Just Johor - Nong Chik model pays off

THE development of Malay reserve land has always been a contentious issue. It has become such a pugnacious and often litigious matter, that even well-meaning investors are loathe to get involved.

But Johor has a marvellous exception – Taman Nong Chik – in the heart of JB.

Nong Chik has been home to thousands of Malays over the years. Many still cherish fond memories of growing up here. The place is rich in culture, history and heritage.

Its story goes back to the time of Tuan Syed Muhammed Alsagoff – the grandson of Tuan Syed Abdul Rahman Alsagoff from Yemen – who was alienated this land by Sultan Abu Bakar in mid 19th century.

Since then, generations of Malays have settled in Nong Chik because of its strategic location in Johor Baru.

Starting with the Alsagoff family, they began building religious schools and a mosque, and before long, a unique Malay settlement emerged here.

Spread over 17.8ha, it used to be one of the last remaining tracts of state government land within a 5km radius of the Johor Baru city centre.

In 2009, under a state privatisation agreement, Mudra Tropika Sdn Bhd was given the job to redevelop this site.

This necessitated the relocation of 74 government quarters for officers of the Johor Civil Service, who were moved to new government housing in Nusajaya.

This experiment in urban redevelopment, and especially involving Malay reserve land, is now a model for the whole country.

Mudra Tropika, a bumiputra-owned company, faced tremendous snags and snarls in the roll-out of its RM306 million development plan.

First, people were sceptical that it could be done, and especially by a bumi developer. This is despite the statutory guarantee under the Land Acquisition Act 1960 (Amendment 1983) that the privatisation plan will neither negate the land status nor diminish the land value.

Second, banks simply refused to give bridging finance to the developer in return for the charge on the Malay reserve land title. There was no precedent and they refused to take the risk.

Even buyers keen to acquire the new houses on the site were denied end-financing, including by the Islamic banks.

Third, there were genuine doubts about whether this relatively unknown bumi company, with no proven track record, could implement and deliver what was promised to the house buyers.

And lastly, there was the red tape that makes any attempt to develop Malay reserve land such a nightmare, with conditions bound by no less than four state and federal laws and enactments.

But Mudra Tropika was undaunted. Remember, all this happened at a time when the economy was in the doldrums and cashflow was generally tight.

But the company persevered and to its credit, a new modern and environment-friendly housing scheme has now emerged, otherwise known as Nong Chik Heights.

Based on the "honeycomb" design housing concept, this "new" Nong Chik preserves the unique character and old-world charm of this historical place.

Property ownership is still exclusively in the hands of the Malay-bumiputras. It still resembles a Malay settlement, albeit a modern one, because the project's architectural concept allows for closely-knit neighbourhoods.

More importantly, this unique project has upped both the land and property values, which would still be languishing in despair if the state government had not opened the site for redevelopment.

Since Nong Chik Heights opened last year, house prices have nearly doubled and are still rising because of the excellent location, easy accessibility, and modern public amenities so close to the city.

The project has also debunked the notion that Malay-bumiputras cannot afford modern housing and commercial properties so close to the city.

Indeed, all residential units in Nong Chik Heights priced between RM295,500 and RM2.7 million each, are now almost sold out.

Even 24 units of three-storey shop-offices, which are an integral part of the entire development masterplan, and priced at RM750,000 to RM1.168 million were also snapped up by eager bumi buyers.

Hence, Nong Chik Heights has enabled bumiputra entrepreneurs to acquire and operate businesses close to the state capital, which was a near impossible feat previously.

The development has also necessitated the upgrading of infrastructure, namely a new dual-carriageway and the construction of underground drainage network.

Nong Chik Heights is today the hallmark of development and progress – and one that all Johor Malays can be proud of.

Roy, a long-time resident of JB, is a keen watcher of economic, political and social trends on both sides of the Johor Straits. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com