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Sunday, December 21, 2008

MalaysiaKini And Chaotic Penang Pt 2

Malaysiakini reports: 1,000 residents barred from returning home at BKT Antarabangsa. My take, will Penang make the same mistake?
You can read my posting on "MalaysiaKini And Chaotic Penang Pt 1" here.

In this posting we continue with "Hill Developments" especially in land scarce Penang.

There are hues and cries over the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide recently and everyone is pointing fingers at each other as to who or what causes that disaster. The ruling government is quick to announce that no more development is to be approved on hill slope at certain degrees and hinting more or less that no one is to be blamed.

The leaders always do not have any answer for the rakyat when "human irresponsible acts" are the causes of catastrophic disasters. We cannot just brush it away assuming it to be an act of God.

There is actually nothing wrong for hillside developments. When land is scare and with the population growing and hunger for housing needs, either you develop towards the seafront or up on the hill.

We can have developments on hillsides if all parties, i.e developers, local councils and consultants conduct a proper study and suitability of the planned development on hill slopes not on the monetary aspect but specifically on the safety aspect. Consultants must be bold enough not to allow the developers to dictate what the developers want regarding the safety factors which usually allows them to cut corners and save on something that may fail years later.

In most developments, the developers always rush to construct the main building and leaving the external infrastructure last so that they can collect the progressive payment on stages of the building constructed from buyers. If this development is on level ground with existing surrounding drainage system then it will not pose much problem.

On hillside development, things will be different where trees were uprooted and the earth surface exposed to rain water. What the local councils and planning consultants need to do is to impose the ruling that all external infrastructures such as roads and drainage system including retaining walls and to complete all slope protections as per planned completion of the project before any building works can commence.

We have many intelligent and experienced engineers and architects who are capable of designing hillside developments. My suspect is that developers who engage these consultants want an easy and fast solution at minimal cost to develop hence bypassing the overall safety measures intentionally or otherwise.

The above are my general opinion and that there may be many other factors and requirements in order to have a more safer ways for hillside developments.

We now zoom in to Penang hillside development. Hillside development started in the early eighties when Low Yat developed the first few condominiums sitting on the hillside along the Tanjong Bungah road leading to Batu Ferringi. The condominium concept was widely acceptable and demand for it starts to grow hence the race to develop high rise condominium along the hill slope. So far there is no report of major slope failure but we must take precaution now to avoid any disaster from happening.

Penang Island is running out of development land for housing and with the population growing where are we to house them. If you build on reclaim land on the sea front, the NGOs and social activists will come after you and when you build on hill land, the NGOs and social activists also will be after you, so the best option is no more housing development on the Island, move to the mainland. Very easy to say, move to the mainland and when you start chopping down the rubber trees, palm oil trees and start refilling the padi fields and swarm land, the good NGOs and social activists will come after you.

There are only two options, "to build" or "not to build".

This option "not to build" is much easier and you do not have to face the wrath of the NGOs and social activists. Work out the remaining available land that can be developed with the number of housing units that can be built plus the existing occupied and unoccupied housing units. Base on average of 8 occupants per unit times the total housing units available, we can get the total number of people for the Island. Lets say the figure is 4 millions, that means Penang Island will forever have a standard population residents of 4 millions, no more than that. No more migrants from other States unless someone is willing to sell off their unit and leave the Island. If you have grown up children, they have to leave the Island in search for their own housing unless you die and leave the house to them. So once you complete all the remaining units and reach the population residents of 4 millions, Penang Island will be free of any housing development. Crazy idea, many readers will have this two words in their mind. Well, I am happy to be a little crazy at times to satisfy those who are against any developments because of disasters, environment problems and all sorts of problems that they can think off but never want to think how to resolve the problems and move forward.

The other option is "to build".

In Penang Island to cater for the needs of housing with the population growth we need to develop towards the seafront and on the hillsides. As I mentioned above we can still develop on hill slopes, provided we follow strictly and comply fully the building codes on hill developments which the authority can work with the engineers and architects to ensure that all are comply with by the developers. Developers must not be crazy for huge profitability only but also learn to love other human life's by ensuring that safety is also their priority.

I find it rather strange for residents of housing areas affected by hill developments giving ULTIMATUM to political party. I provide a paragraph below which I read from Anil Netto's blog.

We will persist in our attempt to get the new state Government to heed our call as we voted them in to show us a change for the better than the old administration under Gerakan and Umno. Persisting in steep hill slope development that puts the lives and property of innocent long-time residents in the area at risk (in harm’s way) is NOT the way to stay in government over a single term.

One thing the residents must realized is that the planning approvals were given by the previous government and the new government will have to pay heavy compensation (our money)if they were to annul the planning approval.

What they need to do is work with the developer together with the government on the following:

1)Go through the planning approval and see whether they have complied with all the building codes on hill developments and any hanky panky on the approval. If any non compliance is found, then, the government can annul the approval.

2)If the development is approve according to the building codes, the residents can then seek the assurance from the developers and governments that there will be no incident happening like Bukit Antarabangsa. They can request that all the infrastructures works, retaining walls, slope protection, roads and drainage be completed before any building works commence. Monitoring for any soil movement must be done everyday or as recommended by the engineers.

By giving ultimatum it will not help to solve this kind of problem. Developments on hill land will continue in Penang Island, whoever you voted in unless you want my crazy idea as mentioned above, "not to build."

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