Local plan to minimise disasters

Landslide again.

Last week we received another bad news whereby another landslide has happened that claimed another four lives.

At the end of 2017, the landslide at Granito development at Tanjung Bunga has caused 11 deaths while the Bukit Kukus landslide has claimed another 10. In recent years, it seems that landslides and floods have been increasing.

I believe that this is a sign that something is wrong with our development planning in our state. Are we planning for sustainable development or are we developing a city that does not look into our future?

How many more landslides, floods, natural disasters and deaths do we want to happen before we are aware of the consequences?

While the state is blaming the safety concerns of the development are not adhered to, probably we should re-think, is the safety concerns really the cause to blame for the landslides? Or do we look at the whole island’s local plan? 

The authorities has since said they will monitor and re-look into the cases of the natural disasters. But if we don’t attend to the root cause of all these problems, which is the local plan, the problems will still surface.

What are the local plans that we are talking about? 

If we are speaking of consequences that will happen directly to a person; imagine when you have bought a new condominium with a great view of nature only to have your view blocked by another high-rise several years later.

These are the consequences of the local government not having a local plan.

In a news report, former councillor Dr. Lim Mah Hui said that the MBPP had already approved the local plan just before he joined the council. But it has never been approved by the state and not gazetted at all. Only the state government will know why it has not gazetted.

The repercussion of not gazetting the local plan is there can be a lot of developments built that are not according to the guideline; well, that is because there is no gazetted guideline to be adhered to. 

Developers can basically lobby the council, lobby the state, the government to change the guideline or to approve “special permits” to develop according to the developer’s plan. Density can be changed, height limits changes, zoning and many other things are not technically bound by guideline anymore. If one who is familiar with these, you can notice that there are a lot of such “special developments” going on in Penang.

A structure plan consists of development policies and strategies about development and general use of land for the whole island. The policy and strategic suggestions in the structure plan will be translated in the local plan in the form of maps and written statements which include basic guidelines involving management aspects and development controls. 

Penang Island’s Structure Plan 2020 was gazetted on 28th June 2007.

If the structure plan was gazetted in 2007 and the draft local plan was passed by the MBPP in 2008, why wasn’t the local plan then passed by the state government and gazetted? The passing of the local plan has been postponed until today. It is 6 months before we reach the year 2020. The 2020 Structure Plan was gazetted and is almost expired already but the state hasn’t managed to pass the local plan?

A local plan is important as it can help to decrease the severity of the impact of environmental disasters such as floods and landslides. This is because planned infrastructure such as drainage, roads, energy supply, and buildings will mitigate against the effects of natural disasters. 

Besides that, climate change which has been getting more obvious in recent years might have also contributed to the change of our geology and therefore, it is important for us to take precautions to avoid more disasters.

But today when disasters happen, many tend to put the blame towards one party only, but when we understand how the local plan functions, we would understand how important it is to have such guidelines to prevent disasters. And how we should look at different angles and perspectives to build a sustainable city. 

For example when we look at landslides that happen at hillside developments, some may only debate on the height and gradient of the development, but people usually did not notice the importance of location of the land, the waterflow, the type of soil, and many other aspects to look at. 

The local plan is not only important now, it is urgent. The island has been governed for a decade without the passing of the local plan, and there are disasters happening at different corners of the island. Coincidentally, caused by nature or man-made. You determine. 

But I think humans are all responsible for the proper development of our city. Either we push for it, or we end up dying with it.