Forest Reserve to be degazetted for housing project?


A public hearing to obtain feedback on a proposal to degazette a part of the Bukit Lagong Forest Reserve in Gombak for a housing development project is under-way. The 30-day hearing will allow stakeholders in the Gombak district to voice their objections to the proposal, of the degazettement of the 28.3ha near the fringe of the permanent forest reserve.

The Star reports that a notice was placed in major dailies on Nov 23, by the Selangor Forestry Department, inviting stakeholders to provide their feedback.

The Public Inquiry (Selangor) Rules 2014, and the National Forestry Act (Adoption) Enactment 1985 requires the placement of notice before a forest reserve can be degazetted.

The reserve in question, the Bukit Lagong Forest Reserve is located close to the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) in Kepong and stretches over 3,624.1ha.

Proposed plans that are displayed at the Selangor Forestry Department office in Shah Alam detail that a housing development could be located on land between the two residential areas of Taman Amansuria and Templer Hills, a strip of land that is just 2km away from the forest reserve’s recreational area of Taman Rimba Bukit Lagong and Kampung Orang Asli Bukit Lagong.

The daily cites three instances where degazettement of forest reserve was done to make way for the construction of the East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE), Sungai Besi-Ulu Klang Highway (SUKE) project, as well as 3.4ha of the Bukit Cherakah Forest Reserve for the Damansara-Shah Alam Elevated Expressway (DASH) project.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Selangor vice-chairman Wong Ee Lynn was quoted as saying that the degazettement could set a bad precedent.

“What then is there to stop further encroachment into the forest? They could reason that there is already existing infrastructure and amenities so it would be easier to build,” she said.

The daily cites an earlier statement where Wong says that any proposed development in an ecologically sensitive area with high conservation and high biodiversity value would adversely affect more than just people living in the immediate vicinity of the site.

“While the Selangor government’s action of calling for feedback and opening the proposed development for public inspection is an encouraging indication of greater transparency and participatory democracy, it must be emphasised that the opinion of the citizens, engineering professionals, and scientific and conservation community must also be taken into account, whether or not they have locus standi to object to the proposed development.

“The clearing of forests for roads and construction will increase air and water pollution and the risk of soil erosion and landslides. The destruction of watershed areas will affect the entire state’s water supply and quality.

“The opening up of access roads will create access not only for construction vehicles, but also illegal loggers, poachers and wildlife traffickers,” she said in the statement.

Wong says that the Bukit Lagong development project should be immediately scrapped.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president S.M. Mohamed Idris said in a statement cited by the daily, that the Bukit Lagong proposal contravened one of the main strategies of the Selangor Forestry Department, which is to maintain existing permanent forest reserves and increase its area.

“It also contravenes the goals and targets of the Peninsular Malaysia Forestry Department to achieve five million hectares of permanent forest reserves cover in peninsular Malaysia.

“Maintaining the existing hectarage of all forest reserves in the Klang Valley is of paramount importance because the forests here play a role in balancing the physical development with natural surroundings,” he was quoted as saying.

The daily reports that Selangor Forestry Department director Datuk Dr Mohd Puat Dahalan said: “Part of the process is to carry out a public inquiry calling for public’s input to voice their opinions and suggestions.

“Even if there is a proposal to degazette one hectare of forest reserve land, we have to call for a public hearing,” he said.

Explaining the process, he said that once feedback was collected, a public hearing would be called within 30 days of the expiry of notice, with the stakeholders.

“This will then be brought to the Selangor Economic Action Council (MTES) that is chaired by the state mentri besar,” Dr Mohd Puat said.

He also explained that should forest reserve area be excised, adjacent land would have to be acquired to replace the forest reserve land on a one-to-one basis.

“This means that the party that acquires the land would have to acquire adjacent land that is equal to or larger in size than the excised land.

“The land will then be handed back to the state to be gazetted as forest reserve,” he said.

According to Dr Mohd Puat, Selangor is the only state that requires public hearings prior to degazetting forest reserve. 

“We are following the rules and procedures that have been set in place, which allows concerned citizens to voice out before any action is taken to excise the land,” he said.

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