Penang State Planning Committee Legalises Factory Operations In Residential Zone

Landed houses and shop-houses in residential zones are supposed to be safeguarded from encroachment by industrial activities of any kind by Sec. 27(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 (the Act). However, the sanctity of residential zones in Penang is now at the mercy of the whims and fancies of the Development Planning Department (DPD) of the Majlis Bandaraya Pulau Pinang (MBPP) and the State Planning Committee (SPC).

Not only did the SPC secretly approve the conversion of Bukit Relau or “Bukit Botak” from hill reserve land to residential, but it has also just as surreptitiously approved the conversion of the landed shop-houses in Desa Jelita, Permatang Damar Laut, Batu Maung, from residential to industrial.

This was done on 14-6-2012 when the SPC confirmed its decision of 14 May 2012 (Bil. 4/2012) to convert the shop-houses in Desa Jelita, Permatang Damar Laut, Batu Maung from residential/ commercial to industrial. The conversion was based on a “Garis Panduan” or guideline prepared for this conversion exercise by the DPD, contrary to the law that industrial activities are prohibited from operating in residential zones.

In February 2010 a complaint was made to the then MPPP about illegal industries in the shop-houses after we had been assured by the MPPP that it is illegal for industries to operate in residential zones, and that no exceptions are given to any industries. At first we were told the MPPP had started collecting evidence to prosecute them. Then we were told it was difficult to obtain evidence as difficulties were encountered getting access into the factories. When we asked what other action would the MPPP take, it went into silent mode.

In October 2012, we got information through the Public Complaints Bureau that the SPC had on 14-6-2012 approved the “Garis Panduan” for the conversion of the shop-houses into industries which was prepared by the DPD.

The decision of the SPC is supported by the legal adviser of the MBPP and also by the Federal Town and Country Planning Department under the Ministry of Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government. So both the DPD and the SPC can overrule Sec. 27(2) of the Act.

The Penang Structure Plan states that for Penang to achieve “developed state” status, Penang must ensure that the quality of life of its residents is good and comfortable. Is it comfortable to live with factories beside your house? We don’t suppose any of those involved in the re-zoning of the shophouses in Desa Jelita have factories as their neighbours.

Billboards announce “Pulau Pinang Cleaner, Greener, Safer, Healthier”. Could the SPC tell us how factories in residential zones make Penang cleaner, greener, safer and healthier with the pollution they bring into the residential zones?

The message that the SPC is sending to factory operators is that they can now set up factories illegally in residential zones. If complaints are made, “Garis Panduan” will be prepared by the DPD and the rubber-stamp of approval given by the SPC to rezone from residential to industrial. This way, no legal action will be taken against the law-breakers as it is “difficult to obtain solid evidence for prosecution in court”. Justification for rezoning will be that “there is a demand for factory space in that area or locality and that the well-being of the residents in the area has been taken into consideration”. Is this how development planning is done in Penang to improve the quality of life of Penangites?

The SPC feels it is not accountable to the residents affected by its decision which is akin to stabbing them in the back as they purchased their properties in the full belief that residential zones are out of bounds to any form of industrial activities as provided by the Town and Country Planning Act. If the SPC can overrule the law, then why have the law?

CAP demands that the status quo of the shop-houses in Desa Jelita be restored to the original “residential zone” immediately. A little extra revenue to be earned by the conversion of the shop-houses into industries in the form of conversion fees and higher annual rates should not be the reason to lower the quality of life of the people and set a damaging precedent. This is not the direction the SPC should be taking Penang on in trying to achieve “developed status”.

Develop to improve quality of life, not degrade it.

Press Statement, 30 April 2015