The Local Plan (LP)
Any appraisal of the SAP must be done with reference to and within the context of the Bukit Bendera Local Plan (1992 – 2005), which, though past the use-by date, is still the legally binding planning document for Penang Hill.
A close reading of that document shows that it is suffused with a deep concern for the delicate PH environment and sensitive to the needs for a balanced and sustainable development. ( See pages 3-2; 3-3; 3-4 & 3-5 of the LP)
To ensure that this is achieved the LP has enshrined two important parameters to be adhered to in all future development.
1. Detailed development guidelines for every lot.
2. A maximum carrying capacity, ie a cap on the maximum number of visitors the hill can accept above which the environment will degrade and the quality of visitor experience will be impaired.
The carrying capacity was fixed at a maximum of 10 000 visitors per day for Penang Hill (Ref top Para 3.3.3 and App i of LP). This concept of maximum carrying capacity is important to protect sites from excessive usage and is applied in many popular tourist spots in the world, including in Malaysia. Examples are the Pottala in Lhasa, Machu Picchu in Peru, Mt Kinabalu in Sabah etc. We are fortunate that Penang Hill LP incorporates this concept of maximum carrying capacity and it should be adhered to.
Cable car proposal
At first glance it is possible to believe that a cable car development is totally consonant with the LP, but a careful reading shows that the proposal is carefully circumscribed and were based on assumptions and scenarios which are either no longer relevant or have been over-taken by events.
Refer to para 3.4.1 of LP.
The LP assumes that the old funicular railway will be preserved as a heritage relic and will merely be upgraded and that the increase in the traffic volume will be in three stages:
a) Phase 1: 5000 visitors per day.
b) Phase 2: 7000 visitors per day.
c) Phase 3: 10 000 visitors per day.
It was assumed that with improvements the old system will be able to transport a maximum of 7000 per day and at that point there will be a cushion or gap of 3000 visitors per day (10000 carrying capacity less 7000) that will have to be met by other means. The cable car was proposed to fill this gap. This is the entire justification for the cable car.
In reality what has has happened has been very different. The old system was ripped out and a new funicular put in its place that can carry 80 passengers to the top in a 5-minute trip. This works out to about 13 500 visitors per day in a typical 14-hr day, a figure which is well above the mandated carrying capacity.
It has been established that even now on peak days the carrying capacity has been exceeded. There is no longer a justification for a cable car.
Re-examining the carrying capacity
The carrying capacity was arrived at after a fairly detailed calculation as shown in App i of the LP, an examination of which shows that it is too optimistic. For instance it was assumed that at all times 50 per centof all visitors will be walking along Moniot Road and the bridle paths. Even a casual observer will see that this not the case and most visitors do not venture beyond Summit Road, and it is likely to remain this way for a long time.
The consequence is that while the overall numbers more or less are in line with the carrying capacity specified in the LP, the carrying capacity at the Summit Road and especially near the food court has been exceeded by a factor of two.
Current visitor experience
One needs to observe the situation on a busy day, where the scene is more like a busy shopping mall than a serene eco-tourist spot. The visitor experience, which the LP put so much emphasis on, has been impaired.
Aside from the obvious over-crowding on busy days there are other factors that have to be considered: toilet facilities, sewerage and additional attraction.
The number of tourist attractions has remained the same and unless steps are taken to encourage visitors to move out of the Summit Road area, the congestion will remain. In the same way the number of toilets has not significantly increased since the 1990s and the sewerage system is totally inadequate, with raw sewerage being admitted in the headwaters of the Sg Ayer Itam.
1. Penang Forum is against the cable car because it is no longer necessary as the number of visitors transported by the improved furnicular system has reached the maximum carrying capacity of the hill.
2. It will contribute to more traffic congestion to an already congested area and reduce the quality of experience for visitors.
3. The money can be used to further improve other facilities on the Hill so that visitors will enjoy a genuine eco-tourism experience and not the delights of a shopping expedition.
4. Additionally Penang Forum is recommending that the State Authorities place strict controls to ensure that the carrying capacity is not exceeded, and that the original objectives of the LP are adhered to.
Penang Forum Steering Committee
10 December 2013