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The rape of our hills Print E-mail
Thursday, 28 May 2009 18:40

THOUSANDS of people, locals and visitors alike, have felt their hearts sink while travelling along the slow undulating roads that pass through the idyllic Batu Ferringhi and Tanjong Bungah tourism belts, over the past couple of years.

Driving past the area today, one cannot help but cringe at the sight of monstrous, seemingly endless scars that have been made on what was once a rolling, green range of hills. Entire stretches of forests have been decimated for a string of high-rise and luxury residential projects on steep hill slopes overlooking the sea.

The situation has gotten so ugly that residents and tourism bodies have gone up in arms over the blatant devastation of what was once one of the most pleasant natural thoroughfares in Penang.

“We are very worried,” said Association of Tourism Attractions Penang (ATAP) chairman Eddy Low. “We find it hard to explain to tourists why we are doing this. This should not be part of our state’s behaviour.”

Stressing that it “stuck out like a sore thumb”, Low and his colleagues have asked the state authorities to come up with urgent remedial measures against hill-scarring by development projects.

Indeed, the industry has received numerous complaints from visitors and participants of the “Malaysia My 2nd Home” (MM2H) programme that much of the stretch’s natural allure had been compromised.

Most notably, ATAP questioned how the projects were approved in the first place – even though they were on slopes that rose sharply from the main road.

Residents groups, however, have gone even further in pressurising the government – from conducting vigorous petition campaigns to holding boisterous protests with clanging pots and pans.

In the most recent development, two residents associations submitted a memorandum to the state government, asking for steep hill-slope projects to be banned or restricted. The memorandum highlighted the Bolton Surin project in Chee Seng Gardens, raising numerous instances of perceived non-compliance by the developer.

Prepared by the Tanjong Bungah Residents’ Association and the Chee Seng Gardens Action Committee against Dangerous Hill Slope Development, the sizeable document was handed over to state executive councillor Phee Boon Poh at the state assembly late last month.

Most importantly, the memorandum called for a state-wide ban on all development in Class III (between 26° and 35°  gradient) and Class IV (above 35° gradient) slopes. Class IV is defined by the Science, Technology and Environment Ministry as having “extreme geotechnical constraints” for any development projects.

What the residents are alarmed about is the safety of present and future populations who will obviously be affected by the unbridled dangerous development. Ongoing land-clearing, blasting and land development works are hardly supervised by the municipal council, raising concerns about the safety of hill slopes in Tanjong Bungah, they said in the memorandum.

“The memorandum shows that the Bolton Surin project is a classic example of a dangerous hill slope project which should not have been approved at by MPPP,” it said.

In September last year, the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) issued stop-work orders against two developers, GLM Property Development Bhd and Taman Ratu Sdn Bhd, who were involved in the hill-slope development above Chee Seng Gardens. Just two months before, five projects along this same stretch of slopes were also briefly issued stop-work orders by the MPPP.

Another worry – especially in light of the hill-slope crisis that hit Bukit Antarabangsa in Selangor late last year – is the reported removal of excavated soil and rock from hill slopes without the supervision of the MPPP.

“Since the land development work began in 2008, we have seen hundreds of lorry loads exiting the construction site of Bolton Surin, carrying excavated soil and rocks away from the construction site everyday,” the memorandum said.

In fact, the extraction of minerals from the site was apparently viewed by Phee himself during a site visit to Bolton Surin on April 9.

The situation may seem legally difficult for the state government, since all the projects were approved under the previous Barisan Nasional administration.

But for many Penangites, there should never be any compromise. The onus, they say, is still on the present government, to make a stand, to show its commitment for our forests and people, and ban all future projects on Class III and IV slopes in the state.

 

Source: http://www.thesundaily.com/article.cfm?id=33990



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