Penang fishermen sleepless over 29-storey dorm for foreign workers

Gertak Sanggul fishermen’s unit chief Chooi Sooi Kong (standing) speaking at a briefing today on a proposed mixed development cropping up at Kampung Bagan, in Teluk Kumbar, Penang.

GEORGE TOWN: The leaders of three fishing communities in Penang’s southern coast today raised concerns over a 29-storey foreign workers’ hostel proposed to be built in their area.

The residents of Gertak Sanggul, Teluk Kumbar and Sg Batu — which are fishing towns on the southern coast sharing the same main road — say the 623-unit workers’ hostel would see an influx of 11,000 foreign workers into their idyllic villages.

They cited a possible high crime rate and spread of diseases as a result of the foreign workers “flooding” the town.

Gertak Sanggul fishermen’s unit head Chooi Sooi Kong said chief among their concerns was the busloads of workers that would be transporting them to the hostel.

“We only have one tiny main road that takes us out. The journey from Gertak Sanggul to Bayan Lepas, with the heavy traffic, takes an hour.

“We have a Puspakom centre at both ends. We already see rows of lorries queuing there every other morning.

Fishermen and their family members gather at a hut at Kampung Bagan, Teluk Kumbar, for a briefing by fishing chiefs on a proposed mixed development coming up in their area, including a huge foreign workers’ hostel.

“And now, this enormous workers’ hostel is coming up. Can you imagine some 10,000 workers on two shifts jamming our roads?” he asked during a briefing session for fishermen in Kampung Bagan, Teluk Kumbar, here today.

According to Chooi, a developer had approached the fishermen in Kg Bagan five to six years ago to acquire a seafront land spanning some 5.2ha for a development project.

He said 37 families staying there were offered a one-to-one compensation of an apartment each, with an old Chinese temple there also being relocated.

Chooi said the residents were okay with apartments coming up there but had not been told about a foreign workers’ hostel cropping up there.

He said last week, the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) sent the villagers a letter informing them a project would be taking place there and had asked for early objections.

Chooi said the villagers were shocked to find that a big foreign workers hostel would be built there.

Checks on MBPP’s planning permission portal shows an application to carry out a mixed development with three towers — the first being a 28-storey, 986-unit residential tower; a commercial block with 21 floors with 200 duplex office units; and a 29-storey foreign workers’ hostel with 623 units. The application was made on Nov 20.

Meanwhile, Teluk Kumbar fishermen’s unit chief Rozlizan Ramli said there was a legitimate concern over crime and other social ills if the foreign workers’ hostel was built as planned.

He said a census in 2010 showed Gertak Sanggul alone had 925 people and the sudden exodus of people would alter the demography there drastically.

Sungai Batu fishermen’s unit chief Zakaria Ismail said there was also a legitimate worry that the foreign workers would take away jobs from the locals there.

Penang Fishermen’s Association chairman Nazri Ahmad said: “We are not against development, but greedy capitalists.”

Some 50 villagers from Kg Bagan, who were present, told those giving the briefing that they were against the foreign workers’ hostel.

One of the villagers, who refused to be named, said they did not want to be part of any move to stop the project for fear that they will lose a chance to be compensated with a home as earlier promised.

“Please understand, don’t tell people we are objecting or protesting, or else we will lose out,” a fisherman pleaded in Hokkien to reporters present.

When contacted, MBPP mayor Yew Tung Seang said the developer had submitted a planning permission request and it will be vetted according to the law, taking into account concerns raised by residents.