Save Penang! Reject the 3-Islands Reclamation!
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We object to the proposal to reclaim 3 massive islands to the south of Penang Island, as announced by the Penang Chief Minister YAB Chow Kon Yeow (The Star, 6th May 2019). The lack of public consultation and detailed information about the project is shocking in view of the size of proposed reclamation which is 4,500 acres or 7 square miles – the size of Johor's Forest City! We call upon the Prime Minister of Malaysia as the chairman of the National Physical Planning Council to reject the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) megaproject for the following reasons:
- This reclamation will destroy the richest fishery in Penang. In view of rapid fish depletion worldwide, this coastal fish bank is our food security. It supplies local needs as well as Penang’s food and tourism industry. Once destroyed, seafood prices will hike beyond what the average Penangite can afford.
- The livelihoods of 4,817 inshore fishermen are at stake. These fishermen have staged repeated protests, the biggest being 1,500 fishermen from 14 associations in Pantai Sungai Batu, Teluk Kumbar (Berita Harian, 13.12.2015), the most recent in early 2019. Fishermen’s experience with the STP2 northern reclamation shows that they have not been well protected by the Penang government, despite reassurances.
- The impacts of sand-mining will also be felt in Perak. The deep seabed (benthic zone) will be dredged and destroyed. As in the northern reclamation, the fishermen in Penang and an additional 6,080 fishermen in Perak will be pulling out mud and rocks, tearing holes in their fishing nets.
- Penang’s pristine southern beaches will be ruined. The coastal environment of Permatang Damar Laut, Gertak Sanggul and Teluk Kumbar will be wrecked by reclamation and pollution. Locals will lose their recreational beaches and seaviews. Penang’s eco-tourism reputation will be tainted by this irresponsible project.
- Coastal habitats and Life Below Water (SDG 14) will be devastated. The nesting patterns of the IUCN-listed "vulnerable" Olive Ridley Turtle (Penyu Lipas) and the playground of the Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin and the Indo-Pacific Finless Porpoise will be disrupted. Contamination is likely to reach the coral-rich Pulau Kendi. Marine biodiversity for miles around will be stressed and depleted.
- The project is environmentally reckless in the face of climate crisis. While claiming to target 40% reduction, the reclamation project will generate an additional 3.2 million tons of carbon emissions annually (source, 18 Nasihat, 18 April 2019).
- The RM46 billion Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) is a poor excuse for reclamation. The reclamation and land sales are purportedly a means to pay for the implementation of the PTMP to ease traffic congestion. But the present version of the PTMP is fundamentally flawed, consisting of a slew of expensive projects rather than viable, integrated solutions.
- The additional reasons for the reclamation are doubtful. The proposed Penang airport extension has been superseded by the Kulim International Airport (LTAK) plan. The location of the mooted administrative centre and public spaces would not be convenient for most Penang people. Furthermore, the future urban expansion is based on an unrealistic projected population forecast of 2.45 million, versus 1.98 million calculated by the Department of Statistics!
- The apparent need for land reclamation is not caused by land shortage, but by bad planning.The Penang Development Corporation owns 4,500 acres of land in Seberang Perai. In his Vision 2030, the Chief Minister promised to bring the much-needed development to the people of Seberang Perai. This can be achieved by investing in proper infrastructure and a good public transport link across the Second Bridge, not through reclamation.
- The Penang government has not been transparent about the project. From the start, the display of the 20-volume SRS proposal was severely restricted, where visitors cannot make copies, bring in cameras or even handphones. To date, no cost breakdown of any component of the PTMP including the reclamation has been made available.
- This speculative development is based on greed, not on need. Despite the ubiquitous empty condos, serious property overhang, and ongoing northern reclamation (almost 900 acres), the state insists on reclaiming 3 islands (4,500 acres), which will surely exacerbate the property glut!
- Island reclamation will burden the state with maintenance costs. We are not against reclamation per se but we are against this particular type of reclamation – island reclamation for resort-type development. Due to siltation, the channels between the islands will have to be perpetually maintained at public expense.
- Malaysia does not need another “Forest City”. The projected population on the 3 islands will be 446,300 souls (source, 18 Nasihat), but who will the inhabitants be? With only 6–20% housing land in the “affordable” category, will the bulk of the properties be targeted at high-end foreign buyers? Will this development give rise to glaring social inequalities?
- The state should take care of existing residents not future buyers. Penangites have repeatedly highlighted our urgent vulnerability to flooding problems on both the island and Seberang Perai, and exposed hill slopes at Tanjung Bungah, Botak Hill, Paya Terubong and the Bukit Kukus landslide area. Why is the state obsessed with creating a “Smart and Green” 3 islands for future buyers, but neglecting to rehabilitate the environment for existing residents?
- The lack of transparency in planning and management processes implies hidden agendas. Could the real objectives of the reclamation project be linked to plugging the state’s budget gaps, inflated reclamation costs and property play in the island’s south? A mega-project which will extend beyond the present Chief Minister’s term can easily become a platform for manipulated land values, international money flows and undeclared political financing.
- The risky project might put the state in financial jeopardy. With barely RM1 billion in annual revenue, the state is seeking a RM1 billion loan to undertake the RM16 billion reclamation, despite the hazards of cash flow and timing mismatch in a volatile property market. Uncertain bridging and holding costs will be borne by the state, while the developers’ consortium (as Project Delivery Partner) is assured of its 6% fee. Could the state’s overreach result in a financial disaster?
- Too much at stake for too little public gain. A failed reclamation project will burden Penang with debt and abandoned projects, while the present and future generations would have lost valuable opportunities for timely climate adaptation and robust, balanced development.
- A better, cheaper, faster (sooner) solution can be put in place. If the state invests in improving public transport and connectivity, and encouraging public transport usage (targeting 40% modal share), our existing roads would be adequate until 2030. Smart, shared mobility is on the way!
- The solution should serve the majority of Penangites. An analysis of the alignments of the RM9.6 billion Pan-Island Link, and the RM9 billion LRT shows they will disproportionately and ultimately serve the 3 islands. Yet, it is existing Penang residents who have to suffer the environmental costs.
- The solution must be socially just. If the aim is to ease traffic congestion, why should the state reward car users and create losers? Why should the fishermen and rural communities give up their sustainable lifestyle, just because some drivers are too selfish to give up road space for a bus lane?
Penang is blessed with hills, seas and UNESCO-listed George Town, but we are now at a crossroads. What vision do we want for Penang? The expansion of our present car-dominated concrete urban sprawl until it devours our hills and seas? Or a smart, green, car-lite, connected and liveable Penang for all residents?
Sustainable development strategies which are financially prudent and socially inclusive will bring strong economic growth. We have a responsibility to leave a better planet for present and future generations!
Save Our Fishermen! Save Our Coastal Environment! Reject Reclamation!
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