Penang is in the limelight again, this time because of potential spin-offs from the implementation of the NCER (Northern Corridor Economic Region) programme under the 9th MP (Malaysia Plan 2006-2010).
Under the government’s NCER (Northern Corridor Economic Region) plan, the Penang Monorail and Penang 2nd Bridge projects are two of the most significant projects in this part of Peninsular Malaysia. The Universiti Sains Malaysia Institute of Graduate Studies (USM-IGS) deputy dean Associate Professor Dr Ambigapathy Pandian opined that Penang can become the region’s educational hub if it can improve its accessibility manifold by the construction of the Penang Monorail and the Second Bridge.
USM currently has students from more than 70 countries. With the existence of a better infrastructure and an efficient public transport system, Penang can expect more foreign and local students from other states coming to study here. To make things easier and convenient for the commuters, the local authorities should make sure that the monorail stations must be located in strategic locations such as in housing estates, educational institutions, shopping centres and tourist destinations.
In order for Penang to be attractive to investors, students, k-workers and foreigners going for the “Malaysia My Second Home” programme, the authorities must ensure that the NCER’s logistics and infrastructure projects must be successfully and dutifully implemented according to plan and schedule, if it is to bring about an improved quality in life for this set of people.
Penang, comprising the island (area: 293 sq km) and Seberang Prai (area: 760 sq km) on the mainland, has long been a favourite among tourists and, over the last 10 years, has welcomed more than 3 million visitors per year, out of which more than 1 million are international visitors, with 37% being repeat visitors. Tourists are attracted to Penang’s beaches, its rich cultural heritage, a large variety of local delicacies and its cost advantage.
Under the 9th Malaysia Plan (2006-2010), Penang is set to gain as a beneficiary as it would be receiving some RM6.6 billion for large infrastructure developments such as the Penang 2nd Bridge, Penang Monorail and the Penang Outer Ring Road and additional road-upgrading works. The Penang 2nd Bridge is a joint-venture project between UEM Builders and China Harbour Engineering Co Ltd, while China will provide a US$800 million loan facility to the project.
The Penang Monorail project was finally approved on March 31, 2006 under the Ninth Malaysia Plan. This monorail line would connect Tanjung Tokong in the north with Bayan Lepas in the south. However, it was reported that the PORR project would cost 30% more than the original contract sum of RM1.02 billion due to inflation impacting on the cost of building materials.
And on the mainland side, there are a lot of development projects being planned for the state such as the current Butterworth Multinodal Transport Terminal incorporating a bus, ferry & KTMB train terminal fashioned against similar aspects of the KL Sentral Transportation Hub in Kuala Lumpur. The transport terminal in Butterworth is set to begin construction by end of 2007.
The multi-million project, with basement car parks and multi-storey offices and SOHO units, was conceived as a replacement for the current ageing bus terminal at the Sultan Abdul Halim Ferry Terminal that had been sidelined for the past six years. Approval to develop the site had already been obtained from the Penang Port Commission (PPC) or Suruhanjaya Pelabuhan Pulau Pinang and the local state authorities.
And, there are also more things to come in Penang, eg., the Penang Port Sdn Bhd said it would introduce a fast boat service on the Penang Channel by end of 2008. The fast boats, which could cater to 200 foot passengers and 50 motorcycles only, would take half the normal time the existing ferry would take to complete the Channel journey. The normal time a ferry takes is about 18 minutes.
It was reported that Penang Port Sdn Bhd was prepared to purchase five units of double-decker boats to complement the existing ferry services. The number of ferries would then be reduced from the current seven to four and eventually be converted to carry only motor vehicles.
The Penang Outer Ring Road (PORR) stretches some 17km from Tanjong Tokong on the northern side of Penang Island to Gelugor on the eastern flank of the island. The highway runs through 8 interchanges and 4 toll plazas and passes by residential enclaves such as Tanjong Tokong, Kelawei-Bagan Jermal Area, Jesselton Heights Area, Batu Gantung, Rifle Range Area, Farlim township (formerly TheanTeik Estate), Paya Terubong, Green Lane Area, Bukit Gambir Area and ends up in the Gelugor Area, close to the Penang International Airport at Bayan Lepas.
The PORR was planned with the sole purpose of traffic dispersion in heavily congested areas such as along Jalan Air Itam, Jalan Tanjong Tokong, Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah and the congested suburban areas. The 4-lane PORR is designed with speed limits of up to 80kph and there is some reclamation works to be carried out at the Gurney Drive waterfront as well. A new “Gurney Drive” is also on the blueprint and it will include a public park and a promenade on the beachfront.
As a result of all these infrastructure developments being proposed in Penang, hence, property prices are expected to escalate between 10% to 15%. Job opportunities will multiply and wages will take a hike which will be good for the economy of the state. FIABCI Malaysia Chapter’s Penang branch chairman (International Real Estate Federation) Datuk Khor Teng Tong said employees will see better benefits and salary increases all round. Malay Businessmen and Industrialists Association (MBIA) Penang advisor Datuk Waris Ali Abdul Carrim said the NCER would help the state regain its status as the country’s logistics hub. Malaysian Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (MICCI) president N.Gobalakrishnan said the association endorsed the NCER programme as it would benefit the business community from all the races in Malaysia.
Besides the Penang Second Bridge and the PORR, Penang is set to welcome another major development on the island, The Penang City Centre, an RM18billion urban redevelopment project which came with the approval of the Federal Government.
The project is to be undertaken by Abad Naluri Sdn Bhd, a private developer under the NCER (Northern Corridor Economic Region) programme that is set to change the face of the island.
Abad Naluri, a subsidiary of Equine Capital Bhd, said the project will turn Penang into a new global city with upmarket residential and commercial facilities. The project, sited at the 63-year old 113ha (279.23 acres) Penang Turf Club grounds in Batu Gantung and described as iconic, will be launched by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in September 2007. It will have ancillary developments such as the Metropolitan Park which will link PCC (Penang City Centre) with Penang Hill, Municipal Park (or Youth Park) and the Botanical Gardens at Waterfall Road. The state government had reserved at least 348ha (860 acres) of green lung on the island be preserved and allocated for this iconic development which will take about 15 years to complete.
There is a good mix of residential-cum-commercial properties proposed within the PCC project which include service apartments, condominiums, upmarket retail stores, international conference centres, a performing arts centre and 5-star hotels. With this development coming onstream on the island, there is also the economic spin-off in the form of the creation of some 5,000 jobs in construction, 2,000 in service and healthcare residence, 20,000 in retail, 4,000 in the hotel industry and 10,000 in offices.
It was understood planners for the PCC had proposed that the RM1.02billion monorail link run through the PCC development. They opined that Penang needed such infrastructure if it wanted the state to be on the international radar screen as Singapore had Suntec City, Hong Kong had its Convention & Exhibition Centre and Kuala Lumpur the KL Convention Centre. Looking further, Bangkok had Siam Paragon. Details of the project are with the Prime Minister, who has prominent foreign and local architects in this scheme.