What will happen to our island, Penang folk ask as mega-projects kick off

Looi Sue-Chern

Akbar Ali Khan's sole concern is that his family stall remains open and predicts that business will improve when the traffic congestion is solved. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Afif Abd Halim, January 7, 2019.

AMID calls by some of Penang’s vocal civil society groups against mega-projects in the state, residents are split, with some supportive of the infrastructure projects while others wonder how life will change once they are completed.

From this year, construction will begin on some Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) road components.

The first will be the Air Itam-Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu bypass in the first quarter, followed by the North Coast Pair Road from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang, and the Persiaran Gurney-Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu bypass in due time. 

All three roads have passed their environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports to proceed.

In the pipeline are other projects – a light rail transit (LRT) linking Komtar in George Town and the Penang International Airport in Bayan Lepas, and the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) to create three man-made islands off the southern coast of Penang island.

While groups have questioned the rationale of building more roads and warned of environmental degradation, there are Penangites who believe these projects are essential for the state’s progress and to address current traffic congestion.

Akbar Ali Khan, 59, who runs a roadside stall in George Town, said it would be better than getting stuck in traffic jams daily. He travels to his stall from Sg Dua, which is south of the city.

“The new developments don’t worry me. I just hope the local council doesn’t decide one day that I can’t do business by the road any more,” he said of the stall selling breakfast and lunch, which has been in business for 66 years and inherited from his father.

“Our stall has survived all these years, serving breakfast and lunch. I think business can be better.”

Signboard maker Kok Ah Wah says his century-old business will survive despite progress in George Town. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Afif Abd Halim, January 7, 2019.

Chinese signboard maker Kok Ah Wah, 78, echoed Akbar’s view, saying the projects were positive developments for Penang and did not think they would hurt his trade, which is recognised as a heritage trade within George Town’s Unesco world heritage site.

“My shop is more than 100 years old. My father opened it. I started working with him when I was 16. My children will take over from me.

“We still have demand for these signboards today. I think the shop can survive,” he said at his Lebuh Queen shop.

A wholesaler, who only wanted to be known as Ah Loon, cited developments in other countries and said Penang needed them as well.

“All advanced countries build more roads and have urban rail systems,” he said, adding that “logically”, these would make life in Penang better in time to come.

Ah Loon, in his 40s, acknowledged that some sacrifices, like tearing down old buildings to make way for the projects, are unavoidable.

This might alter Penang’s charm in the future, but the government should give reasonable compensation to those who had to sacrifice, he added.

“We cannot prevent or stop progress. We are already progressing slowly if we compare ourselves to China and Singapore.”

Ah Loon believed that Penang’s slower pace of growth was because “we are too democratic, wanting to hear everybody’s opinion”.

“We won’t be able to grow well without better infrastructure. When the economy is good, the people will prosper and have enough to eat. Then everyone will be alright,” the businessman said.

The Persiaran Gurney reclamation work has altered the physical landscape with complaints that the sea is no longer visible. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, January 7, 2019.

Cost of progress

Those more concerned about the environment and Penang’s famed scenery tended to reflect the views of groups that have taken the state government to task on the new mega-projects.

Cafe owner Ang Kean Thye, 45, questioned the effectiveness of building more roads to solve traffic congestion.

“I think the projects will definitely be bad for the environment, especially the proposed (PSR) reclamation.

“Look at the ongoing Gurney reclamation. You can’t see the sea any more,” he said, referring to the 307ha Sri Tanjung Pinang II reclamation in front of Persiaran Gurney.

Ang, who lives in the inner city, is also worried that overdevelopment in Penang would cause more flash floods when it rained heavily.

“Growing up in Penang, we knew some areas would flood, but not so many areas like today.”

But he also said the developments “won’t be totally bad or all good” as the state still had to solve traffic congestion and improve public transport.

Ang Kean Thye is opposed to the building of more roads, saying that they will not solve the problem of traffic congestion. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Afif Abd Halim, January 7, 2019.

Penang and Province of Wellesley Cafe Association chairman Tan Kar Seong asked if the infrastructure projects would end up making things more expensive and whether the projects would help people handle the high cost of living.

“The concern is whether people’s livelihoods will improve. We are in an age where the economy can easily be disrupted. The years ahead will be tough,” he told The Malaysian Insight.

The coffee shop industry, Tan said, was seeing hard times in Penang due to high rent and other costs.

Customers have also started to grumble about the high prices.

“Many don’t realise we are not making profit, having to pay RM1,000 to RM2,000 on utilities, and RM3,000 to RM4,000 on rent, apart from other costs.”

Tan also said building more elevated highways would not solve traffic jams for good.

“If only we had built a subway system in Penang decades ago. We could be using it now. I don’t know why the politicians didn’t want to consider it years ago.” – January 7, 2019.

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  • Development is good for the future generation of Penangites!

    Posted 5 years ago by Jordan Lee · Reply

  • The Gurney reclamation makes no sense until today. The value of a beach is priceless and bodes well for tourism too. Honestly, Penang is boring even for a weekend getaway.

    Posted 5 years ago by K Pop · Reply