Thursday, April 29, 2010

Stop! Who is destroying the Penang Botanic Garden?

Fern House today in horrible state

The Working Group of the Penang Forum expresses alarm over the building of concrete structures and the destruction of the natural beauty at the Penang Botanic Garden.

Our Penang Botanic Garden, founded in 1884, is one of our most treasured possessions. Set up as a botanical institute and propagation centre, it also provided cool lush greenery and a quiet haven for the growing population of the city. It has always had a very special place in the hearts of Penangites.

But now we see colossal concrete structures and ad-hoc destruction of plant houses and plant collections taking place. Natural meandering streams have been canalised into drains. There is widespread loss of greenery, and ecologically insensitive structures such as arches with no relation to the surroundings mar vistas of the hills. Oversized glass and steel buildings such as an administration block have taken the place of rain-trees and shrubs.

At a time when ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ are the buzzwords and in a site like the Botanical Gardens, the powers-that-be have engaged in an exercise of total non-sustainability. Seven concrete pools with insignificant fountains lie between the two arches. We all know that, all too soon, they will stop flowing and turn into mosquito breeding grounds. If the budget for maintaining the Garden is insufficient for qualified botanists and trained staff crucial for the proper maintenance of the plant collections, how will all these new outsized structures be up-kept?

The Federal Government is spending millions of taxpayers’ money on the Garden's development but with no masterplan or coherent concept of what the Garden should be. Without this master plan, the expansion of the Garden from from 72 to 592 acres in 2004 cannot meet the challenges in coming decades.

The present setting within a natural tropical dipterocarp rain forest is the envy of many botanic gardens in the world. Yet, the ill-conceived and thoughtless development we now see will mean we will never develop into a world class botanic garden. The authorities have not bothered to seek public consultation or feedback or tell us exactly what it is doing.

The State Government says they do not want to object in case the Federal Government withholds other funding for Penang. But surely not objecting to the projects does not mean that the state authorities cannot modify the proposals made by consultants. All attempts by NGOs and USM academics to put forward recommendations for the future well being of the Garden have been ignored. Where do the people of Penang come in; where do we count? Doesn’t anyone in power care that the future of the Garden is being severely compromised?

WE SAY STOP. Stop until a Penang Botanic Garden Master Plan has been commissioned, prepared and passed, to be the basis of all future developments of the Garden. It must be drawn up in consultation with all major stakeholders and users of the Garden, it must be professionally reviewed and publicly exhibited. The Garden cannot be at the mercy of passing fancies of ill-informed civil servants, politicians and VIPs who might visit and think there should be a ‘Balinese garden’ there and a ‘Japanese garden’ here or some horrendous arches at the entrance.

Over 2 million visitors enjoy the Garden annually and thousands of ordinary people walk and hike and enjoy the Garden daily. There is consternation and dismay and uncertainly at what is happening. What they see is ad-hoc, destructive, ecologically insensitive and is out of keeping with the natural beauty of our Gardens. Please stop before greater irreparable damage is done.

Dato’ Dr Leong Yueh Kwong
Loh-Lim Lin Lee
Tengku Dato’ Idaura
Kanda Kumar
James Lochhead
Ahmad Chik

On behalf of the Working Group of the Penang Forum, a coalition of Penang-based NGOs and concerned individuals

21 April 2010

No comments: