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Does development near Taman Rimba Kiara means ‘Rakyat di Kemudiankan’?

This is what an executive editor wrote in one of the local dailies on June 26, 2016. “I remember when my boys were very young, I would take them to the nearby park where there is less artificial lighting and we would gaze upwards to identify constellations”. That is exactly what I did when I was young. Till today I have this fascination for our beautiful universe.

On that same day, more than 500 people protested against a proposed high-rise development near Taman Rimba Kiara. According to the longhouse village head at Taman Bukit Kiara, V Sundram, the neighbourhood’s per-acre density spike of more than 13 times, reeks of overdevelopment and may be “too much” even for them. The density of about 1,800 serviced apartments is very high.

In a separate block, two units (each measuring 850 sq ft) meant for the longhouse residents will not be for free and as in other apartments there will be service charges to be borne by apartment owners when they are handed over.

In his response, the KL mayor said the development does not affect Taman Rimba Kiara and anything that is gazetted will not be touched. He added that the size of the development is meant to address the city’s growing population, which is expected to reach three million people by 2020. “We have to allow new developments because of the population growth,” he said.

He also said that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) had approved a piece of land where the longhouses currently stood to be developed since the said land was privately owned and was not part of the park land. “Remember the principle - if it (private land) is yours, no one can stop you. If you disagree with the project, buy it”.

Mr Mayor, would the development of 1,800 units of expensive serviced apartments in Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) help address KL’s growing population? Serviced apartment is defined as fully furnished apartment available for both short-term as well as long-term stays, providing all the hotel-like amenities.

Before anyone attempts an answer, let us look at what are the issues on housing in KL. Many fora discussed the affordability issue on housing.

The Khazanah Research Institute (KRI) in its report made a statement that KL houses are “severely unaffordable” with a median multiple of about 5.4 times (Singapore has a median of 5.1 times). For KL, given the median household income, an ‘affordable house’ should be RM280,000. By international standards our housing is not affordable

I am pretty sure the developer will not sell the serviced apartments at RM280,000 each when on record, they develop properties of excellence and distinction which reflect the exceptional essence of its prestigious name.

The KRI also highlighted that high housing prices are not a direct result of high land and construction costs. It is because developers are willing to pay for increased land prices as the market price for housing increases and actually construction costs had been falling. Property developers were advised to take inspiration from the Philippines, which was “able to provide two-bedroom houses with a swimming pool for RM53,000”.

I trust DBKL and the developer is aware of such a report from KRI.

I am utterly disappointed with the statement “Remember the principle - if it (private land) is yours, no one can stop you. If you disagree with the project, buy it”.

Dangerous precedent

It is a dangerous precedent where no one can stop private land owners except to buy out.

That being the case, why the need to have Rule 5? It is a provision of law that requires the mayor to refer to the registered owners of the adjacent land to invite objections to the application for development. It becomes more comical when DBKL had approved the proposed development earlier.

It then begs the question on what are the criteria used for its approval?

Take a look at the roads and physical developments in TTDI. There are no new roads since its inception close to 40 years ago but there are numerous high-rise developments especially the last few years. Talk about road maintenance, Malaysians are welcomed to visit TTDI. Parking is a nightmare even at night. This is another issue where pubs are mushrooming.

Another disappointment is when asked why the affordable housing project also included expensive serviced apartments, the reason given is that the project had to have commercial value as the developers would want to earn profits.

With the number of expensive serviced apartments, the affordable portion is dwarfed.

Given the above, I hope DBKL will revisit its Mission Statement.

I wish to reiterate the points raised in my earlier article last week titled ‘The Rape of Taman Rimba Kiara’ which include:

1. The Declaration on the Right to Development

2. KL to be among the top 20 liveable cities come 2020

3. KL Structure Plan 2020, where the existing open spaces of Bukit Kiara, Taman Tun Dr Ismail and the forested hills of Kampong Sungai Penchala shall be preserved together with the West Valley Park and a botanical garden shall be developed to the north of the West Valley Park.

In a separate report, it seems there is a controversy on this project where there was an injunction at the High Court in June 2014 to stop an earlier joint venture, but the outcome is unknown.

On balance, is the ‘Rakyat di Dahulukan’ applicable?

DBKL has a choice whether to offer our future generations a place to gaze upwards to identify constellations from Taman Rimba Kiara or pick the profit-related project?

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