ONCE a quiet backwater, Batu Kawan in south Seberang Prai is undergoing massive transformation after it was picked as the land connection for the second Penang bridge.
Coconut, rubber trees and sugarcane which were once part of the area’s landscape for close to a century slowly made way for oil palm plantations in the 1960s.
Now, the plantations are vanishing and being replaced with concrete structures.
When the Batu Kawan land was acquired by the state investment arm, Penang Development Corporation (PDC) some 30 years ago, large tracts of land were cleared including for the construction of the State Stadium.
The stadium project and the setting up of an industrial estate were one of the early impetus for the development of Batu Kawan.
Now, the area which faces the South Channel of Penang has become a strategic location following the construction of the RM4.5bil second Penang bridge which links Batu Kawan and Penang island.
The 24km bridge, which is the longest in South-East Asia, will open to the public in September. The travelling from Penang island to south Seberang Prai will take a mere 20 minutes with the new bridge compared to more than an hour now.
The bridge project has sparked
various economic activities including the mushrooming of new housing projects.
Many people on Penang island are buying properties there since the price is believed to be cheaper than that of the island.
New industrial sites, commercial areas and residential schemes slated in Batu Kawan town are expected to create thousands of jobs.
Batu Kawan is heading towards a bustling industrial hub just like the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Park and the Prai Industrial Area.
It has been touted to be Penang’s third satellite township after Bayan Baru and Seberang Jaya.
Three big companies — Robert Bosch, Boon Siew Honda and VAT Manufacturing Malaysia — have pledged investments totalling about RM10bil to site their manufacturing plants in this town.
The PDC acquired 2,680ha of land from private owners including oil palm plantation owners for the creation of a Batu Kawan Industrial Park that would be developed over 30 years.
The state had last year announced an ambitious plan to build 11,800 medium-cost housing units under its RM2.7bil Bandar Cassia Affordable Housing Scheme, which would be modelled after Singapore’s Housing and Development Board (HDB) housing schemes.
While many are bowled over by the mega development plans for Batu Kawan town, local resident T. Karunanithi, 38, from Taman Tanjung Mutiara, said he hoped some basic facilities would be put in place in Batu Kawan town.
“The residents need a market, hospital, fire station, petrol kiosks, a shopping centre, post office and banks.
“For now, we have to travel over 2km to the nearest town, Simpang Ampat, for such facilities,” he said.
So far, he said, there is only a police station, a Klinik Rakyat 1Malaysia, a few schools and mini markets in the town. There is also the majestic State Stadium.
Resident N. Gobalakrishnan, 48, from Taman Rasa Ria, Bukit Tambun hoped Penang’s famed seafood restaurants in Bukit Tambun could be further promoted to tourists.
There are some 20 seafood restaurants there. Many people from Penang island make a beeline to the restaurants especially during weekends and public holidays.
Apart from the Bukit Tambun state constituency, the Batu Kawan parliamentary constituency also comprises Bukit Tengah and Prai state constituencies.
The densely populated Bukit Tengah constituency is home to many small and medium-scale industries located in the Bukit Minyak Industrial Park, Penang Science Park, Juru Light Industrial area and Bukit Tengah Light Industrial area.
The factories here provide jobs to many locals here, some of whom live in Perkampungan Juru new village as well as in the fast developing Juru town.
Businessman Ng Boon Theng, 60, from Taman Juru, said rapid development in the last 40 years had transformed the former rubber estate into a modern and busy town.
He said Highway Auto-City Juru, which houses over 60 automobile brand showrooms, food and beverage outlets, entertainment and shopping outlets has become a major landmark in Seberang Prai for its ‘one-stop’ concept.
Ng, however, lamented the terrible traffic congestions in the Auto-City vicinity and between Jalan Juru and Jalan Bukit Minyak during peak hours.
“We hope PLUS can widen some of the road stretches here, especially the slip road turning into Auto-City from the south-bound stretch of the North-South Expressway, which is often a bottleneck.
“We also hope the traffic lights at Auto-City can be better synchronised and the drainage systems in Kampung Tok Panjang and Taman Limau Manis upgraded to prevent flooding there,” he said.
Contractor Abdul Rahim Che Rus, 50, from Bukit Kecil, Juru said police patrolling should be increased especially in the Taman Pelangi flats area where many foreign workers live.
“We also hope the Immigration detention depot for illegal immigrants can be shifted out of Perkampungan Juru.
“Once, there was a leptospirosis outbreak in the depot and it alarmed residents in the neighbouring area,” he said
Abdul Rahim said apart from the million-ringgit caged-fish rearing business in Sungai Udang nearby, there were also some 500 fishermen who made a living off the coasts in Bukit Kecil, Kuala Juru and Sungai Semilang.
“Many locals hope the authorities can build affordable housing units, especially in Sungai Semilang area, for those from the middle income group, like me,” he said.
The Prai state constituency, where the first Penang Bridge is located, also boasts of another iconic bridge — the Prai Bridge — which is part of the RM525mil Butterworth Outer Ring Road (BORR) project that was completed in 2006.
This 1.85km bridge connects Prai old town with Bagan Dalam in Butterworth town.
Another old bridge, the Tunku Abdul Rahman Bridge, which connects Prai town and Butterworth town, is still utilised as part of the main Federal Route One trunk road.
Former factory manager Loh Lau Kee, 66, from Chai Leng Park, Prai recalled how the Prai Industrial Area was developed from a swamp land back in the 70s, with Malayawata and the Pen-Group of companies among the earliest factories there.
“The Chai Leng Park and Prai Garden residential schemes were also developed in the 70s to cater to the growing need for housing, especially among those employed in the Prai Industrial area.
“The Malayan Sugar Manufacturing Co Sdn Bhd (MSM) factory, which was established in Prai old town in 1959, still maintains a unique railway line that runs through its premises to transport goods to other states,” he said.
Loh said while the roads in the Prai Industrial Area needed to be better maintained and lighted, he was relieved that the perennial flooding in Chai Leng Park had been resolved over the last 10 years.
“We hope that the authorities can build a Chinese secondary school on a vacant piece of land behind the Chai Leng Park multipurpose hall to cater to the growing Chinese population here,” he said.
Hawker Lee Kuai Seng, 46, who has been selling hokkien mee in the Chai Leng Park market for over 30 years, said he hoped traffic lights could be re-instated at the Jalan Baru-Jalan Kurau junction to attract more motorists from Bukit Mertajam to turn directly into Chai Leng Park.
“The move will help boost business activities here. We hope the drains around the market too can be regularly cleaned to overcome the rat problem,” he said.
The Batu Kawan parliamentary seat would likely see a three-cornered fight between Barisan Nasional, Pakatan Rakyat and Parti Cinta Malaysia. Independent candidates are also eyeing the seat making it either a four-cornered or five-cornered fight.