Hill restoration and conservation

CIvil society groups and individuals in Penang have endorsed a joint statement calling for stronger action to be taken to protect the hills of Penang.

We view with great concern the development of the hills of Penang especially on slopes with gradient of 25 degrees and more, or 250 feet and more above sea level.

These developments have caused serious environmental and social problems. The landslides and slips after heavy rain have posed dangers to residents living in the vicinity.

The latest example highlighted in the media is the illegal hill cutting in Bukit Relau for development 500 feet or more above sea level with slopes of gradient greater than 25 degrees.

This clearly violates the MPPP Structure Plan guideline that prohibits development more than 250 feet above sea level or slopes greater than 25 degrees gradient. The hill cutting is causing severe soil erosion which is evident from the blue plastic sheets placed by developers to reduce soil erosion that is still taking place with heavy rain. Further earth works for housing and road construction will increase soil erosion to dangerous levels.

The clearing of natural vegetation through tree cutting and land clearing will reduce the biological diversity of the hills of Penang which is the last refuge for plants and animal species in Penang. The conservation value and the recreational potential of the hills are much appreciated by the residents of Penang

Though the MPPP has taken the errant developer to court over the illegal cutting of Bukit Relau, the RM 30,000 fine for such a serious offence is puny compared to the gross development value of the project. Though the MPPP has appealed for a heavier penalty, doing it under Section 70A(1) of the Street, Drainage and Building Act, 1974 (ACT133) is ineffective and inadequate. Even, raising the fine to a maximum RM50,000 is no more than a slap on the wrist and will encourage others to flout the law.

We ask the MPPP to charge the offender under Section 19 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 (Act 172) that allows for a maximum fine of RM500,000 or two years imprisonment or both as stipulated under Section 26(1) of the TCPA as well as Section 52A of the TCPA where the director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate, as well as the company, can be held accountable for acts done in the name of the company.

We further ask the MPPP and the State Government to:

a) order all development activities on the land in question be stopped and that no permission be granted retroactively for this project.

b) require the developer to restore the land to its original condition.

There is a new method termed “restoration ecology” to restore an affected site to its original condition. This requires a study of the original condition of an area that has been destroyed and implementing a restoration programme by planting back trees and other plant species in the area. The restoration programme should be carried out and closely monitored by independent experts.

c) blacklist this company and all other companies associated with the directors of this company should be blacklisted for all future projects.

Special area projects

As the project fall under “special area projects” category, we ask the MPPP to make public a list of all projects approved under the special area category and the reasons why they were granted and the conditions attached. These should be put on MPPP’s website. We request that these conditions be reviewed to ensure that there is no abuse of the conditions.

We ask the MPPP and the State Government to require independent environmental impact study and public hearing and consultation for all proposed development in ecologically sensitive areas.

We support the State Government’s policy of a greener and cleaner Penang. However, the government should show more seriousness in implementing this policy.

Penang Forum, Penang Heritage Trust, Malaysian Nature Society, Penang Consumer Protection Association, Residents Association of Jesselton, Sungai Ara Residents Association, Tanjong Bungah Residents Association, Pykett Residents Group, Taman Sri Nibong Residents Association, Bayan Bay Residents Association, Chant

Dr Sharom Ahmat, Dr Lim Mah Hui, Dr T Devaraj, Mr Ahmad Chik, Dato’ Anwar Fazal, Mr Anil Netto, Dr Ong Hean Tee, Dr Leong Yueh Kwong, Dr Jayabalan, Mr Muhammed Bakhtiar, Dr Choong Sim Poey, Mr Yap Ching Chau, Mr Gerard Robless, Dr Tan Kim Hor, Mr Kanda Kumar, Mr Ben Wismen , Dr Jimmy Lim, Mr Chia Yong Tai, Ms Agatha Foo, Mr Hwang Hong Shi, Mr Tan Seng Hai, Ms Sharon Hiew, Mr Tan Yeow Joo

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