(Pic by moth / Dreamstime)
IN the previous instalment of Ampersand, I established that there is a discrepancy between the deposited plan for Petaling Jaya (PJ) and the on-the-ground development in the city. Specifically, I highlighted that areas marked as open space in the deposited plan are now built over with commercial development.
In this instalment, let us look at the process in which property development projects are approved. I will also examine whether the government is required to protect and provide open spaces for the public.
Readers need to bear in mind that this research was done in my capacity as a private citizen, and does not represent the local council’s stand.
Presently, a landowner applies to the local council over its intention to develop a property. The local council, once satisfied that the documents are in order, will then issue the planning permission — think of it as a permit — for the project. This is required under the Town and Country Planning Act. Subsequently, the PJ City Council or MBPJ will call for a public objection hearing.
Once the hearing is done, the local councillors who are in the One Stop Centre (OSC) committee will deliberate, based on the feedback received, whether to approve or disallow the development, or ask for amendments to be made.
The committee’s decision is final. It is tabled at the full council board meeting as “untuk makluman sahaja”. This supposedly renders the committee rather powerful.
Getting the land
On another track, before any piece of land belonging to the state government is sold, the state must first determine how the land can be used. This process is covered in Section 52 of the National Land Code. The state government must identify the land use of an area and then prepare the layout for the land — for example, the roads in the area; a proposed building’s height and structure; and the time frame for the building to be built and completed, as per Section 122 of the National Land Code.
The preparation of this layout is important because it is the only way in which one can get one’s land title from the state government. Land titles have “express conditions” on them stating what the land can be used for. And the only way these conditions can be stipulated is if the state government gazettes the land use.
Once the exercise is done, an area is gazetted and the land use conditions locked in. The gazette is made known to the public as per Section 433 of the National Land Code.
The alienation (selling) of this piece of land shall then be done in an auction, as per Section 80 of the National Land Code. Thus, the buyer and the public would know what can or cannot be done on the piece of land.
This entire process applies only to areas that have not been developed. In the case of PJ, the process was applied using the previous Land Code that had similar clauses. The township’s land use conditions were locked in the deposited plan, and these laws are still applicable today.
Now, a local council can approve or reject a development proposal because the Town and Country Planning Act states that the local council is empowered to approve or reject planning permission. The council’s power also includes the authority to determine many other things related to a development.
Excerpt from the deposited planHowever, the Act does not empower the local council to change an area’s gazetted land use. The National Land Code is clear about gazetted land use being binding upon the state government to enforce and implement. This includes gazetted land use that was determined by laws that predate the National Land Code.
The MBPJ is therefore merely a regulating body for the areas that are covered by the deposited plan that I mentioned in my previous column.
For argument’s sake, let’s say that the power to process planning permission is vested in the MBPJ for areas outside the deposited plan, for example, the PJS areas.
However, it is stated clearly in the Town and Country Planning Act that any planning permission application is to be rejected if it violates the local plan, or, if there is no local plan, the structure plan.
According to the Rancangan Struktur Daerah Petaling dan Sebahagian Daerah Klang, or structure plan, a total area of 10% open space must be made available for the entire PJ. This translates to 9.72sq km of open space in total, which is conspicuously missing.
Click on image to view full NUP guidelines
on open spaceThe Town and Country Planning Act also mandates that all developments must comply with the National Physical Plan, a master guideline for development prepared in 2005 by the Housing and Local Government Ministry.
The National Urbanisation Policy (NUP), which is part of the National Physical Plan, meanwhile requires 2ha of open space for every 1,000 residents. This requirement suggests that low-density development was the aim to ensure a certain level of quality living for urban residents.
That policy has its roots from the Manual Piawaian Perancangan, which are the consolidated rules for town planning. The manual mandates the creation of specific public open or recreation areas within a certain radius of each other for children and for recreational and sporting activities.
The MBPJ, however, has failed to uphold this simple policy for open spaces when it approved development projects. PJ has a population of almost 600,000 residents today. If we were to reverse-engineer the figures to fit the rules, we would currently need 1,200ha of open space in PJ.
I use open space as an example to illustrate how the town planners planned, or didn’t plan, for future generations, and how the disregard for these plans — and the laws that were used to create them — has resulted in a large number of local issues.
Problems like overflowing sewage treatment stations, traffic congestion, low water pressure and flash floods are the result of allowing development to occur in areas where the surrounding infrastructure was not designed to cope with increased development.
Indeed, PJ residents have every right to be angry with the MBPJ, and their protests against new development projects are clearly valid.
MBPJ councillor KW Mak is only revealing the rights of urban residents that are already public knowledge. Whether anything happens beyond these revelations depends entirely on the communities themselves.