Community leader urges Penangites to speak out over road projects

Tanjung Bungah Residents’ Association (TBRA) deputy chairperson Agnes James says the state government has not attempted to find other ways to solve traffic congestion in Penang.

GEORGE TOWN: A vocal residents’ association in Penang has urged the public not to give up in their objections against roads or highway projects that have already been approved, saying politicians will eventually bow to pressure as has been proven before.

Tanjung Bungah Residents’ Association (TBRA) deputy chairperson Agnes James said while the contentious North Coast Paired Road (NCPR) has been approved despite environmental concerns, last-minute changes could still happen.

Speaking at a Penang Forum event last night, she urged the people to rally and send letters and notes to their elected representatives to demand for projects that are truly beneficial for the people.

“Talk to your assemblyman, MP, write to the chief minister. This is not a time to stay quiet, tell them to make your votes count.

“Changes can be made to benefit us as well. With more voices, we can get our way.

“Remember Penang Hill? That is what happened when Penangites fought against the hill being developed.

“Remember what happened to (late CM Lim) Chong Eu? People can change things,” Agnes said.

In October 1989, Lim proposed to develop Penang Hill into a “premier tourist destination”.

Over 900 acres of the hill range were to be developed to include two large-scale hotels, a condominium, an ‘Acropolis’ complex on the summit of the hill with shopping and sports centre, cinemas and nightclubs; over 300 units of houses and chalets; a golf course and more.

An agreement was inked between the Penang government and a developer on Sept 1, 1990.

A group of different NGOs later embarked on a campaign called “Friends of Penang Hill” which objected to the project as most of the hill was forested and served as an important water catchment area and bordered forest reserves.

The NGO campaign was widely seen as the reason Lim lost his state seat in the 1990 general election.

When Koh Tsu Koon became the chief minister, he decided to call off the project over concerns of an “unfavourable” environmental impact report.

‘We love our hills’

Agnes said the 10km, four-lane NCPR would effectively open up the jungles of Tanjung Bungah, Batu Ferringhi and Teluk Bahang for development, as paths had to be cleared to build a 2km flyover in a sensitive green lung.

“By opening up these hills, you will bring in more condos, new development areas and more highrises will come up.

“This is a destruction of our precious water catchment area, destruction of wildlife, and pollution of our air. But unfortunately, our politicians have failed to notice this.

“They do not seem to notice how we Penangites love our hills… regardless of what party flag they fly, they don’t seem to notice at all,” she said.

Agnes said if the prospect of hills being cleared was not worrying enough, TBRA had been inundated with queries about the new bypass road.

She also called the public consultation interviews “ludicrous” and hence, as a result, only a handful of people were aware of the new road project as more details of its alignment was reported in the media.

She said this comes as no surprise as only slightly over 300 people had been consulted over the project and objections by the TBRA to the Department of Environment (DoE) and the chief minister last year were ignored.

According to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), a total of 322 respondents were surveyed in relation to the NCPR and 69% agreed with the project.

Agnes said authorities also appeared to be deliberately leaving the NGOs “out of the loop”, as they were only told in Decemeber that the NCPR had been approved when approval was given in November.

“They (the authorities) have not attempted to find other ways to solve traffic congestion in Batu Ferringhi and Tanjung Bungah. They (the state) only want highways.

“Everybody who has been to other countries knows how they run their public transport. We have the chance to improve, yet we do not want to.”

The bypass is part of the Penang undersea tunnel and three main roads project worth a total of RM6.3 billion. There has been no breakdown of costs by components for the project.

The “three main roads” (formerly three paired roads) stretch from Air Itam to the LCE (5.7km), Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang (10.53km), and Jalan Pangkor-Gurney Drive junction to LCE (4.1km).

State Public Works committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said the entire roads project would take about seven years to complete, with works on the Air Itam to LCE to begin March next year.