GEORGE TOWN: Penang, with its unique and idyllic landscape, boasting of beautiful seafront and spectacular views from lush green hills to scenic coastline has been attracting not only tourists but foreign investors.
Many have chosen Penang as their top holiday destination, an ideal place to call home or simply as an investment hub.
This is thought to be among the reasons Penang has been coming up with many new development projects to cater to the increasing demand, a boost to the state’s economy.
Earlier this year, it was reported that the south-west district of Penang island will attract RM20 billion worth of new residential and commercial projects over the next five to 10 years.
Large scale developments for luxury properties such as condominiums and bungalows have been planned in areas such as Balik Pulau, Teluk Kumbar, Pulau Jerejak, Sungai Ara and Bayan Lepas.
It has also been reported that the projects will be developed over a five-year period until year 2022.
However, all is not rosy as environmentalists and nature lovers, while not entirely against the idea of development, asserted that there should be a balance between nature conservation and development.
“While the state government is doing a good job in developing Penang, the same cannot be said on keeping Penang as a green state.
“Of course the state government should be lauded for not having touched the five per cent forest reserve in the state but that doesn’t mean efforts on preserving and conserving should end there.
“Perhaps the whole idea of what a green state should be is beyond planting just some flower bushes in the streets; we’re looking at sustainable greens meaning planting trees that will benefit the environment as a whole,” Malaysia Nature Society (MNS) Penang chapter adviser D. Kanda Kumar told Malaysia Outlook.
He cited examples such as the types of trees with large and sturdy roots that will grasp the earth, making it less prone to erosion.
“There is no use planting even ten thousand trees but it all depends on where they are planted and which type is planted; whether or not it can benefit the environment and not just something pretty to look at,” he pointed out.
He said it was high time the state government used tax money to gazette for land to be turned into forest reserve, an initiative that could well be taken up by the state government and also developers, “instead of just coming up with mega projects”.
An environmental awareness group, the Chant Group echoes this thought, asserting that instead of coming up with modernisation plans for the state, the Penang state government should first look into the importance of saving the environment.
“However the lack of enforcement has made certain parts of Penang easy targets for illegal land clearing,” the group’s spokesperson Peter Wong said.
“Let’s take a look at parts of Teluk Bahang, Balik Pulau, Sungai Ara, Teluk Kumbar and even Penang Hill.
“Behind all the ‘greens’ one would like you to see, there are the ugly bald patches of illegal land clearing for farming and vegetation, and this doesn’t even include development projects yet, more often than not to build luxury homes and bungalows.
“What is worrying is the fact that these housing developments are planned to be built on sensitive hill land – that is, land with more than 250 feet (76 metres) above sea level and a gradient exceeding 25 degrees… this is a place where all the greens and trees protecting the environment grow,” he said.
“They should look at this matter instead of promoting short term campaigns such as the Cleaner Greener Penang project when the core of the matter is not addressed.
“Sure, it’s good to try to make people use less plastic bags and charge them 20sen for it but how is that going to tackle a more pertinent issue which is illegal land clearing to make way for farming and development?
“Of course some of the land belong to private owners and there’s sadly nothing much we can do about it. If only those land are bought up to be turned into forest reserve,” Wong added.
Penangites especially those living in areas undergoing development can’t help but feel a sense of loss as they reminisce the past of swimming in the rivers, climbing up trees, looking for fruits or just running around being carefree.
For Mohammad Ikhwan Ibrahim, 27, a University Sains Malaysia (USM) Landscape Architecture student, visits to Balik Pulau now leave him with mixed feelings.
“Although I don’t live in Balik Pulau, I bring many of my foreign university mates there over the past few years since I started studying here,” he told Malaysia Outlook.
Mohammad Ikhwan, who produced a video on the issue in Balik Pulau said he felt nostalgic about the area as it used to be a remote and tranquil village, with locals minding about their daily lives.
“Sadly nowadays it has turned into a tourist spot and residential area targeting middle to high income people who also wish to enjoy the natural landscape.
“Unfortunately their residential areas are built on hillslopes which means trees had to be cut. I remember coming here to swim in the rivers not too long ago but now I can’t do that anymore due to pollution, except for one or two.
“In my video I spoke to locals here and they expressed disappointment that despite attempts to discuss the matter with the authorities about rapid development (in Balik Pulau), nothing much is being done,” he added.
A Balik Pulau resident, Nurazlind Ruslan, 34, lamented that there are fewer durian trees in Balik Pulau now to make way for new development projects.
“Every corner you turn in Balik Pulau, you see new buildings coming up and suddenly the once lush and green area has now become another township,” she said.
Last month, a DAP assemblyman who is known for his strong stand on environmental issues, Teh Yee Cheu expressed concern over the issue.
He admittedly said that the diminishing of greenery was not something new as it had started in the 1980s but has become more aggressive over the past ten years.
Teh’s remark echoed that of veteran DAP leader Dr Tan Seng Giaw who pointed out during his recent visit to Balik Pulau that the greenery in the area was slowly diminishing along with the changing coastline. – MO