Tanjung Bungah landslide: Penang commission of inquiry must have broad scope

The Tanjung Bungah Residents’ Association welcomes the proposal by the Penang state government to set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the 21 October landslide at Lengkok Lembah Permai that killed 11 people.

We ask that the commission of inquiry be open to the public to ensure transparency in view of the public interest involved, and that it also allows the full participation and engagement of all stakeholders, including the TBRA.

On the terms of reference of the commission of inquiry, we are glad to note that it includes the project approval process and procedures to see if they were in accordance with guidelines.

We hope that this will also include not only the relevant guidelines but also laws related to the granting of planning and other approvals, as well as monitoring and enforcement aspects with a view to improving them.

This must also include a review of the guidelines on “hill site development 2012”, as well as in ensuring sufficient capacity exists in the relevant authorities to effectively monitor and enforce any conditions imposed.

On the terms of reference which calls for a re-examination of “other matters related to the project including if the project was built on flat land or on a hillslope and to determine if the quarry site was the reason for the failure of the temporary work site slope”, we wish to state that what is also material is an examination of the characteristics and overall conditions at the site and its surroundings, including the state of the site prior to the granting of planning approval and the changes made to the natural terrain.

Developments on hill land

On a separate note, the TBRA also welcomes the Jagdeep Singh Deo’s statement that the state government will continue to prohibit any new high-rise development on land above 76 metres (250 feet) above sea level.

He was referring to the policy in the Penang Structure Plan on the protection of hill land 76 m above sea level.

In this regard, however, we are perplexed by how the MBPP in 2012 approved the construction of 600 units comprising high-rise apartments and bungalows on hill land covering 80 acres which is above 76 metres above sea level – of which about 43% are on slopes exceeding a gradient of 25 degrees – for the Sunway City project in Sungei Ara, Penang.

In fact, we are shocked to learn that the state authority had in 2011 approved an application by the developer to remove the ‘hill land’ status of the lands under the Land Conservation Act 1960.

The MBPP relied on the 2009 Guidelines for ‘Special Projects’ to allow the Sungei Ara project.

These actions completely defy the state government’s stance that hill land must be protected.

In order to prevent a repeat of this and to respect the policies in the Penang Structure Plan as regards hill land, the state government must now do the following immediately:

  • revise or redefine what are ‘special projects’ in the 2009 guidelines in order to explicitly prohibit any future development on hill land except for essential public amenities.
  • stop approving any further applications for excision of the status of ‘hill lands’ from the Land Conservation Act 1960.

We also call on the State and the MBPP to also monitor all development on hill lands and hill slopes in Penang and take immediate measures to ensure the safety of those living at the foothills of such developments, as in the case of the PayaTerubong residents in Taman Seri Rambai/Lau Geok Swee.

The TBRA also seeks the clarification of the Penang state government and the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) as to why it is not following the policy in the Penang Structure Plan which designates Tanjung Bungah as being in the ‘secondary corridor’.

The Structure Plan clearly states that in Tanjung Bungah, any housing development cannot exceed 15 units per acre as it is in the ‘secondary corridor’.

Why has the state and the city council not followed this policy which is legally binding? We seek an urgent response in this regard.

Meenakshi Raman is chairperson of TBRA.

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