Friday, June 8, 2012

Pressure on Penang to rethink hillside projects

Business Times: Fri, Jun 08
THE Penang state government has come under increasing pressure to reconsider hillside development following a rise in such projects on the land-scarce island, with critics contending the practice is environmentally damaging and dangerous.

Rocketing property prices have compounded the issue, and developers maintain a ban on hillside development would hike prices further since it would restrict supply.

The dilemma, front-paged over the past two days by local daily The Star with headlines blaring "The dying hills" and "High-rising prices", underscores the popularity of the northern island to many locals as well as foreigners.

Due to the strong demand for housing, the state government recently announced a raising of the floor price on all property acquisitions by foreigners in Penang to above RM1 million (S$402,000) and landed properties on the island to above RM2 million effective July 1.

It is the first state to implement the new guidelines in the wake of concerns that more and more Penangnites are being priced out of the property market.

With developers mainly targeting higher-end buyers and foreigners, Penangnites find many of the housing projects beyond their reach, according to the Consumers Association of Penang vice-president Mohideen Abdul Kader.

Henry Butcher Penang in a report earlier this year cited the example of a 1970s-built double-storey terrace house costing RM450,000 in 2006 and RM850,000 five years later.

The island with its easy-going and colourful lifestyle - made more attractive in recent years by George Town's award of Unesco World Heritage site status - naturally attracts the most development. Construction is particularly focused on the north-eastern end.

As land becomes scarce, it has inched towards the hills, The Star counting at least nine projects believed to be in the works in Tanjung Bunga and Batu Feringghi along the north-east coast, Bukit Gambier near University Sains Malaysia in Gelugor, and Sungei Ara in the southwestern interior.

"They are not only building on the slopes, they are cutting into them," George Aeria, Tanjung Bunga Residents' Association chairman told The Star. Others point to the western side of the island where there is available space and flat land which with proper infrastructure would attract development.

Having helmed Penang since 2008 when it won the state polls, the Pakatan Rakyat-led government acknowledges it has approved hillside projects but maintains its approval is subject to scrutiny by the high-risk land development committee and more than 10 other relevant authorities.

Hillside development is approved only for land below 76 metres, a criteria Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng yesterday pointed out was more stringent than the other states. Mr Lim, who took exception to the daily's reports, observed similar real estate price increases in places such as Johor and the Federal Territory (Kuala Lumpur) under Barisan Nasional control had not received front-page treatment.

According to Penang state local government and traffic management committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow, developers who had obtained approval prior to 2007 are exempted from the 76-metres ruling.

He said the local councils would finalise their reports on hillside development approvals for submission to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government this week...
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Martin Koh/ Sherry Tang
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