Grand reclamation plan set to reshape Gurney Drive

GEORGE TOWN: The physical appearance of north-eastern Penang island is set to be radically altered, according to a massive plan to reclaim 360.57 hectares (891 acres) off Gurney Drive which was made public last Saturday.

With this, a new kidney-shaped island measuring some 307.56 ha (760 acres) will emerge from the sea directly in front of Straits Quay.

The present Gurney Drive will be pushed further out by about 80m to 100m by reclaiming 53.01 ha (131 acres) from the sea and a “Gurney Drive Linear Park” built on the new foreshore.

Two bridges will be built to the reclaimed island, one from Straits Quay and the other from Gurney Drive.

The development is dubbed Seri Tanjung Pinang Phase II (STP 2). It is a continuation of the existing 240-acre Seri Tanjung Pinang Phase I (where Straits Quay is located) along the reclaimed coast of Tanjung Tokong.

The project is being undertaken by Tanjung Pinang Development Sdn Bhd in which the state government has a share.

The company is jointly owned by E&O Property (Penang) with a 78.8% stake and the Penang government with 21.2%. E&O Property is a subsidiary of Eastern and Oriental Bhd (E&O).

The plan was unveiled during a public hearing last Saturday. Heading the panel was E&O managing director Datuk Terry Tham.

Also present was the director of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Climate Change, Prof Dr Sharifah Mastura Syed Abdullah, who is a lead consultant for STP 2’s detailed environmental impact assessment (DEIA) study.

Inevitably, the scale of this project raised numerous concerns.

Changes to tides and ecosystem

One big worry is whether the project would worsen the tidal changes along Gurney Drive which have already resulted in ugly mud flats along the coast.

The deterioration of the sea here over the last few years is largely attributed to the earlier Tanjung Tokong reclamation where Seri Tanjung Pinang’s first phase was developed.

Sharifah Mastura said the current poor water quality in the surrounding areas will be improved with faster and direct discharge of water to the straits-like channel between Penang island and the new reclaimed island.

She said there will be improvement of water quality at the main drain outlet at Gurney Drive. Also, going right through the man-made island is a hydraulically engineered canal for flushing.

But the dredging activities for the channel certainly will dislodge existing seabed materials, affect the marine habitat and undersea organisms, she acknowledged.

(The dredged material will be disposed 20km off Muka Head on the north-western tip of Penang island.)

Impact on  inshore fishermen

Sharifah Mastura said the reclamation process will introduce “fill materials” that will smother existing mudflats, as well as seabed and aquatic fauna.

(Sand for the reclamation work will be sourced from the sea 200km offshore from Lumut.)

She described the environmental and socio-economic impact, especially on local fishermen, as “major trade-offs”.

About 470 fishermen — from Tanjung Tokong, Gurney Drive, Pantai Paramount and Bagan Jermal — are expected to be impacted by the project.

The loss of fishing ground means they have to travel further to alternative grounds, Sharifah Mastura said.

Tham told the gathering that he would bring up the matter of helping the affected fishermen to the E&O’s board of directors and shareholders.

Possible help that can be given include compensation, developing new areas in the sea for aquaculture, and identifying new sea areas for fishing.

Features of the project

According to the fact sheet for the STP2 project, it is targeted to have about 12,000 homes, with 32% low-rise (less than four storeys), 45% medium-rise (five to 10 storeys) and 23% high-rise (more than 10 storeys).

Affordable housing will account for 30% of the total.

The project will also feature 28.45 sq ft of mixed-use commercial space. These include retail offices, service apartments, a tourism hub with seafront promenade, museum and marina, and also commercial offices.

There are plans for 35.6 ha (88 acres) of open space on the reclaimed island, with an additional 20.23 ha (50 acres) at Gurney Drive, and 12km along the coastline of the reclaimed island.

The total reclaimed land of 360.57 ha also includes 20% set aside as government reserve.

It is understood that half of this reserve is being eyed to be used for the Penang Outer Ring Road.

Public amenities to be built will include two schools, one private and another public; places of worship, a police station, a fire station, medical centre and clinics, a promenade, and park-and-ride facilities.

Impact assessment and public feedback

The project obtained approval-in-principal (AIP) from the Penang government in April 2011 for the proposed reclamation of 307.56 ha (760 acres) of the STP2.

Before the proposed reclamation works commence, a detailed environmental impact assessment  (DEIA) is required to be conducted and approved by the Department of Environment.

The public dialogue is part of the DEIA approval process.

After the dialogue, feedback from the public will be compiled and incorporated into the DEIA.

The developer will then need to respond to the DEIA’s expert panel on the public feedback.

The panel will hold a review before a decision is made.

Meanwhile, the DEIA report that includes feedback from the public dialogue will be on display for 45 days beginning Oct 1. The public can submit their feedback and questions within this period.

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This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on August 27, 2013.



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