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Temperature rises at town hall session on controversial Penang highway

Are more highways the way forward for Penang?

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At a recent town hall meeting Opposents of the controversial highway have stressed the importance of improving the public transport system as a sustainable means of combating traffic. Mustafa K Anuar reports.

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow emphasised the need to realise the Penang transport proposal in his opening remarks at a town hall meeting to discuss the Pan Island Link 1 (PIL1) highway project on 20 September 2018.

He said the proposal should be seen in the larger context of the state’s future development.

The meeting, which filled the Spice Convention Centre hall to the brim, was attended by Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin, state executive council members and state assembly members.

There were tense moments, given the controversial nature of the project.

When moderator Zairil Khir Johari, who is the executive council member responsible for public works, utilities and flood mitigation, initially gave the impression that civil society group Penang Forum would be given limited time to deliver its presentation on the project, there were immediate expressions of unease, and even anger, among the audience.

However, Penang Forum was given enough time to make its case, following a lengthy presentation by a representative of Wiranda (M) Sdn Bhd, the company that conducted the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for PIL1, that addressed some of the public’s concerns.

Former city councillor Dr Lim Mah Hui and scientist Dr Kam Suan Pheng presented on behalf of Penang Forum, which has been critical of the highway.

Lim asked, among other things, why the EIA does not offer alternatives to the project, as is the normal practice. He stressed the importance of improving the public transport system as a sustainable means of combating traffic congestion.

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The temperature in the hall rose when the master of ceremony beckoned audience members to give a thumbs up for press photographers. Those critical of PIL1 protested against the the request, fearing that the photos would give the false impression that the entire audience backed the project. Some gave a thumbs down instead.

There was a line of people waiting to raise their concerns regarding PIL1, and many were critical of the project.

A man who frequents a mosque in Sungai Ara for Friday prayers said many among the congregation are not aware of PIL1, which will directly impact the mosque, adding that the authorities must ensure that all houses of worship in affected areas are well informed about the project.

An attendee feared PIL1’s impact, particularly the project’s tunnelling aspect, on the Air Itam Dam and surrounding neighbourhood.

Penangites also expressed concerns about health and safety, as well as air and sound pollution.

A few supporters of PIL1, too, said they have concerns relating to health and the expected traffic congestion during the highway’s construction.

There was also categorical support for the project, seen as part of efforts to drive Penang’s progress.

Attendees were given about 35 minutes to air their concerns and pose questions. A few were left disappointed as they were unable to make it to the microphone in time.

Towards the end of the meeting, Yeo said she had to leave, to catch the last flight back to Kuala Lumpur. Before exiting the hall, she reminded the audience of the importance of making compromises when dealing with the issue of national development. The best decision is one that does not make everyone happy, she said.

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An activist critical of the PIL1 project, who did not want to be named, feared that Yeo’s comments meant that the highway project will go ahead as planned, town-hall meeting notwithstanding.

Source: The Malaysian Insight

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