THE Penang Hill cable car system will go on as planned, with Penang Hill Corporation (PHC) giving assurance that it won’t affect its Unesco Biosphere Reserve listing.
PHC general manager Datuk Cheok Lay Leng said the project would be carried out in compliance with the environmental standards.
The Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve (PHBR) is divided into three interrelated zones - Core area, Buffer zone and Transition area.
“The Penang Hill main tourist and summit areas are located within the Transition Area.
“This means economic activities that benefit the socio-economic development of local communities can continue and run parallel with conservation efforts,” he said.
Last week, the PHBR became the third Unesco Biosphere Reserve in the country after Tasik Chini in Pahang and Crocker Range in Sabah.
Spanning across 12,481ha, it encompasses three terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems.
It covers Penang Hill, Penang National Park, Penang Botanic Gardens, Teluk Bahang Dam, Ayer Itam Dam.
It also includes six permanent forest reserves: Bukit Kerajaan Forest Reserve, Teluk Bahang Forest Reserve, Laksamana Forest Reserve, Penara Hill Forest Reserve, Highlands Forest Reserve and Pantai Acheh Forest Reserve on top of several water catchment areas on Penang island.
Several quarters have since raised concerns over the proposed cable car project for fear it will affect the “listing status”.
To this, Cheok said many renowned national parks, nature reserves and even Unesco World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves around the world have cable car systems.
“The proposed cable car line is an alternative route for visitors to reach the hilltop, especially when the funicular train services are disrupted or have to undergo bi-annual maintenance.
“It will reduce the dependency on the current Penang Hill funicular services, which have a limited load capacity.
“It will also reduce the transport services through the Jeep track, thereby reducing vehicle loads, carbon emission and the need for road upgrades and maintenance,” he said.
Cheok said the cable car would allow visitors to further enjoy Penang Hill, as they would be treated to a bird’s-eye view of the nature and environment.
“The system is widely known as a green, environmentally sustainable and future proof public transportation system for hill resorts, terrestrial and urban areas.
“Cable cars run on electric power and have very low noise pollution.
“The construction of cable cars also does not require massive deforestation so this will not bring detrimental effects to the environment.
“There will be small footprints, with minimal number of towers built using the hand-dug method.
“The stations can also be designed with light weight structures,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sahabat Alam Malaysia president Meenakshi Raman said the group did not see the need for a cable car system.
She said the hilltop’s carrying capacity had been increased to 6,463 from 4,800 people at any one time under the revised Special Area Plan (SAP) for Penang Hill in 2020.
“If the state is going ahead with the cable car system, it will impact the hill.
“To protect its environmental integrity, you need to limit the number of people on the hill and not increase it.
“If the 4,800 people capacity is maintained, then we will not require a cable car system.
“The push for more tourism activities will surely impact the objective of maintaining it as a Biosphere Reserve.
“There is a clash of objectives. They should leave the hill alone and not degrade it,” she said.