle Club, the traffic situation will be aggravated, changing the nature of the gardens to one that is noisy and even more unbearable.
Secondly, in order to carry out the cable car project, a major issue will be on how the heavy pylons are going to be brought in and installed, which will require road-building, excavation and construction work. In addition, once the construction work is over, maintenance tracks below the cable car line will be needed, and all this will cause much disruption to the very fragile and environmentally sensitive areas which Penang Hill and the Botanic Gardens are.
For these reasons, SAM and CAP appeal and urge the Penang state government not to proceed with the cable car proposal.
If the government insists on doing so despite our objections and concerns, then we call for very comprehensive and thorough studies to be done and evaluated on the environmental and social impacts of the cable car project on both the hill and the Botanic Gardens prior to taking any decision on the project.
Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow has said in a media report that pre-feasibility studies of the project are ongoing, while a full technical study would be carried out as the next step.
Such studies most ensure that the environmental and social impacts both to the hill and the gardens are not viewed lightly, given the special characteristics and nature of both these special ecosystems.
We call on the Penang state government to make transparent and public:
- the terms of reference of the studies and clarify if they include a comprehensive study of the environmental and social impacts on the hill and the gardens
- who is conducting the studies
- these studies and
- which are the companies vying for the cable car project
Meenakshi Raman is president of Sahabat Alam Malaysia. Mohideen Abdul Kader is president of the Consumers Association of Penang.