LETTER | According to media reports, Penang state exco member Jagdeep Singh Deo wrote on his Facebook that: “I (Jagdeep) want everyone to get their facts right during this election campaign..), i.e., the state and council did not approve projects above 76m (250 ft) above sea level.”
The Penang Structure Plan clearly states that sensitive hill land is defined not only as land above 76m above sea level but the definition also encompasses projects involving slopes of more than 25 degrees; and the development of such land is restricted to “special projects” only.
Any construction on slopes of more than 25 degrees contravenes the second condition. Hill site development cannot be discussed only with reference to height. For slope stability, the higher the slope face and the steeper the slope angle, the higher the risk of slope failure. Jagdeep should stop talking only of a 76 m height and also talk of a 25-degree slope gradient.
While the previous BN state and local government have approved many such hill site developments, the record of the present state government shows that more development on sensitive hill sites have been approved by the administration under Lim Guan Eng.
Chow Kon Yeow in his reply to an enquiry in the state assembly in November 2015 revealed that 56 high-rise towers had been approved on sensitive hill land between 2008 and end of 2015.
In the case of the Granito tragedy, DAP leaders in early press statements claimed that the project was built on flat land when it was evident that it was built on land that though once a slope, had been cut flat. During the earthworks stage of the project, a 20 meter high 60 degree angle slope was then formed at the boundary of the building site.
It was this slope that failed and buried 11 workers alive. Under the Hillsite Development Guidelines 2012, such a slope is classified as a Class 3 slope. Submission requirements include a geotechnical report by a Geotechnical Engineer and a geotechnical review report by an Independent Checker but works in Granito proceeded without both.
At present, the proposed MJM project above the Miami Condo is on Class 4 land (with slopes greater than 35 degrees) which is classified as Environmentally Sensitive Areas with Disaster Risk. Under the Penang Structure Plan 2020, no form of development is allowed on such land.
A technical review of the site by Zeezy Global, a consulting firm, found that the proposed development is on a hill, on lot 62, with height ranges from 40m to 140m above sea level; with almost 50% of the slopes having a gradient of more than 25 degrees, and in some areas as steep as 40 to 50 degrees. Some parts of the area designated for construction are higher than 76m.
The project consists of 2 34-storey towers of serviced apartments, each with 336 units, and 1 tower of 20-storey “affordable” housing with 197 units. Two retention ponds larger than an Olympic-sized pool with a total capacity of 5.2 million litres of water (5,200 metric tons) are planned to cater to high surface run-off during and after construction. This will sit on the hill close to the Miami Condo project.
The existence of such a huge mass of water poses potential risks to the residents if the slopes are destabilised during or after construction, particularly if monitoring, maintenance and enforcement capabilities are weak as evident in the Granito project. Furthermore, existing gunnite slopes in Miami Green are not designed for additional loading.
With the new project, exertion of loads at the upper slopes could endanger the residents. The construction of Caisson pile curtain to accommodate lateral stress along the project boundary would be a construction nightmare as the pile curtain would be constructed very close to the top edge of the Miami Green gunnite-wall slope.
The disturbance from the construction could affect the integrity of the existing slope. No assurance has been made regarding risks of landslides or slope failures during and after construction.
For all the above reasons, the technical review concluded that the proposed MJM project poses an imminent danger to safety and lives of the public. No building plan or commencement of work has been approved.
In light of the Granito tragedy, lessons must be learnt, namely that if the local and state authorities do not have the technical capacity to implement, monitor and enforce the present hill site guidelines, a moratorium on hill site development should be imposed until such time that this problem is resolved. The public should not be put at risk anymore. Eleven lives have been lost and hopefully not in vain.
The writer is a former Penang city councillor.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.