Penang Forum-nominated councillor addresses full council meeting of MBPP

This is Khoo Salma’s full address (the Malay version below) yesterday:

I was nominated by Penang Forum to be the representative and the voice of NGOs, including Penang Hills Watch, in the Penang Island City Council from early this year. My predecessor Dr Lim Mah Hui served with the council for six years.

When I was made a city councillor, it was a dream come true – it gave me the possibility to contribute towards a greener, cleaner, heritage-conscious, sustainable and inclusive city. The council is the local planning authority that guides city development and therefore has a huge impact on the life of its citizens.

I am not a member of the One-Stop Committee (OSC); however, I am a member of the Development Planning Standing Committee

As a new councillor, I was surprised to learn that certain policies and guidelines are made at state level and then passed down to the council without discussion, with a note “For information only”. As a new councillor, I tried to discuss topics such as road projects, development density and hill development. However, I was told that projects and guidelines which have been approved by the State Planning Committee are not to be questioned.

In the Penang Forum press conference on the recent landslide tragedy, Dr Lim Mah Hui referred to the Local Government Act, Article 9: “‘The powers of the state authority are to issue directions of a general nature to the local council.” The key words are “directions of a general nature”, not of a specific nature.

Dr Lim also stressed that, according to the Town and Country Planning Act, Article 58, both the state and the council have the power to make rules to carry out the purposes of this Act: “If any rule made by the State Authority is inconsistent with a rule made by the Council, the rule made by the Council shall prevail over the rule made by the State Authority, and the rule made by the State Authority shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.”

In other words, the local government in a democratic country should enjoy the autonomy and possess the integrity to make its own policies, rules and guidelines. Would you agree that this is in keeping with the idea of local democracy?

In Malaysia, this power is guaranteed in both the said Acts. The council is tasked with spearheading the city’s physical development according to the Town & Country Planning Act and according to the State Structure Plan. The council is also tasked with framing the Local Plan, which the people have been waiting for, for four decades.

According to the Penang State Structure Plan 2020, which is still valid until 2020, development density is set at 15 units per acre in a secondary corridor like Tanjung Bungah, and 30 units per acre in a primary corridor; 87 units per acre is only allowed for transit-oriented development nodes, which have not been created.

However, the state government has already raised the development density to 128 units per acre. When I want to discuss development densities, I am told, “for information only”.

According to the State Structure Plan, development is not allowed on hill land more than 250 feet above sea level or more than 25 degrees gradient. However, many hill development projects are exempted as they are regarded as “special projects” by the state government.

Applications for planning permission for hill developments are referred to the state-level “Risky Land Development Committee” according to the Safety Guidelines for Hillsite Development 2012. This committee apparently shows the way to the applicant to fulfil the technical guidelines. If all the technical guidelines are met and all or most of the department approvals have been obtained, the council will usually approve the application.

Datuk Bandar, SU and respected councillors, I believe that we need to discuss development issues more thoroughly and advice the state government on suitable policies, rules and guidelines. The Penang Island City Council is a body which has all the expertise and technical experience to handle physical development planning.

The council should ensure its own rules are not compromised, that they do not need to bow to the developer’s logic, to all sorts of development pressures or to political pressures, just because Penang is a “land-scarce” state. At the very least, the council’s rules and guidelines must obey the Penang Structure Plan, as well as minimum safety and environmental guidelines.

In an advanced country, applications for planning permission are openly displayed and can be examined online by anyone. Public consultation of the broadest kind is held and any adverse impacts on the neighbours or the environment can be objected to by any affected parties, not those only up to 20m from the project boundary. Why not here?

Managers of smart, international, sustainable and liveable cities must have the objectives and methodology to evaluate environmental impacts, traffic impacts, social impacts, heritage impacts and to take into consideration public feedback.

We have to improve our planning processes and be prepared to change the direction and pattern of our urban development so that our heritage and environment are not destroyed just for the sake of building half-empty condominiums.

When development is not planned according to the right principles, disaster is likely to happen. When floods happen, as on 15 September, the people will not think it is only an “act of God”. On the contrary, the people are going to blame the authorities who have allowed the hills to be cut and who have approved the excessive development which cumulatively raises the flood risks in affected areas.

When a landslide occurs as in Tanjung Bungah on 21 October, the people are not only going to look at the work methods of the developer; they will also scrutinise the procedures and due diligence of the authorities who approved the development and the authorities who made the hill development guidelines.

It is said that the project site in Tanjung Bungah where the landslide occurred is not to be defined as hill land. If so, let us imagine the additional risks that could arise from development on hill slopes that actually exceed 250 feet above sea level or 25 degrees gradient. Does the council have the monitoring capacity to ensure the safety of such sites for 25 years, what more 50 years?

A Cleaner, Greener Penang is not just an empty slogan. It is a commitment to the future generation. Climate change is upon us. Extreme heavy rain and floods will be the “new normal”. Slope failure and landslides, unfortunately, will occur with greater frequency. In such a situation, we cannot get back to “business as usual” because it is reducing our resilience, and threatening the future of the Penang that we love. We must change.

As a first step, I wish to ask the council to impose a moratorium on hill developments and reassess every hill-site and hill-slope development project.

Secondly, I ask the council to reaffirm all policies, processes, and guidelines to protect our hills and stop high-risk development and to make new rules if necessary, taking into account the findings and recommendations of the Report of the Penang State Public Accounts Committee on Management of Hill-site Development.

Lastly, I ask the council to introduce new planning rules so that every development project should take into account the public interest, environmental interest and the interest of affected stakeholders and neighbourhoods.

All this should be done with full responsibility towards the future generation, to those whom we have promised a Cleaner, Greener Penang.

Malay version

Ucapan Penangguhan Khoo Salma Nasution, Ahli Majlis MBPP, 30 October 2017:

Datuk Bandar, SU, Ahli-Ahli Majlis, Ketua-Ketua Jabatan, para media dan para hadirin sekalian.
Saya dicalonkan oleh Penang Forum, menjadi wakil dan suara NGO, merangkup Penang Hills Watch, di Majlis Bandaraya Pulau Pinang sejak awal tahun ini. Pendahulu saya Dr Lim Mah Hui berkhidmat di majlis selama enam tahun.

Bila saya diangkat menjadi ahli majlis, impian saya menjadi kenyataan – impian saya untuk menyumbang kepada bandaraya yang bersih, hijau, berwarisan, mampan dan inklusif. Majlis merupakan pihak berkuasa perancang tempatan ataupun local planning authority yang memimpin pembangunan bandaraya dan sekaligus mencorak masa depan warga-warganya.

Saya bukan ahli Jawatankuasa Pusat Setempat (OSC); walau bagaimanapun, saya adalah anggota Jawatankuasa Tetap Perancangan Pemajuan.

Sebagai ahli majlis baru, saya hairan mengapa polisi dan garis panduan tertentu dibuat di peringkat negeri dan kemudiannya diturunkan kepada majlis tanpa perbincangan, hanya dengan nota “untuk makluman sahaja”. Sebagai ahli majlis baru, saya cuba membahaskan topik-topik seperti projek pembinaan jalan raya, kepadatan pembangunan dan pembangunan di lereng bukit. Akan tetapi, saya diberitahu bahawa projek dan garis panduan yang sudah diluluskan dan disahkan di peringkat Jawatankuasa Perancangan Negeri tidak boleh dipersoalkan.

Dalam sidang akhbar Penang Forum, mengenai tragedi tanah runtuh, Dr Lim Mah Hui merujuk kepada Akta Kerajaan Tempatan, Artikel 9: (Petikan) “Pihak berkuasa negeri boleh dari semasa ke semasa memberi kepada pihak berkuasa tempatan arahan am…”. Kata-kata kunci adalah “arahan am”, bukan “arahan khusus”.

Dr Lim juga menegaskan bahawa, menurut Akta Perancangan Bandar dan Desa, Artikel 58, kedua-kedua pihak berkuasa negeri dan majlis mempunyai kuasa untuk membuat kaedah-kaedah untuk menjalankan maksud Akta tersebut: (Petikan) “Jika mana-mana kaedah yang dibuat oleh Pihak Berkuasa Negeri tidak selaras dengan kaedah yang dibuat oleh Majlis, kaedah yang dibuat oleh Pihak Berkuasa Negeri hendaklah, setakat ketidakselarasan itu, terbatal.”

Dalam erti kata yang lain, kerajaan tempatan dalam negara demokratik harus menikmati autonomi dan mempunyai integriti untuk membuat polisi, kaedah, dan garis panduannya sendiri. Adakah anda bersetuju bahawa ini adalah konsisten dengan idea demokrasi tempatan?

Di Malaysia, kuasa ini dijamin oleh kedua-dua Akta tersebut. Majlis ditugaskan membimbing pembangunan fizikal bandar mengikut Akta Perancangan Bandar & Desa dan mengikut Rancangan Struktur Negeri. Majlis juga ditugaskan untuk merangka Rancangan Tempatan, yang rakyat masih menunggukan selama empat dekad.

Mengikut Rancangan Struktur Negeri Pulau Pinang 2020, yang masih pakai sehingga tahun 2020, kepadatan pembangunan hanya 15 unit seekar di koridor sekundar seperti Tanjung Bungah, dan 30 unit seekar di koridor utama; 87 unit seekar akan dibenarkan hanya untuk kawasan Transit-Oriented Development node sahaja, yang sebenarnya belum diwujudkan lagi.

Walau bagaimanapun, kerajaan negeri telahpun meningkatkan kepadatan pembangunan kepada 128 unit seekar. Apabila saya mahu membicara kepadatan tersebut, saya diberitahu, “untuk makluman sahaja”.

Menurut Rancangan Struktur Negeri, pembangunan tidak dibenarkan di atas tanah bukit melebihi 250 kaki di atas paras laut ataupun melebihi kecerunan 25 darjah. Walau bagaimanapun, banyak projek pembangunan di kawasan bukit telah dikecualikan kerana dianggap “projek khas” oleh kerajaan negeri.

Permohonan untuk kebenaran merancang bagi pembangunan di lereng bukit dirujuk kepada “Jawatankuasa Pembangunan Tanah Berisiko” (ataupun “Risky Land Development Committee”), mengikut Garis Panduan Keselamatan untuk Pembangunan Kawasan Bukit 2012. Nampaknya jawatankuasa ini yang memberi petunjuk kepada pemohon dalam kaedah memenuhi keperluan teknikal. Sekiranya semua keperluan teknikal dipenuhi dan kesemua atau kebanyakan lulusan jabatan telah diperolehi, lumrahnya Majlis akan meluluskan permohonan itu.

Datuk Bandar, SU dan ahli-ahli majlis yang saya hormati, saya percaya bahawa kita perlu membahaskan isu-isu pembangunan dengan lebih lanjut dan menasihatkan kerajaan negeri Pulau Pinang mengenai dasar, kaedah dan garis panduan yang sesuai. Majlis Bandaraya Pulau Pinang adalah badan yang mempunyai segala kepakaran dan pengalaman teknikal untuk menangani perancangan pembangunan fizikal.

Majlis harus membuat kaedah sendiri yang tidak dikompromi, yang tidak perlu tunduk kepada logik pemaju, kepada pelbagai tekanan pembangunan atau tekanan politik, semata-mata kerana Pulau Pinang adalah negeri yang “kekurangan tanah”. Sekurang-kurangnya, dasar dan garis panduan majlis harus patuh kepada Rancangan Struktur Negeri, serta piawaian minimum keselamatan dan kualiti alam sekitar.

Di negara-negara maju, permohonan kebenaran merancang dipamerkan secara terbuka dan boleh diperiksa oleh sesiapa pun di laman web. Perundingan awam yang seluas mungkin akan diadakan, dan apa-apa gangguan kepada jiran atau kemudaratan kepada linkungan boleh dibantah oleh mana-mana pihak yang terjejas, bukan sahaja yang setakat 20m daripada sempadan tapak projek. Mengapa tidak di sini?

Pengurus-pengurus Bandaraya Pintar, Mampan, Hijau dan Sejahtera harus mempunyai matlamat dan methodologi menilai kesan alam sekitar, kesan trafik, kesan sosial, kesan warisan, dan mengambilkira maklumbalas orang ramai. Kita harus memperbaiki proses perancangan dan bersedia mengubah arah dan corak pemajuan bandar supaya warisan dan lingkungan tidak dimusnahkan demi membina kondominium yang separuh dihuni.

Sekiranya pembangunan tidak dirancang mengikut prinsip-prinsip yang betul, bencana mungkin menimpa. Apabila banjir berlaku, seperti pada 15 September, orang ramai tidak akan menganggapnya “act of God” semata-mata.

Sebaliknya, orang ramai akan menyalahkan pihak berwenang yang membenarkan pemotongan bukit-bukau dan meluluskan pembangunan pesat yang berlebih-lebihan, yang secara kumulatif menaikkan risiko banjir di kawasan-kawasan terjejas.

Apabila tanah runtuh berlaku, seperti di Tanjung Bungah pada 21 October, orang ramai tidak akan periksa kaedah kerja pemaju sahaja; malah mereka juga akan periksa prosedur dan ketekunan wajar pihak berwenang yang meluluskan pembangunan itu, dan pihak berwenang yang telah membuat garis panduan pembangunan di lereng bukit.

Dikatakan tapak projek Tanjung Bungah yang mengalami tanah runtuh bukanlah pembangunan di lereng bukit. Kalau begitu, cubalah kita bayangkan, risiko tambahan yang mungkin berbangkit dalam pembangunan di kawasan bukit yang betul-betul melampaui 250 kaki di atas paras laut atau kecerunan 25 darjah. Apakah majlis mempunyai kapasiti pemantauan untuk menjamin keselamatan tapak-tapak itu selama 25 tahun, apa lagi 50 tahun?

Pulau Pinang yang Bersih dan Hijau bukan sekadar slogan kosong. Ia adalah komitmen kepada generasi yang akan datang. Perubahan iklim sudah melanggar. Hujan lebat dan banjir yang tidak terjangka akan menjadi “the new normal”, iaitu kebiasaan baru. Kegagalan cerun bukit dan kejadian tanah runtuh, malangnya, akan semakin kerap terjadi.

Dalam keadaan seperti itu, kita tidak terus kembali ke “business as usual”, kerana ini akan mengurangkan kapasiti kita untuk berdaya tahan dan menjejaskan masa depan Pulau Pinang yang kita cintai. Kami mesti berubah.

Sebagai langkah pertama, saya ingin minta Majlis mengenakan moratorium ke atas semua projek pembangunan di kawasan bukit dan di lereng bukit dan menyemak semula setiap projek tersebut.

Kedua, saya minta majlis mengesahkan semula polisi, proses dan garispanduan untuk melindungi bukit-bakau dan menghindarkan pembangunan berisiko tinggi dan membuat kaedah-kaedah baru jika perlu, mengambilkira penemuan dan syor-syor Lapuran Jawatankuasa Kerjaan Negeri Pulau Pinang Mengenai Pengurusan Pembangunan di Tanah Bukit.

Akhirnya, saya minta Majlis memperkenalkan kaedah perancangan baru supaya supaya setiap projek pembangunan mengambil kira kepentingan awam, kepentingan alam sekitar dan kepentingan stakeholder dan tetangga yang akan terjejas.

Semua ini harus dimajukan dengan penuh tanggungjawab terhadap generasi masa depan, kepada mereka yang kita telah janjikah: Pulau Pinang yang Bersih dan Hijau.

Sekianlah. Salam Hijau.

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