On track to protect Mother Nature

PEKA Malaysia president Datuk Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil (second left) having a press conference with members of NGOs protesting the development of two hotels on Penang Hill.

PEKA Malaysia president Datuk Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil (second left) having a press conference with members of NGOs protesting the development of two hotels on Penang Hill.

CHIEF Minister Chow Kon Yeow was berated by several NGOs after an online news report quoted him as saying that two hotels would be built on Penang Hill.

From spoiling the ambience and charm of the state icon to concerns over soil erosion and possibility of landslides, the NGOs had a field day in a no-holds barred press conference last week.

It began with Chow being quoted as saying one of the hotels would be located behind the Convalescent Bungalow, while the other one along the slopes near the cafe in Coolie Line (Strawberry Valley) at the hilltop.

He was even quoted as saying that the hotel would be built higher than what is set out in the Penang Hill Special Area Plan 2016.

Then all hell broke loose.

Imagine having a 200-room hotel behind the bungalow, while another one to be built on slopes.

I, for one, was worried too.

When Penang was inundated by excessive rains and major floods last Nov 4 and 5, Penang Hill was not spared.

More than 300 landslides occurred. Huge boulders, fallen trees and debris were everywhere, cutting off access roads.

The funicular train service was disrupted for two months.

Then it dawned upon me that the Penang Hill Corporation (PHC), tasked to oversee and undertake projects to revive tourism activities on the hill, would be more worried than anybody else if developments deemed detrimental to the environment were allowed.

The reason is simple. PHC, together with volunteers and government agencies, took 51 days to help the colonial hill resort recover from the damage caused by over 319 landslides.

With no road access, some of them put on the ‘Phua Chu Kang’ boots to clear tonnes of earth that fell onto the Penang Hill funicular railway track with just wheelbarrows.

Don’t you think they fear landslides more than anybody else?

In order to find out more, I went to the sites of the two proposed projects.

Call it run down, dilapidated or in a state of neglect. These are my views upon seeing the 13 buildings at the Coolie Line.

Previously, the 1.6ha site used to house quarters of Tenaga Nasional Bhd, Public Works Department and Keretapi Bukit Bendera. There used to be a community who stayed here.

For those who have been to the rooftop of the food court on the hill, just peer down and one will get to see the Coolie Line.

The overgrowth, old buildings and ruins are an eyesore.

But if you look afar, the view is splendid and magnificent. One can even see Pulau Jerejak at the far end.

Seeing the Convalescent Bungalow, which is about a 15- minute walk away, was another eye-opener.

One of the oldest bungalows on Penang Hill, the place once a convalescence home to British officials during the colonial era.

Clearly, these two places need a facelift.

And it is certainly welcoming when the public have been assured that the two hotels would be developed on existing footprints, with no hill cutting involved.

A small-to-medium sized hotel, or boutique hotels, sound ideal in this case.

It’s definitely an aye for many, especially nature lovers who love to be close to Mother Nature during night time.

There are some positivities to be drawn from this episode.

Certainly, the DAP-led administration could not do things at its own whim and fancy although it had won a thumping 37 out of the 40 state seats here.

The NGOs are watching and keeping them on their toes.

The Penang Forum, Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Consumers Association Malaysia and many others have been diligently going through the Penang Hill Special Area Plan 2016 and Penang Hill Local Plan 1998, which sounded alien for many of us.

Their existence ensures that we, the common men, won’t be easily taken for a ride by the ruling government of the day.