Special Report Penang Property: Zooming in on Seberang Perai - From oil palm estate to new hot spot

FORMERLY known as Batu Kawan, this old oil palm estate used to belong to its namesake, Batu Kawan Bhd (BKB), before the state government gazetted the land under the Land Acquisition Act 1960 in 1990. Following a lengthy legal tussle, BKB was awarded RM15,000 per acre instead of the earlier RM8,167 per acre. BKB’s attempts to raise the  compensation to RM40,000 per acre was thrown out by the Federal Court in 2001 on the grounds that RM15,000 per acre was enough compensation for agriculture land with “remote potentiality” for development.

Fast forward 13 years later and this is clearly not the case. While the place remains largely swathed in oil palm trees with a few homes visible at the fringe, massive changes are in store.  These homes are part of the 3,000 units built by the Penang Development Corporation (PDC), the master developer, mostly for those affected by land acquisition and development, in addition to an international stadium, seafood restaurant, school, reservoir and the Batu Musang jetty.

For starters, PDC has earmarked 6,400 acres in Batu Kawan for a township called Bandar Cassia and has drawn up a master plan. “The development components of Bandar Cassia are housing, commercial, leisure and tourism, institutional, golf resort, theme park medical, educational centre, hotels, parks and all the infrastructure, amenities and facilities required by the investors, workers and residents under this live, work and play concept,” PDC general manager Datuk Rosli Jaafar tells City & Country.

Residential and industrial precincts will coexist. The biggest catalyst of this development is the second Penang bridge, or the Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah Bridge, which was opened in March. It connects Bandar Cassia with Batu Maung on the island.

“With the second Penang Bridge in place, PDC strongly believes that Bandar Cassia will grow by leaps and bounds, and the township can be  developed within 15 years,” says Rosli.

“The development of Bandar Cassia started in 1990, immediately after PDC completed the land acquisition exercise. Since then, the master plan has been updated and aligned to respond to the economic environment and changing demand.”

Due to the two rivers that separate the township from the mainland, water features are an important aspect of the development, which is obvious in the master plan. “Another important principle adopted when PDC designed Bandar Cassia is the preservation of natural features such as mangroves, hill areas and rivers,” Rosli says.

“PDC will work with the investors and businesses to enhance the value of these natural products to achieve a sustainable and balanced development. This is to ensure that these areas are developed with minimal intervention and with adequate and effective mitigation measures.”

In terms of accessibility, Bandar Cassia is a 30-minute drive along the North-South Expressway and Batu Kawan Expressway to Penang Port. It only takes 45 minutes to drive to George Town via the first Penang bridge, while the Bayan Lepas International Airport on the island is only 30 minutes away via the second Penang bridge. In addition, at the northwestern tip of the township is the Batu Musang jetty, which is used by ferries servicing Pulau Aman.

Investment catalysts

Some of the significant developments in Bandar Cassia include IKEA, Penang Designer Village, University of Hull, KDU University College and Penang International Technology Park. Also in the pipeline are an international theme park and a golf resort, while other recreational elements to enhance livability include a sports complex, water sports centre, mangrove park and wellness and spa village.

According to Rosli, KDU University College and University of Hull plan to set up schools of engineering, accountancy, law, business studies and logistics in Bandar Cassia.

“PDC is working closely with investPenang to promote the Batu Kawan Industrial Park in order to attract high-technology and skills-intensive industries to the area. Besides the industrial park, the other development components that can create more job opportunities for the people in Bandar Cassia are commercial, institutional, education and tourism,” he says.

“Penangites have waited for many years for IKEA to open for business. Penang is now proud that it has chosen Batu Kawan as its new base in the northern region. IKEA’s presence is a boost for PDC in its efforts to make Batu Kawan a more attractive place for all to live, learn, work and play.

“Another important project in the pipeline is the premium shopping centre Penang Designer Village, which will be another booster. All these will offer lots of business and leisure activities to the locals, besides attracting tourists from neighbouring states and foreign countries.”

He says PDC is expecting 250,000 people to live in Bandar Cassia. In view of this, some 50,000 homes will be built to cater for all strata of society. They include 11,800 units of affordable housing — 3,372 low-medium cost apartments and 8,428 medium-cost apartments — to be built over 15 years. According to PDC, affordable homes are priced at RM250,000 on the mainland. PDC plans to launch the first phase, comprising 149 low-medium cost apartments and 371  medium-cost apartments, this month.

For residential properties, the average density is around 50 units per acre. To cater for the targeted population, PDC aims to have up to 170 million sq ft of commercial space with an average plot ratio of 3:1 in Bandar Cassia.

“The provision of the infrastructure, amenities and public facilities is based on a population of 250,000 and 170 million sq ft of commercial floor space,” he says.

Besides residential and commercial properties, Bandar Cassia will also feature the 831-acre Batu Kawan Industrial Park (BKIP) in the south. According to Rosli, earthworks for east BKIP (436 acres) have been completed while that for west BKIP (395 acres) is being carried out.

“With a view to promote local small and medium-sized enterprises, phase one of the SME Village will be located in the BKIP,” he says.

Phase one comprises four semi-detached factory buildings, 40 terraced factory buildings and 27 factory lots. The factory buildings are under construction. Phase two, which comprises a service centre, will commence construction soon.

As Bandar Cassia is considered a greenfield site, the ground must be raised above the flooding level before development. The township will be divided into catchments with different development platform levels and land earmarked for monsoon drains to prevent floods.

PDC is now building a number of roads to improve connectivity inside and outside Bandar Cassia. The Bandar Cassia Highway will linked to the second Penang bridge via a cloverleaf flyover within the township. PDC is also building Persiaran Cassia 2 and Lingkaran Cassia Selatan, to the west of BKIP. Up for completion in the second quarter of the year are Persiaran Cassia Selatan 3 and Lingkaran Cassia Selatan.

Besides roads, Bandar Cassia will also provide footpaths and bicycle lanes as well as public transport to connect to centres of activity such as workplaces, parks, service centres  and other neighbourhoods, says Rosli.

“To enhance the connectivity of people, PDC will encourage friendly linkages of buildings through verandahs, linear parks and footpaths. In the design of roads, pedestrians and cyclists will be separated from motor vehicles.”

Bandar Cassia is currently served by 900mm water mains and a reserve reservoir with a 10 million gallon capacity.

Electricity supply to the industrial areas is currently at 33kV, but this can be upgraded to 132kV if required by the industry or development. Rosli says Tenaga Nasional Bhd has begun work on the main intake substation on a 21-acre site, which will be connected to the national grid.  This substation will supply power to Bandar Cassia at 275kV.

The township will have at least four sewage treatment plants, which will be built in modules, with an ultimate capacity of 100,000 population equivalent.

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on April 21 - 27, 2014.


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