By YIP YOKE TENG and LIM CHIA YING
The infrastructure development projects proposed in Budget 2011 are welcomed in the Klang Valley as they would improve the quality of life. However, industry experts commented that comprehensive planning and follow-up action must be in place to ensure that funds allocated for the projects are effectively used.
The 100-storey Warisany Merdeka has become the hottest topic with many expressing concern over adding a megastructure to the congested city.
They want more information on the purpose of the RM5bil skyscraper.
Bukit Bintang MP Fong Kui Lun thinks there is already an oversupply of office space in Kuala Lumpur.
He questioned the necessity and is concerned over traffic congestion due to the project’s proximity to schools, “Is this viable and could the money be better spent on more important things?” he asked.
The Malaysian Institute of Planners’ honorary secretary Lee Lih Shyan said the government should provide more details on the purpose of Warisan Merdeka.
“Until and unless they give us more details, I am doubtful of the impact of this building on the construction-related sector since we are already anticipating development of the Sungai Besi Air Force Base, Rubber Research Institute in Sungai Buloh and Pudu Jail,” he said. “If the new icon is to boost tourism, I do not see the point, too, because tourists come to Malaysia for its natural resources.
I doubt they come here to see another skyscraper,” he added. However, the institute’s sustainable planning and community development committee chairman Khairiah Mohd Talha welcomes the project because “the trend for growth nowadays is towards intensification”. “As space becomes scarce in the city, it is natural that development intensifies,” said Khairiah. “However, developments like these will only be justified if they are carried out along the major public transportation routes. This is also to slow down urban sprawl,” she said.
Khairiah said it was secondary on how tall the building would be as market forces determined the need for such height. “There are pros and cons of course, but for high-rise buildings, cost is greatly reduced with less use of land and innovations on green technology can be harnessed on a single building,” she said.
With buildings soaring higher, roads are to expand under the budget with six highways including the Ampang-Cheras-Pandan Elecated Highway, Guthrie-Damansara-PJ Highway and Pantai Barat-Banting-Taiping Highway.
Also allocated is a RM50mil budget to build shaded walkways in the KLCC-Bukit Bintang area as a tourism product-cum-initiative to attract more foreign tourists. “An effective city is all about communication and accessibility. As long as these highways can serve the masses, having highways will be a good suggestion,” Lee said. Traffic planning consultant Goh Bok Yen believes these highways serve the purpose of dispersing traffic and easing bottleneck. “I can see a clear purpose for the Cheras-Ampang-Pandan Highway which is meant to relieve the MRR2 and enable better traffic flow. “However, for the Guthrie-Damansara-PJ Highway, careful consideration must be made because traffic will increase in the old and quiet areas, such as PJ Old Town and create a new set of traffic and environmental problems,” he said. He welcomed the news for shaded walkways to be built in the KLCC-Bukit Bintang area. “There’s a shortage of such walkways linking to public transportation hubs and linking shopping malls.
Currently, KLCC and malls in Bukit Bintang are functioning in isolation,” he said. Sungei Wang Plaza senior promotions manager K.K. Lim said the shaded walkways would be convenient for both tourists and locals. “Only Sungei Wang and Lot 10 are now linked. If you look at our nearest cities like Bangkok and Singapore, many of the important areas there are linked,” said Lim.
Hotel employee Amanda Teng said the shaded walkway would be a good initiative. “On rainy or sunny days, people are still able to walk with ease. It is a form of encouragement for people to walk and lead a healthy life rather than to drive or take taxis. As it is now, many people prefer to drive,” she said. Working executive William Ngow brought up the security issues. “My only concern is the security aspect as it is pointless having a shaded walkway if safety issues like deterring crime are not addressed,” he said. Fong said shaded walkways were a tourism attraction and good for those who enjoyed shopping in the Golden Triangle and KLCC area. “My only wish is that the project must be done via an open tender method, whereby accountability is important,” he said.
Long-awaited MRT Improvement to the public transportation system is long overdue and Budget 2011 spells out that the construction of the MRT will start next year and be completed in 2020 with RM40bil in private investment.
However, experts commented that putting MRT to serve as the new backbone of the system would not fully resolve congestion issues. The key is to effectively link the various modes of transport. “MRT is an ambitious project that costs a huge sum but the money is not cleverly spent if it is only looked at from the perspective of a ‘new project’ instead of serving to rectify the existing transport problems,” said urban planner and University Malaya lecturer Professor Madya Dr Melasutra Md Dali. “The ineffectiveness of public transportation in the Klang Valley is not so much of not having the infrastructure but the absence of an effective link between rail systems and buses,” she added.
Lee Lih Shyan agreed on the point, saying that the planners need to analyse the whole public transportation system and take a holistic approach to address the imbalance between public and private means of transportation.
Commuter C.S. Lim said the wait was too long. “It is no doubt that the MRT will bring much relief to the current situation but it will only be ready in 2020 so we still have to deal with congestion that is at the brink of bursting for another 10 years. “Something has to be done to address this.
We urgently need an improvement on the modes to link commuters from their homes to the train stations. Just imagine, we have to wait for almost an hour for the feeder bus to arrive. How many will give up their cars for that? Goh said it should be the backbone of a complete multi-modal public transportation system with other modes like buses and taxis, ERL, LRT and KTM in place. “The MRT cannot solve the public transportation problem alone. It requires all existing modes to work,” he said.
Caring boost For the disabled, the government had announced an allocation of RM218mil to benefit 80,000 disabled people through various programmes but no further details were provided. But the Independent Learning Training Centre president Francis Siva said such allocation would not help much. “I am told that the various programmes provided under the allocation would mean activities but this is not looking into the quality of life of the disabled. “Currently, a wheelchair-bound person receives only a RM150 allowance monthly from the Social Welfare Department. Is this enough for food and medicine?” he asked.
He said considerations made for the disabled were still charity-based, not rights-based.
Beautiful Gate Foundation executive director Sia Siew Chin said priority should be given to creating a barrier-free environment for the disabled. “No matter how many programmes are organised, as long as the barrier-free society isn’t there, it defeats the purpose and does not empower the disabled to be independent,” said Sia.
On the duty-free national vehicles for the disabled, she said it was good for those who could afford it but most of them could not.
Easier house ownership With property prices soaring, first-time house buyers with income less than RM3,000 can now obtain a 100% loan without a down payment. National House Buyers Association honorary secretary-general Chang Kim Loong said it was a positive step towards allowing house ownership among young adults. “The 50% stamp duty exemption is quite a substantial up-front saving that buyers should take advantage of,” said Chang. “However, as most properties these days are priced over RM350,000, the government should impose a quota that developers build more medium-cost housing priced between RM150,000 and RM350,000 on the fringes of the Greater KL, with basic amenities, infrastructure and accessibility.”
Still, the government should do more to tackle the issue of exorbitant price hike by speculators or ‘punters’ in the housing industry.
Social activist Dr Nasir Hashim said the move was welcomed but the government should also ease loan repayment for special groups and work to improve the poor’s livingstandard. “Any form of help for the lower to middle-income groups to acquire their own houses will be good but the government also has to look at loan repayment. Will there be special consideration for the poor and older people?” asked the Kota Damansara assemblyman. He added that the government should also heed the condition of housing for the poor, such as the Public Housing Scheme, low-cost flats and transit homes that were often in a deplorable state. “The poor were moved from squatter areas and estates into these schemes, many of which have been reduced to urban slums.
Often, only one of the three lifts are working in the 15-storey buildings and government agencies are often sluggish in attending to these matters. “To a point, we feel that the government is sabotaging the poor. Malaysia has the distinction of being the country with the worst income disparity in South-East Asia and the second in Asia so it warrants the government’s urgent attention,” he said.
Crime-busting Some RM350mil has been allocated to strengthen the police force. Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation vice-chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said the allocation was necessary to improve the police’s capacity and capability. “I hope the money will help make the police more efficient and it should be used to address issues pertaining to street crime, which is a cause of concern to the society,” said Lee.
He also hoped the budget would be used to promote the Safe City concept which targeted crime hotspots. “It is a big allocation that must be used in the right areas. In turn, the police must be more proactive in restoring confidence in the people through meetings and their presence at hotspots.