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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Should Penang Island control its population growth?

Since Pakatan Rakyat rules Penang many are comparing the Island with Singapore or Hong Kong but do not realised that both Singapore and Hong Kong are governments by itself with no hindrance/control by a Federal or central government. Though Hong Kong may now be influenced by China one way or another after 1997.

Also since then various NGOs are openly voicing their opinions or objections to how the state government runs the state especially in developments and the infrastructures.

They are very much concerned with the hills, the seas and beaches and rivers, forests, park land and cultural aspects which they term as 'The Commons'. The article in Anil Netto's blog titled Corporate predators eyeing ‘the Commons’ prompted me to write and ask the pertinent question "Should Penang Island control its population growth?"

The one thing that NGOs seldom talk about is population growth. All their fights over environment destruction are due to what, is it not cause by human beings? No doubt human beings can easily be taught how to be environmentally friendly as they can also be taught how to live on trees, but would they. As population grew the need to house them grew as well and the whole cycle begins with developments vs environment(The Commons). To avoid any misunderstanding, what I am saying or proposing is specifically on Penang Island only.

Penangnites must know that Penang Island is already badly damaged in terms of developments and infrastructures by poor planning, outdated National Land Code and Building by-laws. There is no way any government can reverse it provided they dare or can impose strict restrictions on private lands. One example of strict restriction is, any private land less than 5acres cannot be developed (even if it is gazetted as development land). If you can visualized the situation as it is now, you can see small buildings popping up at every corner by private land owners, some land less than an acre.

What are the consequences? Traffic congestion, drainage & sewerage system failure. When the government plan and construct the infrastructures in the early years they did not foresee the future growth hence built the infrastructures as per required at that time. Since then more and more developments, big or small were built and all discharges be it cars, drainage & sewerage from those new developments are connected to the main infrastructures which were built and only cater for in the early years.

There is no way the government can restrict private developments as long as developers comply with the National Land Code and Building By-laws which are enacted by the government themselves. Developments will continue when the demand is there as more people flock to reside on the Island and the local resident population growth itself.

So, can you blame the greedy developers when they are allowed to buy up as many private lands, big and small, comply with the authority requirements and developed them. Is the government to be blamed when their hands are tight by their own laws?

Some may question why Singapore or Hong Kong can do it and not Penang Island. Let me use Singapore as an example how they can developed so well since I was there in the 70's involving in the construction of their HDB flats.

Firstly as per my opening statement, Singapore is a government by itself with no Federal or central government looking over them and secondly, they started on a near clean ground or you can say a fresh start since leaving Malaysia. Not much damages done yet to most of the Island's land. Their planning were done with the future in mind. No doubt they evict with iron fist but they do have other places ready for you before the eviction. The way I see it is that most Singaporeans are willing to 'Move' with their government together in developing the nation or they will die should the nation failed.

How far is Penangnites willing to 'Move' with the government, giving up their lands or old depleted buildings (outside the heritage zone) at nominal prices to make way for newer better development? Many would not since private developers can offer a much better premium.

So, what are we going to do and I can safely declare that no government can solved the Island development problems if no drastic action is taken to address it. And I can also be quite certain that hill developments will be carried out beyond the present 250 feet allowed in 50 years time.

I can suggest three very nasty solutions not popular with Penangnites but may be acceptable to some NGOs.

1) Government acquiring private lands and old depleted buildings by force.

With so limited land for development on the Island whereby 'The Commons' must not be touch what other options does the government have? All develop-able private lands and old depleted houses standing on it must be sold to government at a controlled reasonable pricing. Amalgamate all small pieces of land into a sizable piece where newer and proper affordable housing can be developed. Simply put, remove the old low density and replace with new of higher density.

2) Control the population growth

The population on the Island is set to keep on growing and uncontrolled development will go on till hill development beyond 250feet will be allowed by whoever is the government of the day. To avoid this and the concern of 'The Commons', the government should start finding out how much land is still available for development and calculate the total residential units that can be built including the existing ones. Let us assume the whole Island can allow 3 millions of residential units, present plus future with no more registering of new units. The population should then be controlled at 3millions when all develop-able land have been developed.

The third suggestion is a little far fetched, just a little laugh for enlightenment.

3)Turn Penang Island into a Tourist Island

Move all Penangnites and other residences to the mainland or else where. Turn existing housing areas into tourist attractions, tear down some to turn it into green zone, zoo, theme parks and whatever that can attract tourists. Let the Island grow back to the era before Sir Francis Light landed on the Island. Bring in the wild animals and let them roam wild and free as like the African Safari or The Jurassic Park. The whole Island will practically be a tourist haven. You will have to stay in a hotel if you want to visit overnight and everyone you meet will either be local Malaysian tourists or foreigners. No one live on the Island as residence but as tourist.

Give this a thought: You want to live in a clean, affordable, easy accessibility movement, pleasant environment on an Island that was already badly damaged that can only be rectified by forceful, unpopular amendment of the laws to acquire private lands and old buildings to rebuild a newer and better housing and infrastructures. Would you accept that?

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