Piecing together Penang’s liveability

A well-connected transport network, high-income jobs, affordable homes, open spaces and lush gardens.

These are what one expects to find in a city with high liveability standards.

At the Penang Property Summit in January, residents, non-governmental organisations and the business community voiced out their high expectations of the state government’s plan to make Penang highly liveable in the near future.

Top of the list of things to do is solving the intertwined issues of traffic congestion and poor public transport infrastructure.

Penang Institute’s fellow and head of Urban Studies Stuart MacDonald said Penang needed to improve mobility of the residents and reduce congestion and reliance on private transport.

This will make Penang a more attractive place to live, attract more investments and create more jobs.

Citing the Penang government’s Transport Master Plan (PTMP) study, the Penang Institute said the average speed of vehicles during peak hours was only 30 km per hour in George Town in 2011.

This is because the island’s roads are clogged with cars, resulting in congestion which in turns leads to loss of productivity and cost increase for individuals and businesses.

Adding to the dilemma, traffic demand in Penang is expected to increase further with the state’s estimated population growth rate at 3.04% annually until 2020.

The PTMP aims to deliver improved travel efficiency through a network of multi-mode rail-based transport systems such as light rail transit (LRT) and monorail to be supported by an integrated feeder bus system.

Other PTMP components include new strategic cross-island highway links which will also enable effective traffic dispersal and reduce reliance on the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway.

Raine & Horne International Zaki + Partners Sdn Bhd senior partner and FIABCI Malaysian Chapter vice-president Michael Geh is looking forward to the PTMP’s people-moving system which is critical to the state’s progress.

“This (PTMP) is the single most important project for Penang and the property market this year,” he said.

“It will definitely transform the lives of Penangites.”

The PTMP is formulated as a 50-year transport development plan that will change the transport landscape in the state.

But, while Penang tackles its transport issues, concurrent steps are needed to improve the quality of living in the state and to attract and retain talents.

In 2013, Penangites’ median salary was RM1,500 a month which was 28.4% lower than Kuala Lumpur dwellers’ median of RM2,095, and 24.24% lower than that of Selangor citizens, according to Khazanah Research Institute.

The Statistics Department revealed in its Migration Survey Report 2011 that Penang had the highest migration rate among all states in 2010-2011 at 4.4%.

The report also stated that the main reason why 21.9% of Malaysians migrated was the ‘career factor’.

“They migrate to start new jobs, are transferred or seek more career opportunities,” said the report.

Also contributing to talent loss is the escalating real estate prices on the island due to land shortage, and salaries which are not catching up fast enough with the property prices’ rate of increase.

Geh, who has been a property consultant for nearly three decades, observed that a large segment of Penangites could not afford to buy a home at this moment.

He added that the threat of land shortage on the island would require the state to charge a premium on development charges, which will see developers passing on the cost to house buyers.

“Land scarcity also affects commercial growth, restricting new companies from making investments in the state.

“Thus, there will be loss of opportunities for job creation.

“We need to increase opportunities for all to find gainful employment, and provide opportunities for a decent standard of living,” MacDonald said.

Over the coming decades, as Penang transitions towards becoming an international city comparable with regional powerhouses such as Singapore, Bangkok, and Hong Kong, putting together elements of liveability will be among its prime agenda.

One thing for sure, realising the PTMP, creating meaningful and high-income employment, and affordable homes should be Penang’s first steps. - By The Star

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