Penang mayor defends approval of housing project despite DOE objections (Updated)

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang government ignored the Department of Environment's (DOE) reservations about the 50-storey affordable housing project in Tanjung Bungah, where a landslide killed 11 workers, after the majority of the vetting agencies gave their thumbs up.

At a meeting to approve the commencement of earthworks, the Penang Island City Council approved the project after listening to deliberations from 20 federal and state agencies.

"The development complied with the 'Safety Guidelines for Hill Site Development 2012'," Penang Island Mayor Datuk Maimunah Mohd Shariff told a press conference today.

The agencies, including the state minerals and geoscience department, who are technical experts on hillslope development, gave their approval, she said.

Maimunah confirmed that DOE was not in favour of the project because of its proximity to a granite quarry, but accused the agency of practising double standards.

She said DOE had previously supported two other projects that were even closer to the quarry, that had been in operation since the 1960s.

One was for 28 units of three-storey condominiums and the other was for expansion of the Tunku Abdul Rahman College campus.

Maimunah, who was present with Penang Housing, Local Government and Traffic Management Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow, also said that after getting feedback from all agencies at the meeting, there were just one or two which had reservations.

She could not tell offhand which agencies objected, but promised to declassify the minutes of the meeting. She did not state when this would be done.

Maimunah said DOE has the right to offer its opinions but in the end, the council has to make a decision.

Approval was given on June 6, 2015 with 20 conditions imposed on the developer.

"(Approval for) commencement of work was given on Jan 18, 2016," she added.

In the landslide on Saturday, 11 workers including a Malaysian project supervisor died when tonnes of earth, debris and construction material came crashing down on them.

Chow said in the name of transparency, the state government has ordered the council to lodge a police report to urge police to investigate the incident.

Based on an initial assessment made by the council's engineering division, there was professional negligence.

The state has classified the issue as "construction site mismanagement" rather than a landslide.

Chow said the state will proceed with forming a commission of inquiry, that will likely take months to come up with a report on the tragedy.