In Penang, man braces for loss of family home – again

Charles Lawrence Byrne with his wife, Benardine Wong, outside their home on Mount Erskine Road. The red raffia string indicates the point at which their land will be acquired.

GEORGE TOWN: Charles Lawrence Byrne was only 13 when his family was forced to relocate from their home in Butterworth to make way for a railway station and train track from Perai.

They moved to Mount Erskine Road where his father built a new house on a plot of land measuring 9,000 sq ft.

Now, nearly 70 years later, history appears ready to repeat itself.

This time, the state government is seeking to take over about a third of the plot for an underpass road project.

“I have brought up five children in this house and now, like de ja vu, we have to give up our home to the government again,” he said in an interview with FMT.

The project in question involves the widening of a 700m stretch from Wright junction off Burmah Road to Mount Erskine Road. It includes the construction of a short underpass connecting Mount Erskine to Burmah Road beneath the Gottlieb-Bagan Jermal cross-junction.

Earlier this year, the Byrnes were served with a land acquisition notice for 2,500 sq ft which would see most of their lawn reclaimed by the government.

They have been offered compensation of RM565,000 but according to Byrne, an independent valuer has put the actual value of the land at closer to RM4.8 million.

This includes injurious affection, which is compensation for the damage inflicted on the rest of the property as a result of part of the land being acquired.

Charles Lawrence Byrne has lived in his home at Mount Erskine Road for almost 70 years now.

Byrne, who worked with Radio Malaya and the Postal Services Department for 27 years, said losing the strip of land would require his family to tear down and rebuild the house as homes are required by law to be at least 20ft away from the road.

“We will have to tear down our porch, master bedroom and living room, at the least.

“This does not include space for a new fence or wall. How will we live in a house that has been chopped up like that?” he said.

He suggested that the state government instead take over part of the cemetery land across from Mount Erskine Road, noting that it had done so in 2014 to expand a lane for cars to turn in from Gottlieb Road.

He claimed the Penang government had promised not to touch homes in land acquisition matters if there are cemeteries nearby, as these can be acquired instead.

It had also allowed many other cemeteries to be exhumed for the construction of apartments and other such projects before, he added.

He also questioned the point of the underpass project, saying the other ends of the roads are narrow and that cars would still have to go through a bottleneck.

“They have expanded the road in front of my house six times, but do you see any change in traffic?”

The Penang Island City Council however defended the project, saying it would ease traffic during peak hours.

City secretary Addnan Mohd Razali said the road is a main thoroughfare for those heading to the north of the island.

According to him, 20 plots of land covering 47,684 sq ft are being acquired on the Burmah and Mount Erskine roads, the value of which is determined by the Valuation and Property Services Department (JPPH) under the finance ministry.

He said the land would be acquired at a cost of approximately RM25 million with owners offered prices 125% higher than the JPPH rate.

When asked why the council had decided against taking over the cemetery land, he said authorities would have to exhume over 300 graves to shift the project alignment.

“Those who are not happy with the compensation offered can appeal in court,” he added.

The project is expected to cost about RM55 million, including land acquisition. Work is likely to begin by late 2020 or early 2021.