Penang residents picket against 9,000-capacity foreign workers’ hostel

Batu Maung assemblyman and state executive councillor Abdul Halim Hussain meeting residents protesting outside an unfinished foreign workers’ hostel in Batu Maung here today.

GEORGE TOWN: A foreign workers’ hostel being built for the past two years at a seaside town in the south of Penang island is causing sleepless nights for residents nearby.

They are concerned over heavy traffic flow and what effects the 9,000 workers at the hostel would have on the safety of their town.

Today, scores of residents of Batu Maung picketed outside the yet-to-be opened hostel situated at a light industrial area off Jalan Permatang Damar Laut.

They held banners asking the Penang government why they were not consulted first about the project.

In a statement, the group said they had been writing to the Penang government, the Penang Island City Council and other authorities on “irregularities” in the project over the past one year but these had been ignored.

The residents, from five nearby neighbourhoods, said they were not against the project but did not want it to impact the residents nearby adversely.

The hostel, being built on a 1.6ha site, will have 504 dorm units, which could theoretically accommodate 9,072 people — with 17 workers to a room in the three blocks.

Two blocks were built in 2016 and a new block was added last November.

Currently, the hostel is accessible through a cul-de-sac at Solok Beringin 1, shared by a Lazada goods’ warehouse and other light industries.

These enterprises have also supported the residents’ protest in a letter to the chief minister.

State rep says he brought up residents’ grouses

The residents are demanding that work on an additional block be stopped immediately and a new road be constructed directly from the hostel to the main road to ensure traffic did not spill over to the adjacent neighbourhoods.

The residents also want the hostel to prioritise relocating foreign workers only from Batu Maung, rather than from all parts of the island.

Local assemblyman and state executive councillor Abdul Halim Hussain, who was at the protest to receive a memorandum from the residents, said he had objected to part of the project before.

He said he was not against the project when two blocks of hostels were built in 2016 but objected against the construction of the third block when it was mooted in 2018.

Halim said this was because an additional block would make the area “too congested” and worsen traffic.

He said the projected traffic for the area was staggering. He said 108 factory buses were required to clear the hostel’s occupants during any one shift.

Halim said a traffic impact assessment showed that it would take 3.5 hours for all these buses to pick up or drop off passengers at the hostel at any one time.

He said the city council should re-review their approval to build a new additional block to reduce traffic on the main road, Jalan Permatang Damar Laut.

“It takes the people of Batu Maung close to an hour to get here from George Town. Can you imagine what these buses can do to traffic during peak hours?”

Consumer body says hostel had not complied with rules

Consumers’ Association of Penang complaints department head Ravinder Singh said the project may not have complied with the rules.

He said the first concern was the 42 bus parking bays on the driveway of the hostel blocks. These driveways remain too small for emergency responders to pass, he added.

Ravinder said another issue was having 10% of the hostel land to be designated for recreational purposes, as part of state guidelines. He said there was no reserve for the land for this purpose.

He said the hostel did not have any drains as required and was devoid of any on-site sewage tank. It is connected to a sewer serving a flat 550m away.

Ravinder said with over 9,000 people expected to stay there, there will be tremendous stress on the sewers.

He said there was a long list of non-compliance with road safety design, noise and dust pollution.

“I strongly urge the city council not to issue a certificate of fitness to the operators until these concerns are resolved,” he said.

Pertubuhan Warisan Tanah dan Teroka Bandar president Zikrullah Ismail said a social impact study ought to be done as the “avalanche” of foreigners might adversely affect the community there.

FMT has contacted the Penang Island City Council mayor Yew Tung Seang for comment.