THE problems of poor and uncoordinated town planning were identified and recognised way back in 2005 when the Federal Town and Country Planning Department produced the National Physical Plan (NPP).
The NPP was produced after town planning, which was to be dealt with in state and local plans, ended up being unguided and not in line with national objectives. “The result is that the sum total of state and local plans far exceeds national targets as well as national resources to implement them,” the NPP’s introduction stated.
Hence, the NPP was intended to provide the framework for national physical planning. Despite this objective being clearly stated, however, the NPP is largely ignored by the Selangor government and in particular, the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) when development projects are considered for approval.
The NPP is a legally binding document that is enforceable under the Town and Country Planning Act.
Section 6B of the Act allows the National Physical Planning Council to instruct for the NPP to be prepared. Under the Act, the National Physical Planning Council is a committee consisting of the prime minister as the chairperson and a state’s menteri besar or chief minister as a committee member.
Therefore, the NPP is a ruling from the National Physical Planning Council to be implemented by all state governments. By virtue of the mentri besar or chief minister’s membership in the council, any decision about the NPP has already been endorsed by the state. Hence, there should be no question about whether the state government agrees to implement the NPP or not.
Section 58(1b) of the Act also states clearly that the council’s ruling will prevail over any rule by the state should there be any inconsistency.
Further supportive evidence on whether the NPP can be imposed on a state government is found in the Federal Constitution. “Town and country planning” falls under the constitution’s concurrent list. This means that both federal and state governments must work together on the issue, which is what the National Physical Planning Council is for.
With the NPP’s legality addressed, what were some of its recommendations that were made to streamline development? And how much of these recommendations have been implemented?
Overall gross urban density needs to be decreased to 25 persons per hectare
This has been willfully defied by the MBPJ. Development projects continued to be approved after 2005 that allowed the PJ population to grow to, at present, approximately 600,000 persons for an area over 97.2sq km. This works out to around 62 persons per hectare.
Where existing local plans are not in conformity with the NPP, they should be rectified
This effectively tells local councils that local plans, like the PJ Local Plan 1, must be amended to conform to the policies stated in the NPP. The MBPJ made several amendments to the PJ Local Plan 1 in 2007 and failed to include any of the NPP’s policies in that amendment.
For every 1,000 persons, there shall be two hectares of open space
Having 600,000 residents in PJ means that the MBPJ must provide 1,200ha of open space. This is clearly impossible to achieve in present-day PJ.
Poor planning = subsidies
The state of the Malaysian economy and unsustainable government subsidies have been hot topics of late. Now, if only there were proper town planning, surely such government subsidies would not be required.
For example, when squatters are forced to move into low-cost flats, they suddenly find all the basic conveniences and services like schools, markets and their workplace located far away. Additionally, many of these low-cost flats are built in areas where public transport is not available.
In effect, present development serves only to amass a large number of people within an area without taking into account social needs like schools and hospitals, and easy access and mobility. This forces the government to provide unsustainable subsidies to ensure a functioning society. And so, if the poor have no access to affordable transportation, they will be compelled to own private vehicles. And private vehicles are only affordable for the poor because petrol is so highly subsidised in Malaysia.
Failure to enforce and implement the NPP has made urban areas a sprawling mess. Traffic congestion, sewage flowing into rivers, landslides, expensive rubbish removal services and illegal dumping of rubbish are just some of the symptoms that I have touched on in the past. And there are the other issues such as the perennial water shortage in Selangor, leading to the need for piped water supply from Pahang.
And so, the NPP’s promise and purpose remain unfulfilled. Perhaps then, the NPP foreword written by then Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting appears most apt as a conclusion for this article. “The NPP provides the framework for the physical planning of the country,” he said. But Ong warned that unless these guidelines were implemented, the NPP would remain a concept. And Malaysia, I reckon, has been the worse for it.
MBPJ councillor KW Mak heard a developer complain about how there wasn’t a proper system for development in PJ unlike in Singapore. When told of the NPP, however, the developer decried its unfair policies. There is simply no pleasing some people.
Read previous Ampersand columns
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