Visual pollution in Penang

The Penang Island Municipal Council should take immediate steps to reduce the proliferation of billboards on the island, says Lim Mah Hui.

On 19 September 2014, a big billboard fell during a storm and crashed on a few cars in Sungei Nibong. Fortunately no one was hurt. This should serve as a wake-up call for Council to take stern action against those who are responsible for this incident and to start cleaning up the proliferation of both illegal and legal billboards, signboards, streamers and poster throughout our city. This is visual pollution; an eye-sore to the public and is against efforts to create a cleaner and greener Penang.

Clear signage is important, but billboards are the height of bad taste. Many cities in the world do not allow for billboards particularly in a historical city. Even a modern city like Honolulu bans large billboards.

The main beneficiaries of billboards and signboards are the land and building owners who charge enormous fees and the advertisers. Council licensing fees collected are paltry; I am told less than RM100,000 per year. Council has removed recently 254 illegal billboards; but many more need to be removed. On top of this, Council is spending RM500,000 next year just to remove illegal posters and streamers.

Council should do the following:

  • Clear all illegal billboards, signboards, posters and streamers and make the violators pay for the cost.
  • Start aggressively to prosecute violators to the full extent of the law to serve as examples of deterrence. Under the Local Government Act of 1976, violators can be fined not exceeding RM2000, or face a one-year jail term, or both.
  • Come out with new guidelines to control the number and the size of such boards and eventually to ban billboards.
  • Follow good practices in other cities, like Singapore and Hong Kong, that limit public advertising to street furniture such as bus shelters. This will limit visual pollution and increase the revenue of sponsors of bus shelters.
  • Reduce and simplify our own signboards. Learn from other cities that have clear and small signboards. I show two examples – one in San Francisco and one in Melbourne. Compare these to the ones we have in Penang.

I end with showing a short presentation that was given in 2006. Unfortunately little has been done to clean up since. I hope last week’s accident will serve as a call to Council to clean up the visual pollution in our city.

Dr Lim Mah Hui is a Penang Island Municipal Councillor and sits on the steering committee of Penang Forum. He gave the above speech at the full council meeting of the Council on 25 September 2014.

2 replies on “Visual pollution in Penang”

Are those billboards/signboards save enough to the public? If those billboards/signboards of unoccupied business premises were to fell down and causing injury, who is going to be responsible?

The local council spent more than 60% of its annual expenditure to make the city ‘ Cleaner & Greener’. Are those money equally spent through out the whole Penang? Many area over the mainland do not change much. I stay in Bayan Lepas. Many factory buses emitting black & thick smoke. We have spent so much money in cleaning the rubbish but we are ignoring or turn a blind on these major culprits. Can’t the local council or the state do something about it? Otherwise take down those ‘ Cleaner & Greener’ signage at Bayan Lepas.

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