Landowner may not build on rezoned hilltop

The land owner is not allowed to build homes on the illegally cleared Bukit Relau hilltop in Penang, even if the area has been rezoned as residential land.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said this was because the development was not a special project.

"Technically, they will not get approval for residential development on the hilltop. It is not a special project.

"They can only develop the lower part of the hill," he said in a dialogue with civil group Penang Forum, which has recently criticised the state government for allowing hill slope developments and illegal land clearing to take place in recent years.

The Bukit Relau issue was discussed between Lim, local government exco Chow Kon Yeow and several Penang Island City Council (MBPP) officials and more than 10 Penang Forum representatives in a two-hour dialogue at Lim's office this afternoon.

The Bukit Relau hilltop, which was rezoned as residential land in 2012, exceeds the 76m height limit for hill developments. It is against the law to build above 76m, except for developments categorised as special projects.

In 2009, the state planning committee defined special projects as public infrastructure projects, which are housing developments rezoned and confirmed before the adoption of the Structure Plan gazetted in 2007, and one to a maximum six houses per acre on non-first grade and first grade land zoned for agriculture respectively.

Bukit Relau has been on the radar of civil groups, after land on the hilltop was reportedly cleared without the local council’s permission three years ago. The landowner was taken to court, fined RM50,000 and ordered to rehabilitate the land.

In November last year, the state government denied that it received applications for development on Bukit Relau, which is now now dubbed "Botak Hill" because of the denuded patch of land at the top.

Lim reiterated today that approval had not been granted for buildings on the hill.

"We have insisted that the landowner restore the hill. MBPP is monitoring that," he said, adding that the road built on the hill slopes was to facilitate the restoration work.

Penang Forum representatives had also voiced their unhappiness at the construction of the road.

Anil Netto from the group asked why a road had to be built for rehabilitation work when a road was not needed for the illegal hill clearing work.

Council engineering department deputy director A Rajendran said there had been a road, but not a proper one, that led up to the hilltop for the land clearing.

He said the road built for the rehabilitation of the hill was necessary, as was the small clearing by its side, where machinery was stored, on the lower part of the hill.

He said the clearing had to be made to store machinery which could not be transported up and down the hill every day as that would damage the road.

"We are doing restoration and mitigation work. We have to make sure that it is done properly and professionally, as well as safely for the workers.

"We are now more than 60% into the project and the local council monitors the site daily," he said, adding that retention ponds had been built and work done to prevent soil erosion.

Rajendran admitted that damage had been done to the hill and it was not possible to return the hill to its former state, but insisted that efforts were ongoing to rehabilitate itl.

At the state legislative assembly last November, Lim had promised that the bald spot on Bukit Relau would be green again by the end of this year.

Among other concerns raised during the dialogue were the approval for special projects on hill land above 76m and other illegal hill clearing incidents over the last few years. The concerns had been raised at a forum organised by the civil group last month.

The Pakatan Harapan state government reiterated that it had not approved even one special project since taking over the state administration in 2008. -- The Malaysian Insider

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