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Penang government should explain zoning for workers’ dorms

The state government is not obliged to pander to developers' proposals to put the hostels anywhere they like

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Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, in trying to justify the proposed foreign workers’ dormitories with over 30,000 beds in southern Penang Island, said the state was a growing regional manufacturing hub populated by multinational firms, which are required to comply with best practices under international labour laws.

But the factories are not clamouring for the dorms to be put up in Teluk Kumbar, are they?

There is still a lot of industrial land in Batu Kawan and other parts of mainland Penang or Seberang Perai where these dorms could be put – not where developers want to put them. The state government is not obliged to pander to developers’ proposals to put the hostels anywhere they like.

During morning and evening peak hours, workers commute to and from factories in the Bayan Lepas free trade zone.

Does the chief minister know it takes 60-90 minutes to travel from the free trade zone to Teluk Kumbar – a distance of about 11km?

From the same free trade zone to Batu Kawan across the second bridge, it takes only 20 minutes to travel 24km at any time.

Does this not speak volumes about the impracticability of building the dorms in Teluk Kumbar?

If the road from Teluk Kumbar to Bukit Belah, where the three-lane road from Bayan Lepas to Teluk Kumbar becomes a single-lane bottleneck, is to be widened, hundreds of residences and small businesses will have to be uprooted.

Besides the cost, where will all the displaced folk be resettled to continue making a living?

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Furthermore, is the state planning committee complying with the requirements of the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 in approving the conversion of the plots of land concerned to accommodate high-rise and high-density buildings in this rural area?

Some years ago, the committee had bent backwards to approve a “garis panduan” (guideline) to rezone some hill land in Sungai Ara for a 600-home luxury housing project.

Residents affected by the project objected.

The state appeals board upheld their objections.

The developer went for a judicial review at the High Court, which set aside the appeals board’s decision.

The residents appealed to the Court of Appeal, which upheld the High Court decision.

The residents then went to the Federal Court, which overturned the decisions of the High Court and the Court of Appeal, as both these courts had not considered the fact that the garis panduan to facilitate the conversion of the hill land for residential development was ultra vires the Town and Country Planning Act.

It took the residents over eight years to prove that the state planning committee had acted illegally.

This time around, the state planning committee appears to be using the garis panduan modus operandi (in the absence of a local plan) to approve developers’ projects. If this is the case and faced with the Federal Court judgment in Civil Appeal No. 01(f)-24-12/2021(P), ie the Sungai Ara hill case, is it legally right for the committee to keep on allegedly violating the Town and Country Planning Act to approve developers’ projects?

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In the Teluk Kumbar workers’ hostels case, the state planning committee gave approval. What exactly did it approve? Not planning approval – that is the work of the Penang Island City Council.

It must have approved the garis panduan to rezone the plots of land concerned so that the city council can approve the planning permission application. This is because the city council cannot approve planning permission if the land is not zoned for the kind of development proposed.

If this is correct, did the state planning committee act in violation of the Town and Country Planning Act? Is the conversion of the Teluk Kumbar lots valid in law?

If the use of the garis panduan to rezone the Sungai Ara hill land for housing was illegal as declared by the Federal Court, doesn’t it follow that the use of the garis panduan for any other zoning conversion is also illegal, including previous cases?

In compliance with its own much-bragged-about competence, accountability and transparency administration, the Penang government must not act as if it is above the federal Town and Country Planning Act. It must stop using the illegal garis panduan.

Pushing through the developer’s proposals for the hostels in Teluk Kumbar by bending backwards to allegedly rezone the plots of land through an illegal process is an act of bullying the 15,000 local rural residents to overwhelm them with over 30,000 foreign workers in the area.

Stop this high-handed action.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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