By Zedeck Siew
Following our Cheat Sheet about the Bukit Gasing development issue, we thought it best to hear things directly from the horse’s mouth. So here’s an interview with Gary Yeoh: local resident, Chairperson of the Maxwell Towers Owners Association, and member of the Joint Action Committee for Bukit Gasing. He is also a regular blogger for the Save Bukit Gasing website.
Gary talks about getting organised, feeling discouraged, and seeing things as a small part of the larger picture:
How did Save Bukit Gasing come about?
It began in 2006, as a reaction to renewed efforts by developers Gasing Meridian Sdn Bhd to build on 15.5ha of steep hill slopes in Bukit Gasing. This development threatens the lives and homes of Gasing Condos (specifically the Fraser, Cameron, and Maxwell Towers) and Gasing Indah landed properties. Many of us are fearful of a Highland Towers-like disaster happening at our doorsteps, should the development be allowed.
Before the Save Bukit Gasing movement, since 2000, many concerned residents and NGOs — the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), Environmental Protection Society Malaysia (EPSM), WWF, Friends of Bukit Gasing, etc — have lobbied the federal government and DBKL to gazette Bukit Gasing on the KL side. There were many promises, but nothing happened: we are still concerned with the creeping and wanton development advancing into Bukit Gasing from the KL side. We worry about the sustainability of the PJ-side gazetted forest if DBKL does not halt further development.
How is Save Bukit Gasing structured?
Save Bukit Gasing is lead by the Joint Action Committee for Bukit Gasing (JACBG). The JACBG consists of various individuals, with support from MNS, EPSM, WWF and elected reps from Pakatan Rakyat. In recent years, locals Victor Oorjitham, Kamar Mohamad, Ashok Menom, Ramachandran, myself, Sena Rajen, Vasudevan, Ralph Gomez have all contributed to Save Bukit Gasing. There are also many other that have helped to keep the fight against DBKL alive.
How supportive have the municipal/state/federal government reps been in this matter?
Our ADUN Edward Lee, zone municipal councillor Derek Fernandez, PJ Utara MP Hee Loy Sian, and Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah are very supportive of our concerns. I believe that MBPJ and the Selangor state government in general are also concerned.
Even though we tried to approach previous prime minister Pak Lah, we had no response. Representations made to the Federal Territory Minister and KL Mayor brought no helpful responses, either. We felt that we were patronised and given the run-around.
Is building on Bukit Gasing really that dangerous?
Geological surveys by the Geological Society of Malaysia and Universiti Malaya’s Department of Geology, have highlighted the danger of development on Bukit Gasing. The place consists of sandstone, shale, and inter-beds of quartz. In layman terms, it’s sandstone and dried mud. This is inherently weak for supporting buildings; when exposed, it is susceptible to landslides.
There have been many landslides on and around Bukit Gasing over the years. The landslides at the nearby Siva and Sri Maha Kaliamman temples (in March 2007 and May 2010 respectively) are just recent examples.
Do 68 multi-millionaires (the target buyers of Gasing Meridian’s villas) have more rights than the need of 1,500 PJ and KL households to live without fear? Such development on steep hill slopes will leave a time bomb for residents. Residents of Bukit Antarabangsa discovered that in December 2008, with tragic consequences.
What are your thoughts about the environmental concerns? Do these enter into the minds of the authorities, at all?
Environmentally, DBKL cares little about open spaces. Under the pretence of meeting demands for population growth and commercial development, the term “private open space” (think gated communities with big gardens) has been invented. In fact, DBKL blatantly breaches the National Physical Plan and KL Structure Plan 2020 policies on open space targets and environmental protection. They pay lip service to the federal government policies — and the government remains quiet.
Sprawling urbanisation under the banner of Greater KL has to be viewed with extreme caution. It reduces significantly the available recreation spaces for residents in PJ and KL. These will make both places less liveable, and aggravate traffic congestion.
The KL High Court has thrown out Save Bukit Gasing’s court case against DBKL Gasing Meridian. Tell us a bit about the case?
Our judicial review (filed February 2008) sought the court to rule that DBKL should have given us a public hearing before issuing Gasing Meridian a development order.
Briefly, the Federal Territory Planning Act (FTPA) 1982 does give leeway for the KL mayor to decide whether to hold a public hearing or not. However, the Town & Country Act (TCPA) 1972 makes a public hearing mandatory, and the TCPA’s amendment in 2001 explicitly states that this would apply to DBKL from March 2002.
Our argument was also that the KL Mayor should have considered the serious risks to lives and property, and used his discretionary powers to hold such a public hearing for better planning decisions.
When Judge Aziah Ali ruled against us, she ruled that DBKL could continue following just the FTPA.
Even though the High Court has ruled in favour of the other side this time, there is still the Court of Appeal and then the Federal Court. We filed an appeal on 24 Sept 2010, so the case will progress to the Court of Appeal.
We are confident that DBKL does not have a right to deny us a public hearing, and they have a duty how they have acted within the law. So we expect the Judiciary will eventually rule in our favour.
Any thoughts about your experiences with Save Bukit Gasing?
Frankly, I am still shocked by the attitudes of DBKL and the Federal Territories Ministry. They have treated our concerns dismissively. When you look at the plight of Medan Damansara residents, and other examples, it is clear that they do not act in the public interest.
Most people I have met share our concerns. Unfortunately, after years of the authorities being able to do what they want, many doubt that we can succeed. Fortunately, we have enough support to keep fighting.
However, unless the wider public becomes more vocal against hill-slope development soon, developers will move in on Bukit Gasing with their bulldozers, and the forest on the hills will be destroyed. The judicial process may not move fast enough to prevent this. Ultimately, unless the public is prepared to voice their dissatisfaction with the authorities’ disregard for their concerns, we will not have a liveable environment, nor bring about change for the better.
The priorities of our government need changing, and they will only do so if the general public wakes up and takes direct action. We must not be cowed by authority and big money. If we unit and persevere, we can challenge them. Malaysia needs to change, and I see Save Bukit Gasing as one of the small steps in that journey.
(Photos courtesy of Save Bukit Gasing)