Monday, February 16, 2009

Bkt Antarabangsa forgotten - Hillside Development Projects on as usual?

All that talk and 'promises' about banning further hillside development after that Bukit Antarabangsa incident which saw the loss of lives...seem to have been forgotten so fast as our UMNO led-BN government gives the 'green light' again for hillside development...
Resident associations have expressed their outrage at the Works Ministry’s “green light” for hillside development to continue.

The housing developers association, however, welcomed the an­­nouncement and labelled a total ban as “absurd”.

On Saturday, Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Zin Mohamed said land was needed for development as the country’s population was increasing. - Star, 16/2/2009, Furore over lifting of hillside ban

And, what about Pakatan Rakyat government..

In Selangor, on the face of it they seem to be saying NO ...but it seems like a weak 'NO' - which may soon be a 'yes'..
The state government has brushed off the Works Minister’s comment that hillside development will go on, saying it cannot lift its blanket ban just because a federal minister thinks it is the right thing to do.

“He has to prove the viability of his opinion and we want to see some evidence that it is safe to lift the ban,” said Selangor Local Government Committee chairman Ronnie Liu.

Liu added that a fact-finding mission and in-depth research must be carried out before a decision is made. He said past experience did not reflect Datuk Seri Mohd Zin Mohamed’s optimism that certain hillside development could be carried out again.

He said the state had received many requests from developers, and from its own land task force, to lift the blanket ban on hillside development.

“We are looking into it as these developers, who own large parcels of Class 3 and Class 4 land, are telling us that it is safe to build if it is done properly,” he said.

Liu, however, reiterated that the state needed further convincing before it would even consider lifting the blanket ban. - Star, 16/2/2009, Selangor won’t lift hillside ban

Wonder whether Ronnie is speaking for the State Government - as earlier, the main advocate for a stop or greater control of hillside development, Elizabeth Wong (the tourism, consumer affairs and environment exco in Selangor) has yet to comment. Remember, she was the one who came out with "We ask that “people” be put ahead of “profits”" in her article entitled Bitter Vindication, Sun, 10/12/2008. Wonder whether this new 'scandal' has got anything to do with this issue of hillside development...

In Penang, the PR government seems inclined to continue with hillside development - citing having to pay out RM100-RM200 million if they stop these hillside development...(I really wonder why they have to compensate developers or anybody...if they ban hillside developments...)

In George Town, Penang Local Govern­ment, Traffic Management and Environment Com­mittee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said it would be disastrous to stop ongoing hillside development projects in the states.

Chow said that if these projects were stopped the local councils would have to fork out RM100mil to RM200mil as compensation for developers. He said the state government could only ensure that projects complied with existing guidelines.

“We have taken measures such as issuing stop-work orders on some projects, sometimes even repeatedly, to ensure the developers complied with the guidelines,” he said.

“The state should not be accused of not addressing the residents’ problems as these projects were not approved by the present administration,” said the Penang DAP chairman said when commenting on recent protests held against hillside development.

He said it would be easier if the Federal Government imposed a blanket ban on all hillside projects.

In fact, the Pakatan Rakyat there is saying that it is better for the Federal Government to impose a blanket ban...

Sounds familiar... same kind of arguement that they are giving for the not holding of Local Council Elections - saying that Federal Law is on the way (a disputed arguement, anyway). They did not even try at all...(In fact, there is still no mention about when this local council elections will be held ...and remember that civil society groups said that it should be before 2010 - and that is about 10 months away)

Same thing is happening to hillside the days after some catastrophe causing life and property loss, the government (be it BN or PR) will come out and talk about 'banning' -- imposing stricter conditions, etc ...and a few months down the road, it is back to usual..

I, may not be for the total ban of all hillside development - but given the numerous incidents, there must be more stringent guidelines and conditions, and it is important that it be developed not just with REHDA (that Housing Developer association) but also the environmental groups, residents associtions, etc. Further, we have a lot of land - we really do not need to have too many hillside development projects. Maybe, we should be looking at Japan...

Also, we have to note that the incidences of earthquake/earth tremors in Malaysia has been in the rise, especially in Bukit Tinggi. Climate has also changed drastically, and as such there must be a review of the standards and requirements for all new building projects.

I have also been wondering whether we do have even fire fighting capabilities for these very very high buildings that are now to be found in most big towns. In KL, it is generally the poor who are being housed in these very high 'chicken-coop's, we call flats...

Maybe, we should be looking at Japan...for the standards, guidelines, etc.. Better to have much higher standards if we really do value human life more than profits

Some interesting reports, and what they said in the past...just after Bukit Antarabangsa trajedy...

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi..

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has ordered all hillside housing projects at Bukit Antarabangsa here to be halted pending a soil stability study by the Malaysian Public Works Institute (Ikram).

Abdullah said all future projects too would also be stopped in order to prevent any further worsening of the soil conditions at the hilly area.

“I am sure this will incur the wrath of individual land owners and developers but enough is enough,” he told reporters Saturday after visiting the landslide-hit area here.

He said no further risks should be taken after two warnings of the impending dangers were issued first by the Highland Towers condominium collapse in the 1993 and then by Saturday’s tragedy.

“But Malaysians never want to learn from past experiences, they want a good view (scenery) while developers only seek to profit but no one takes safety and soil stability into consideration. - Star, 6/12/2008, PM: 'Enough is enough, stop the hillside projects'

Mohd Najib Razak - DPM, the new UMNO President by the end of March 2009
The Government will not be issuing any more permits for hillside developments following the landslide tragedy at Bukit Antarabangsa early Saturday morning.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said this on Saturday at a press conference after visiting the tragedy site.

He also told developers not to lobby or pressure the Government for any building permits for hillside development projects.

He said preventive measures must be taken to avoid hillside tragedies. - Star, 6/12/2008, No more permits for hillside projects: Najib

Pakatan Rakyat governments of Penang and Selangor...

My friend Anil Netto, in his blog looked in December the contradictory stances taken by Penang and Selangor with regard to hillside his posting entitled -Hill-slope projects: Contrasting positions of S’gor and Pg

The Penang government’s position from the Malaysian Insider:

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 10 — Penang’s Chief Minister wants the federal government to set up a geotechnical engineering unit under the Public Works Department to ensure the safety of all hillside developments.

In light of the latest landslide incident in Bukit Antarabangsa which killed four people, Lim Guan Eng said Malaysia should learn from the painful experience and emulate Hong Kong, where 80 per cent of the buildings sit on slopes.

Says one long-time Penang resident:

A good reflection of where this DAP government stands with regard to hill-slope development. Very business friendly….

Lim Guan Eng knows full well that the Federal Govt will NOT implement such a suggestion. But he makes it anyway so he looks good, like he cares but in effect, he does not. Because, if he really cared (for public safety), instead of taking care of business interests, he would have called for a full moratorium or stop on hill development in Penang.

This perception is by no means an isolated one among those concerned about the environment in Penang. The following is a comment from another long-time resident of Penang, a foreigner who “is saddened by the destruction of Penang’s once beautiful north coast, where Moonlight Bay has become ‘Moonscape Bay’ and a disaster waiting to happen.”

I never thought I would see it but awareness and sentiment finally seem to be moving against the madness of clearing and building on dangerous hill slopes. It is a pity though that Penang is still far behind Selangor in taking the necessary measures to prevent further tragedy and environmental degradation. Selangor Exco member Elizabeth Wong’s article “Bitter vindication” in theSun 10 December p.16 should be read and disseminated widely. The issue really is one of putting “people” ahead of “profits.”

This is theSun report (10/12/2008) he was referring to:

Bitter vindication
by Elizabeth Wong

ONE of the earliest policy decisions by the Pakatan Rakyat Selangor government was to throw out any housing and building applications for Class 3 and Class 4 hillslopes to preserve environmentally sensitive areas and prevent landslides. This was decided at an executive council meeting on April 2.

Selangor became the first state in the federation to have complied with the Federal Town and Country Planning Department’s Total Planning Guidelines 1997 (2nd edition, 2001) which states that no housing development should be allowed on slopes with 25° and above gradients.

Developers thought it was a late April Fool’s joke. Since our ban, they have used all means – the media, blogs, lobbying by state reps and MPs etc to change our minds. We were vilified as “anti-business” and “anti-development”. I have even had some of our Pakatan MPs asking us to make exceptions for Class 3 slopes.

I was told they particularly disliked me and called me “lan-si” (arrogant) just because during a public meeting of developers, NGOs, residents and the exco, one of the key developers questioned how the state government could stop hillslope development, and I answered, “Because we can…” And none were too happy when I had to repeatedly wave the Total Planning Guidelines book at them.

And every couple of months, we have had to repeat our policy decision. Even as recent as last month, developers were insisting that they had the right to develop hill slopes and some had told a couple of exco members that they were planning to sue us. One of them said we would have to compensate them RM330 million (25% of our state budget) for possible loss of profits. Imagine the pressure of a lobby group whose combined income and assets dwarfs the state government!

Saturday’s tragedy proves the correctness of the decision of the state government. But vindication which comes after the loss of four lives and more homes is unspeakably bitter. There are some 5,000 residents living in the vicinity of the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide who face uncertainty and may have to vacate their homes.

We ask that developers stop pursuing and pressuring us to review our policy, and instead thoroughly go through every single technicality of their existing hillslope projects.

While Ikram and the Public Works Department are responsible for pinpointing the cause of the tragedy, the state government will immediately review all approved hillslope projects by the previous administration, whether standing or partially built.

Those where there is no construction yet but approved before March 8 should not be allowed to proceed, especially along the same range of Bukit Antarabangsa and Hulu Kelang – which should include Taman Hijau and Bukit Melawati.

We had come too late. Many of the hillslope projects have been standing for a number of years, some were half completed when we came into power. Without proper maintenance of slopes and drainage on these private lands, tragedy will strike after many years, always after the period of indemnity is over. Those areas shown to be prone to landslides such as in Hulu Kelang, where the Public Works Department had flashed its red card in 2005, more stringent conditions will be imposed on existing projects.

All developers and private land owners have to protect and reinforce their own hillslopes if they want to continue to prosper, own property and do business in Selangor. We recently received complaints from Ampang, Kajang, Cheras and Pandan where private landowners and developers have neglected to protect hillslopes and there are already signs of wear and tear. Some have used plastic sheets and some said they were bankrupt and don’t have the funds to repair their slopes. Whatever. If they do not do the necessary, we will blacklist them.

We ask that “people” be put ahead of “profits”.

We are heartened that finally, after eight months of battling the housing industry, the federal government has come to our side to give Selangor, both the moral and policy support it needs, with both the prime minister and deputy prime minister calling for all hillslope development permits to be cancelled.

We can only hope the federal government doesn’t forget Dec 6, 2008 - like what had happened to Highland Towers (1993); Taman Hillview (2002) and Kg Pasir (2006) - which was less than a kilometre from Saturday’s landslide. Lest the lives lost would be in vain.

The writer is assemblywoman for Bukit Lanjan and state executive councillor in charge of the environment. Comment:


telur dua said...

Here we go again. Life must be cheap in Malaysia.

GreenBug said...

It will take another major tragedy (landslide) and loss of many lives before we start the merry-go-round again... ban ... no ban... ban...