GEORGE TOWN: Will the state government proceed with the proposed Penang Hill cable car project now that the hill has been recognised as Malaysia's Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco)?
This was the poser raised by the Citizens Awareness Chant Group (Chant), which demanded that the state government come clean on its plans for the hill.
Chant legal adviser Yan Lee asked if the cable car project was included in the submission of the application to Unesco.
"Many have argued that the project is bound to cause much disruption to the fragile and environmentally sensitive areas of Penang Hill.
"Now that Penang Hill has been recognised as the country's Biosphere Reserve, will the state government still be pushing for the cable car project?"
On Wednesday, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan announced that Penang Hill had been recognised as Malaysia's Biosphere Reserve by Unesco.
The announcement was made at a meeting of the International Coordinating Council of the 33rd Session of the International Coordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere Programme.
Takiyuddin said the recognition was a success for Malaysia, in general, and the Penang government, in particular, in the management of areas of biodiversity importance, as well as the commitment to implement sustainable development.
Penang Hill is the third national biosphere reserve after Tasik Chini in Pahang (2009) and Banjaran Crocker in Sabah (2014) were recognised under the Man and the Biosphere Programme by Unesco.
Yan said Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow had said the Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve would be a stepping stone for the state to embark on meaningful and sustainable development and harmonious relations between man and nature.
"Is the cable car project considered a meaningful and sustainable development with harmonious relations between man and nature?
"To maintain the Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve status, the state should not turn the hill into a 'Disneyland'."
Yan wondered if developers would be allowed to build high-rises just outside the buffer zone.
"This is because from what we were made to understand, there may be plans for development projects just outside the buffer zone.
"Again, wouldn't all this have a negative impact on Unesco's recognition?
"We demand that the state come clean, and once and for all, detail what plans it has for the hill and its surroundings.
"This is a significant recognition from Unesco and we want to ensure that we keep it for a long time to come."
It was reported earlier this year that the state would proceed with the proposed RM150 million cable car project for Penang Hill through collaborations with the private sector.
The state government, through the Penang Hill Corporation, had called for a Request for Proposal for the cable car project, which is expected to take three to four years to complete.
Chow had said preliminary studies for the project's feasibility had been conducted and a thorough evaluation on the market, social, economic and environmental impact, financial models, advertisement viability, alignment options, among others, had been completed by a consultant.
The studies show that there are several route options for the cable car project, that is, via Taman Botani, Youth Park and Teluk Bahang.