SOME 10 years ago, the residents of my neighbourhood in Ampang Jaya found out that a high-rise condominium project was set to be built on a plot of vacant land nearby.
A notice board stating the type of development went up one day without any announcement in any other form. It was by chance a jogger saw the board and snapped a picture of it.
In an area that mostly comprised old terrace houses and where the tallest buildings were four-storey walk-up apartments, you could imagine the news of this proposed tower was not welcomed by the community.
While there were those who were fine with the new project, most were dead set against it.
Increased traffic, lack of infrastructure and environmental destruction were some of the arguments expressed for why the project was not a good fit for the area.
Upon further checks with Ampang Jaya Municipal Council, it was discovered that the landowner was well within their rights to build as it fulfilled the required conditions and guidelines.
Although the site had not been developed for many years, it had been earmarked for a higher density development since it was gazetted in the area’s local plan in 2011.
This was an eye-opener for many who had not even been aware of a local plan, much less its importance.
Simply put, a local plan details the land use, zoning type and planned developments in a particular municipality by the local authority.
The planning process includes managing physical development as well as planning ahead for future growth and development.
Economic, environmental and social needs are also taken into consideration alongside physical development.
The purpose of the plan is also to ensure sustainability and balance population density in proximity to transport hubs with the need for recreational spaces, infrastructure upgrades, schools and other considerations.
There are many processes that go into preparing and eventually gazetting the local plan.
But most significantly, part of the process requires public participation by residents, businesses and other stakeholders.
When an amendment or replacement of the local plan is proposed by a local authority, they must also allow for feedback from the public in accordance with the Town & Country Planning Act 1976.
It is worth taking the time and effort to study the proposed plan because after all, we will have to live with the consequential impact of any new developments or changes.
Without meaningful public participation at the planning stage, there is bound to be conflict and friction when it comes to the implementation stage down the line.
As a community, we are the best advocate for what our neighbourhood needs and have a deeper understanding of plans that may be unsustainable.
In most cases, any objections against new developments brought up after the fact typically leads to very little change, as long as it is consistent with the planning policies detailed in the local plan.
This is not to say that there is no further recourse, but the battle becomes that much harder as the development conditions have been met.
So, for instance, if a group of local residents object to a building during the planning application process, the objection will only normally hold weight if it points to policies that are not being met.
This situation is one we increasingly encounter, an almost unavoidable cost of urban expansion.
Public participation in the planning process allows citizens to voice their needs and expectations. It ensures that decisions made are well-informed, with input from the wider population.
It is important to take an interest in what goes on where you live, including its future growth.
We cannot afford to become riled up only when the matter affects our “backyards” or rely on a dedicated few to fight these battles.
Participating in the draft plan process is one of the best and biggest opportunities we have as citizens to be actively involved on a larger scale and exercise our rights.
However, we do not need to solely wait to participate in the local plan process as there are other ways citizens can get involved.
Even joining your local residents associations or similar groups can be influential to the decision-making process in the long run.
Attend a few community meetings and you will realise that there are many different ways you can contribute effectively.
Meanwhile, for the folks in Ampang Jaya, the draft local plan is now on public display until June 29, outlining the planned developments in MPAJ’s jurisdiction for the next 15 years.
For the first time, the draft plan is also available for viewing online as well as several roadshows planned where you can view the plan in person.
It will be a great loss if we do not make full use of this chance to participate in a process that does not come around too often.