KL suburbs take on City Hall in fight to save green lungs

Melati A. Jalil Tan Wan-Peng

Two women cycling at Taman Rimba Kiara in Taman Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. Residents at several suburbs, including TTDI, are pulling out all the stops to find a way to stop what they call unethical over-development of KL's green lungs. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Hasnoor Hussain, June 12, 2017.

A SUIT against Kuala Lumpur City Hall over losing a green lung in the affluent Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) area is being watched by residents in other Kuala Lumpur suburbs facing the same threat and unrestrained rise in population density.

It began year ago when TTDI residents discovered a City Hall notice which announced a mammoth development that would obliterate much of Taman Rimba Kiara. They were not taking that lying down. They have been demanding answers.

But what they have discovered was not pleasant: There was blatant disregard by City Hall for the preservation of Klang Valley’s last remaining green lung.

Two weeks after the RM3 billion project was made public on June 14, 2016, TTDI’s residents’ association submitted more than 5,000 signatures against the project, which would destroy the last few green lungs and public open spaces in the Klang Valley.

In August last year, residents’ representatives attended a public hearing and found out that in addition to a 29-storey block of an affordable housing flat, and eight blocks of high-end apartments on a 4.86ha land, a six-lane highway has been earmarked to cut through the leafy and affluent TTDI neighbourhood.

On May 7 this year, after its protests fell on deaf ears, the resident’s association announced it would sue City Hall to stop the project, which it claims is mired in secrecy and conflict of interest.

And this move is now being closely watched by other KL neighbourhoods facing the same problem.

The target of these affected neighbourhoods is Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, who has gone on record as saying he would not support the Kuala Lumpur Draft Plan (2020), which contains detailed plans for Kuala Lumpur including outlining public open spaces.

The plan was meant to be gazetted in 2012, but was later derailed when authorities claimed the plan was not feasible due to the difference in current land value, and the value at the time the plan was first drafted in 2007.

Tengku Adnan had opposed the plan, saying it would impede growth and development in the city.

City Hall has now abandoned the plan and is holding discussions for the draft Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2050 (DKLCP2050).

Two senior citizens chat while waiting for birds to appear in their camera viewfinder at Taman Rimba Kiara, TTDI, yesterday. - The Malaysian Insight pic by Hasnoor Hussain.

Residents at affected neighbourhoods in the Klang Valley are also planning to take City Hall to task over Pemandu’s National Transformation Programme annual report 2016 which emphasised the need for the Klang Valley to preserve its green, open spaces.

 “It is important for a growing metropolis like Greater Kuala Lumpur and Klang Valley, which is expected to reach a population of 10 million by 2020, to have sufficient green space for its residents,” the report said.

Taman Desa

Yap Biow Hwee, Taman Desa Residents’ Association vice-chairman, said in the last two years, six proposals for high-rise developments have been submitted to City Hall in the residential area located along Old Klang Road.

These projects will add about 3,900 units to a 37-year-old area with currently 40,000 residents.

The first proposal in mid-2015 was for a 48-storey condominium block on a steep slope. The land was privately owned and the project was shelved after residents protested against it.

But the proposals for new developments started again in mid-2016 with a 26-storey serviced apartment block to be built on a narrow piece of land next to a food court in Danau Desa.

Soon, another developer proposed a three-block of more than 40 stories behind three schools on a piece of TNB pylon land.

“A month after that, another proposal came in to build affordable housing on land which has a community hall. And the fourth proposal is a five-block condominium,” said Yap.

He said traffic in the area is already congested and water supply is an issue as old pipes are unable to bear the extra load of water supply.

Yap said out of the six proposals, five have gone to the public hearing stage but there is no news on the status of each proposed development.

“We told DBKL… there are these guidelines about proper living environment, green lungs and traffic. But they are ignoring the KL (Draft) Plan. It’s very wrong and upsets a lot of people.

“They are squeezing everything into our housing estate, squeezing infrastructure… they keep saying we need to build and develop so that they can get more revenue from assessments,” he said.

Taman Tiara Titiwangsa

In May, residents in Tiara Titiwangsa filed a judicial review to stop the proposed development of a three-block apartment in the area, which would increase the population density from 60 people per acre to 800.

Sylvester Navaratnam, a residents’ representative, said the apartments would rob the area of a community centre or football field, which first appeared in a road and drainage layout plan in 2005.

“The plan doesn’t conform to the neighbourhood. They (City Hall) don’t listen to us… they are just nodding their heads (at a meeting).”

The proposed residential project, comprising two 52-storey blocks (1,072 units) and 40-storey of affordable housing (460 units), is to be built on an empty plot now belonging to Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan.

This echoes the move at Taman Rimba Kiara, which was converted from public open space to commercial land (lot PT9244).

“This is government land… but we are complaining to people with vested interest,” Sylvester said of the futility of their protests.

Information from the Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM) shows that Tengku Adnan, his deputy, M. Loga Bala, and Kuala Lumpur mayor Mohd Amin Nordin Abd Aziz are directors of Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan, beneficiaries to these projects. 

Loss of green lungs

In Pemandu’s 2016 report, a total of 135,734 trees were reported to have been planted under the Greener KL initiative, exceeding the 100,000-tree target by 2020.

A study conducted by DBKL and the Federal Territories Ministry showed that the trees have resulted in a 64.9% increase in shaded area, equivalent to 1.22 million sq m, successfully reducing the surrounding temperature by 2.7%.

Children fly their kites at Taman Rimba Kiara in Kuala Lumpur. If over-development is not checked, residents are suburbs in the Klang Valley fear an end to the city's green lungs and public open spaces.

However, Treat Every Environment Special (TrEES) director Leela Panikkar said an independent study has shown a vastly contrasting picture.

She said KL has lost nearly 75% of its green areas in the last 20 years because of development.

A study conducted by the International Islamic University Malaysia’s Department of Architecture and Environmental Design comparing green areas to built-up areas in KL showed that the percentage of green areas in KL fell from 76.62% to 23.33% in two decades.

“Green lungs in KL are now fragmented and isolated,” Leela told The Malaysian Insight.

The decline started in 1990 until 2010 and the study showed that if no drastic action is taken, Kuala Lumpur will lose even more green space.

She said apart from the need to gazette green areas in Kuala Lumpur, a green steering committee, including stakeholders at all levels of society, should be set up to oversee the management of the city’s green lungs.

“There is a vital need to develop comprehensive acts, policies and guidelines to conserve and protect our green lungs.” – June 12, 2017.

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