The Penang Forum Steering Committee is dismayed to read press reports on 19 April 2015 which confirmed that the Penang state government had quietly rezoned hill land in Bukit Relau for residential development in December 2012. Press reports in 2013 indicated that the hill land had been converted to residential land use.
This time though, news reports came with documentary evidence in the form of a rezoning approval letter from the Department of Town and Country Planning, Penang proving that the land had been converted.
The letter dated 3 December 2012, informed the developer that the State Planning Committee had decided on 20 November and approved on 3 December the conversion of the hilltop land to “zon perumahan”.
This particular plot is more than 1200 feet above sea level. The subsequent clearing of the land by the developer in February 2013 led to a public outcry as the bald patch on what is now known as Botak Hill is glaring when one approaches the island using the Penang Bridge. Back then, without any documentary evidence of the conversion, we had thought the land clearing was illegal.
Following the public outcry, the State Planning Committee, having already approved the conversion, decided to take some minor action – taking the developer to court for merely carrying out earthworks without permssion – presumably to placate the public.
Why did the state government not disclose the letter then that it had approved the development of the hill land? In fact, there was little transparency in this drastic change in the land use policy in Penang.
The state government must now confirm if there have been other cases of rezoning of hill land since 2008, including in places like Bayan Lepas, Balik Pulau, Tanjung Bungah, Air Itam and Batu Ferringhi. This would help to dispel talk that Bukit Relau might not be the only case of hill land being shockingly converted to residential use. The state government must make public the full list of such rezoning in line with its much touted principles of Competency, Accountability and Transparency.
We also call on the state government to reveal to the public the policy of hill land development. The Penang Structure Plans states clearly there should be no residential development above 250 feet above sea level. Are developers now going to pressure the state government to raise the 250-feet threshold in the ongoing review of the Penang Structure Plan?
We urge the state government and the Department of Town and Country Planning to hold a public dialogue to explain their actions on hill land. Penang Forum Steering Committee 23 April 2015