THE WhatsApp message was from London. It was a photo of The Star’s article that appeared the same day, accompanied by this message, “There’s hope yet!”
The article in question was headlined “SIA report a must for all development”. It quoted Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister Tan Sri Noh Omar as saying that all development projects henceforth must have a social impact assessment (SIA) report before they can be considered.
The hopeful “whatsapp-er” who sent me the article was Khairudin Rahim, a long-time Taman Tun Dr Ismail resident. Khairudin and his residents’ association are at the forefront of a protest against a massive development project near Taman Rimba Kiara. The RA has criticised DBKL for ignoring the collective protests of Taman Tun residents on the project’s long-term social and environmental impact on the township.
The project, which will increase the current plot ratio of 1:60 to a whopping 1:979, has been rumoured to have already received a development order from the local authority. The inference of the WhatsApp message then was that the Federal Government’s new “SIA” ruling could somehow be used to halt the controversial project.
So how effective is the SIA going to be? Getting developers and government agencies to submit SIA reports is just half the battle. What happens after that is equally important.
How will the local authorities respond to the findings and recommendations in the reports? Will there be transparency and engagement so that communities and civil society can register their concerns and push for action based on the reports?
Taman Tun’s residents have been at the forefront of the battle to preserve the 189ha Taman Rimba Kiara for at least 10 years now, and despite their constant vigilance, the authorities appear to have given the green light for a development proposal that could have far-reaching consequences for the future of this much-loved park.
The threat comes from a proposed development project by Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan in Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad, which includes eight blocks of serviced apartments ranging from 42 to 54 storeys (1,766 units).
The proposed development project is on land adjacent to the entrance of Taman Rimba Kiara. Some 124 families, many of them descendants of rubber estate workers from the original Bukit Kiara Estate, live in longhouses here. They have waited decades for affordable homes.
“We believe that City Hall’s plan to provide proper accommodation for longhouse residents in the area is just a smokescreen for this massive development project,” Abdul Hafiz Abu Bakar, the RA chairman told me.
“The RA’s stand has always been consistent. The longhouse residents should have been given proper housing a long time ago, and by all means build this affordable housing in the area where the longhouses are located, but please leave our park alone.”
Ironically, last September Kuala Lumpur played host to the 8th International Conference on World Class Sustainable Cities 2016, themed “City Spaces, Public Places”. One of the key speakers, City of New York Parks and Recreation commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, spoke about the importance of preserving open spaces for future generations.
“Don’t give away your land for development! Use it to build parks,” that what was what Silver had to say when asked what advice he would give to Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Seri Amin Nordin Abd Aziz.
Silver said Central Park in New York was a perfect example of a well-planned park that was landscaped back in the 1800s and set aside for the future generation.
“Today, Central Park is the most desirable place to be in New York. So as you urbanise, you won’t see it now, but once you give away that space for development, you are going to lose that opportunity and you are never going to get it back unless you break down buildings; which is not going to happen,’’ he said.
The writer finds it odd that the FT Minister, the deputy FT Minister and the KL Mayor are all trustees of Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan – the developer of the controversial Taman Tun project. This looks to be a definite case of conflict of interest.