Penang DAP leaders were against cable car project previously, says activist

Socialist Progressive Front members Teh Yee Cheu (right) and Chua Cheong Wee with a map of Penang Hill.

GEORGE TOWN: A political activist asked two DAP leaders who had objected to a RM200 million Penang Hill cable car project in the 2000s if their stand remains the same.

Socialist Progressive Front’s Teh Yee Cheu noted that DAP’s Ng Wei Aik and Wong Hon Wai had protested against a proposed cable car project in 2007, saying it would “badly” affect the environment.

Teh said the two DAP leaders had also claimed that the construction of a cable car project on the hill would affect sensitive water catchment areas, which supply 20% of the island’s population.

He said this was widely reported in 2007, with Ng reposting a news article about it on his blog, with a picture of him and Wong holding a banner denouncing the project.

Ng is a Penang DAP committee member and former Tanjong MP, while Wong is currently the Bukit Bendera MP.

Teh, a former two-term Penang assemblyman, expressed concern over the “hurried allocation” of RM100 million for the project in the 2020 federal budget.

“We feel that such money could be invested for more crucial infrastructure projects such as flood mitigation and public transport,” he told FMT.

“We share the worries of the Friends of Penang Hill, who had objected against the cable car project in the 1980s and 1990s.

“Even the Penang DAP’s Ng and Wong had at one point protested against the project. Based on their admission, 20% of the water supply to the island is from the hill.”

Teh said there will likely be a drop in ridership on the funicular railway if the cable car project takes off. The funicular railway is currently the main access to the 833m Flagstaff Hill, commonly known as the hilltop station.

He said that in the interest of transparency, the state government must reveal the exact proposed alignment of the cable car project and if it would benefit “big landowners” on the hill.

Penang Hill Corporation, the state agency that manages the hilltop resort, has said the project, if implemented, will involve little tree cutting, and the latest technology will allow the environment to be largely unaffected.

The state government has also said a local consultant has been hired for the project, which is in a “pre-feasibility” stage.

Tourism players have lauded the federal government’s move to help realise the project, saying it would spur economic growth and boost visitor arrivals.

However, detractors say the project would ruin pristine rainforests and have vowed to fight against it.

Responding to Teh’s claims, Wong said their protest against the cable car project in 2007 was due to a different alignment.

He said the alignment proposed at that time was to link Teluk Bahang and Penang Hill with a cable car service, which would affect water catchment areas.

“The current proposal is from near the Botanic Gardens to Penang Hill. It is of a shorter distance and will minimise environmental impact.

“Also, 12 years ago, the ridership on the funicular railway was merely 500,000 passengers per year. Now, it is 1.8 million per year. The waiting time to board the funicular train is much longer. The cable car proposal will provide an alternative and interesting experience for tourists,” he said.

Ng, however, said: “Yes, my position remains the same. We object to any over-development on Penang Hill.”