Time to dust off KL City Plan

THE draft Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020 (KLCP 2020) unveiled in 2008 but still not gazetted has been in the news.

Selamatkan Kuala Lumpur, a coalition of residents' associations, has pressured Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) to gazette it soon. Its chairman urged DBKL to approve and gazette the local plan so that residents have a reference guide.

He said that the absence of a local plan had resulted in an oversupply of high-rise buildings approved by DBKL contrary to residents' needs and that residents also face challenges protecting green spaces.

The present town planning system was established in 1976 with the Town and Country Planning Act (TCPA) which provides for structure plans and local plans as the main instruments to regulate urban development.

The structure plan is a broad brush policy plan with planning objectives and policies backed by maps and diagrams.

Local plans are detailed development control plans that show the future development and the intensity of land use. As such, every land owner not only knows what his or her land can be used for but also the use of nearby plots. These plans are prepared by local authorities and approved by state governments.

The law requires that town planners consult residents when preparing both plans. There is a procedure for public participation before the plans are approved and gazetted as legal documents.

As part of the development control process, the TCPA requires that all land development projects, including renovations, need to obtain town planning permission from the local authorities, after processing applications by consultants.

In 1995, Parliament passed the Town Planners Act. Consequently, only those who are members of the Town Planning Institute are allowed to identify themselves professionally as town planners and qualified to obtain a licence from the Town Planners' Board to practise as town planning consultants.

Since the introduction of the town planning system, many structure plans and local plans have been prepared costing millions of ringgit. Legitimate development projects are not only prepared by private town planners but also processed by town planners in the local authorities. Occasionally, some may have to be approved by the state government.

The structure plan-local plan system is modelled on the British system. In theory, this hierarchical system with mandatory public participation looks good, but in practice, it is not. It is too rigid and time consuming.

While structure plans are relatively easy to prepare, by themselves they are not useful. They tend to be "pie-in-the-sky" documents that have little use, such as "There should be adequate low-cost housing for low income groups".

Local plans are difficult to prepare because they require detailed knowledge of the planning areas. More importantly, since they show proposed land use and intensity of use of every plot, there is bound to be disagreement, either by the owners of these plots or their neighbours.

Here, it is useful to recall the difficult journey of the KLCP 2020. Despite taking years to prepare, it received a hostile reception when it was put on display for public comments and objections.

There were over 1,000 submissions on comments and objections. Ten of the 11 MPs from Kuala Lumpur publicly described it as "grossly flawed".

Until today, the plan is still not a legal document. It is possible that the long delay to gazette the plan was because it was heavily criticised. It is a fact that local plans are difficult to prepare, and once prepared and gazetted, they can also cause many problems, unless they are updated.

In the United Kingdom, the two-tier system in England and Wales was abandoned in 2004 in favour of a new Local Development Framework System. The old system was judged to be too inflexible. The new framework provides for local authorities to create a set of development documents to inform land use and regulations. While it also faces some criticism, the new system is meant to be more quickly and easily updated to suit local needs.

Here in Malaysia, the need for change is long overdue.

Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is interested in urban governance, housing and urban planning. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com