THE sleepy town of Kepala Batas in North Seberang Prai, which is fast progressing as one of the country's biggest growth centres, is set to play an integral role at international level.
The area, spanning over 10,000ha encompassing Bertam, Penaga and Pinang Tunggal, has been earmarked to attain international recognition by 2010.
This birthplace of Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has come a long way since its rubber and oil palm days some 40 to 50 years ago.
Today, we have investments worth about RM2bil from both the public and private sectors, mainly for the development of the area's nerve centre Bertam Valley, under the 8th Malaysia Plan. We have targeted to transform Kepala Batas into a self-contained township at state-level by 2005 and later into a metropolis at national and international levels between 2010 and 2020, said North Seberang Prai district officer Datuk Abdul Ghani Ariffin.
In line with Abdullah's aspirations, Ghani said, Kepala Batas would be uniquely developed under a rural modernisation approach, which allowed residents to be involved in the development process without being marginalised.
Agricultural activities such as padi and livestock farming would be modernised using the latest science and technology applications to churn out better value-added yield. For example, we hope to produce 10 tonnes of padi yield per acre using modern methods, as currently being implemented at a few padi fields in Bumbung Lima and Penaga, he said.
Ghani said the district office was in the midst of negotiating with the Penang Regional Development Authority (Perda) and Bertam Properties Sdn Bhd to set up a value-added agriculture-based industry in Kepala Batas.
On plans to turn Kepala Batas into a medical city, he said, international researchers undertaking post-graduate studies and research work were expected to make the area their second home when Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) set up its RM600mil Advanced Medical Research and Dentistry Institute, thus putting Kepala Batas on the world map.
Ghani said the institute to be sited on 80ha was expected to attract more than 2,000 students and staff.
It will also house a 500-bed referral hospital, which will serve as a specialist centre for critical illnesses to cater to residents from southern Thailand and northern Sumatra, he said.
According to Ghani, apart from the new RM100mil Kepala Batas Hospital, a private company has been encouraged to set up a private medical college, which offers twinning degree programmes with foreign universities.
On promoting Kepala Batas as an education park, Ghani said that there were at present several institutions sited in the area the Penang Matriculation College in Pongsu Seribu, Mardi Research Institute in Bumbung Lima, Agriculture Institute in Bumbung Lima and National Productivity Corp (NPC) in Bertam.
He noted that the RM14mil Kepala Batas Community College had opened its doors early this year while the RM237mil Industrial Training Institute was expected to be operational by early next year.
Some 12ha have been recently acquired for Mara to set up a Mara Junior Science College branch campus at RM40mil. Besides that the Education Ministry is planning to set up a multi-disciplinary boarding school on a 12-ha land at RM40mil, which is touted to be the first of its kind in the country, he said.
In addition to the newly opened Sekolah Kebangsaan Bertam Indah and Sekolah Menengah Bertam Indah in Taman Bertam Indah, Ghani said, a primary and secondary school would soon be set up in south Bertam.
He also noted that a proposed site for Universiti Terbuka Malaysia's (Unitem) northern region centre had also been identified.
In terms of housing and commercial space, Ghani said, several developers had given their commitment to turn Kepala Batas into a modern city, especially within the 1,600ha Bertam Valley.
Bertam Perdana undertaken by Bertam Properties Sdn Bhd will be the main development flagship in Bertam Valley, covering a total of 1,500ha. The company has to date developed about 400ha of the land and is in the midst of completing some 2,000 housing units. The other project Bandar Putra Bertam, which is jointly being developed by Hunza Properties Bhd and Yayasan Bumiputra Pulau Pinang, covers some 280ha and is expected to create 3,000 housing and commercial units, he said.
Ghani said that also in the pipeline was the Bandar Bertam Selatan mixed development project with 1,500 housing units as well as the Bertam Industrial Park.
On administration and infrastructure, he said, a mini Putrajaya was fast taking shape in Kepala Batas with physical development proposed by the Penang government and the private sector over the next five years.
Some 60ha are now being developed here to house the district's administrative centre, which will centralise major government offices, including the North Seberang Prai district office, he said.
Among the buildings currently operational at the mini Putrajaya are the RM25mil Dewan Milenium, RM15mil MPSP Sports Complex, RM100mil Kepala Batas Hospital, a Public Works Department engineering office and Wisma Umno.
Other proposed projects at the administrative centre include a RM40mil district police contingent headquarters, a RM14.5mil Federal Government complex (to house 15 government departments), a RM3mil library, a Penang Water Supply Corp (PBA) Sdn Bhd building, an Education Department complex, a National Unity and Development Ministry caring complex, a Yayasan Budi Penyayang building, a Survey and National Mapping De- partment building, and a Fire and Rescue Services Department building.
Ghani said the majority of the government offices were expected to move to the area by 2005.
A RM25mil Petty Traders Complex ala Pekan Rabu will also be set up by next year, providing a decent venue for some 100 traders.
On recreation, Ghani said that the Kepala Batas Vision Park, a RM10mil man-made wetlands covering about 40ha, would be constructed near the lush greenery of the Penang Golf Resort.
The park, which will be on a smaller scale compared to the one in Putrajaya, will have a jogging track, herb garden, boating facilities a cable ferry, a mosque and a promenade.
The lake would also function as a retention pond to trap rain water for agriculture use, Ghani said, adding that the ongoing RM360mil Muda River flood mitigation project was expected to help promote better water flow during the rainy season.
He said that a consultant had been recently appointed to study another flood mitigation project, the Kepala Batas-Bertam flood mitigation plan, which was badly needed to cope with the rapid development in Kepala Batas.
Ghani also said that the Pinang Tunggal Bridge and Merdeka Bridge would soon be reconstructed and upgraded to further enhance accessibility within Kepala Batas, in addition to the services provided by the North-South Highway.