Public talks heading nowhere

A group of residents and fishermen gathering outside the State Assembly building to appeal for a review of the PTMP in this file photo.

VOCAL Penang Forum member Dr Lim Mah Hui is baffled by how the Transport Ministry could agree with having Light Rail Transit (LRT) trains for Penang.

He said the minister first indicated that the LRT might not be the best mode of transport when he was in Penang, but after a meeting between the state government and the ministry with Land Transport Public Commission (SPAD), the LRT plan is somehow on track again.

Penang Forum is against having an LRT here and so when Transport Minister Anthony Loke first expressed doubt in the LRT, members of this coalition of local NGOs whooped for joy.

But our politicians have a knack for making statements which need to be taken with a pinch of salt, and in the case of Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP), I think we may need a handful of it.

Call it Dr Lim’s optimism but did we ever consider that the PTMP comprising the Bayan Lepas LRT, Pan Island Link 1 (PIL 1), Penang South Reclamation as well as the three paired roads and undersea tunnel would not go ahead?

The state announced that SPAD and the Transport Ministry have given approval in principle for the LRT in Penang.

After much pressure from civil society groups and the public, the state held several briefings and two town hall sessions on the PTMP over the past two months.

I attended one on the PIL 1 at the SPICE Convention Centre and saw how badly the public discourse was organised.

The state had to be commended for giving a 20-minute slot to Penang Forum to present their case on why trams were better than LRT, something which had never happened before in the previous administration.

However, things fell apart when Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin, who was present at the town hall session, said she heard a bigger applause from the crowd supporting PTMP than those against the project.

Yeo did not offer much to allay fears of PIL 1, which would meander along roads near Penang Hill with a six-lane highway 30m above the City Park.

Neither did she go into specifics of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Report, leaving it to the Chief Minister and project consultants to handle it, saying she had a plane to catch.

Many who waited in line during the questions-and-answers session were disappointed when it was stopped with the excuse that it was getting late.

At another town hall session on the PTMP at the Dewan Sri Pinang last month, Tanjung Bungah Residents Association (TBRA) chairman Meenakshi Raman, a prominent activist, questioned the state government about how the North Coast Paired Road (NCPR) EIA Report was approved.

She asked how the project (one of the three paired roads) which is a 10.5km highway cutting through sensitive parts of Tanjung Bungah and Teluk Bahang, was given the green light by the Department of Environment (DoE).

In most of these sessions, I felt that the state was ill-equipped to answer, giving credence to accusations that the session was merely held for the record.

My hats off to Penangites who stand up against the LRT, PIL 1, tunnel and new roads. I respect them for being so dedicated in their mission to stop these. But I think it is futile.

How else would one conclude when the Chief Minister openly said many times that these projects would roll out in the first half of 2019?

The decision to go ahead has been made, and it is wishful thinking that the contrary can happen even if civil society forms human chains at the project sites.

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