GEORGE TOWN: The Consumers Association of Penang has criticised the “commercialisation” of the 135-year-old Botanic Gardens under a master plan allegedly passed in a hush-hush manner.
Describing the Special Area Plan (SAP) which was barely made public until recently as “appalling”, CAP president Mohideen Abdul Kader said it would move the gardens “to the back” to make way for a boulevard with pop-up kiosks.
“The boulevard will have pop-up kiosks and events, a totally inappropriate commercialised and noisy ‘pasar minggu’ atmosphere at the entrance to introduce the tranquil gardens to the public.
“A multi-storey car park to house cars will be developed at the gardens when the authorities cannot even provide Penangites with real affordable houses,” he said in a statement.
Mohideen said with the ground station of the proposed Penang Hill cable car project within the gardens, it would have “irreparable” damage in the long run.
He said the SAP, a legally binding town planning document, was gazetted in July “without or with very little public consultation” and it was only this month that it had become public through briefings.
The state government had denied claims it had not gone public with the SAP, saying that it held 27 public meetings with MPs, government officials and NGOs since it was mooted in 2011.
Mohideen said Penang should focus on improving public transport to the gardens, research and education facilities, and introducing more indigenous plants, particularly those threatened with extinction.
“It should not trade the beauty and tranquillity of the gardens and the welfare of the people for tourist dollars.
“We reiterate our call, for the sake of Penangites, to leave the Botanic Gardens alone.”
‘Cable car project not in original SAP’
Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Penang branch adviser D Kanda Kumar, who concurred with Mohideen, said the main cause for concern was the proposed cable car project.
He said the SAP should be reviewed as there were additional projects included which were not open to public inspection before it was gazetted.
“What we saw in the original (SAP) and the gazetted plan are things we are not aware of. I do not remember the cable car being included.
“Whatever said and done, the bottom station (of the cable car project) is the gardens. Why bother recycling projects from the BN era when we had said no to it before?”
Activists had fought against the project mooted by the previous BN government in the late 1980s. It is said to have cost former chief minister Lim Chong Eu his state seat in the 1990s.
The project was then scrapped when Lim’s successor Koh Tsu Koon took over.