Bukit Kiara fiasco: 40-year betrayal of public trust

Bukit Kiara park

The master plan was to turn Bukit Kiara into the National Botanical Gardens. Forty years later, the plan for the public has withered as land in the area continues to be carved out for development projects.

What is the problem in trying to preserve one of the largest green lungs in Kuala Lumpur and gazetting it as promised?

In 1976, the government acquired the then 1,534-acre Bukit Kiara rubber estate from Ng Chin Siu & Sons Rubber Estates Ltd and other minority land owners for RM49.14 million.

Subsequently, some 200 acres was marked public institutional land to house the National Institute of Public Administration (Intan), National Science Centre and the Securities Commission, among others.

Minutes of government meetings obtained from the National Archives and sighted by Twentytwo13 reveal the government later commissioned the services of US Landscape architects and planners Royston Hanamoto, Alley and Abey to lead a local team of professional firms and eminent individuals to prepare a ‘botanical garden’ master plan for the remaining 1,300 acres.

The master plan, completed in 1982, provided for the creation of an arboretum in the north merging southwards into a park-like National Mausoleum and an international-standard ‘public’ golf course bordering Jalan Damansara (now Kelab Golf Perkhidmatan Awam).

While the plan remained intact until 1987, along the way, the development of private sector recreation clubs and high-end residential and mixed development projects violated the purpose of the government’s acquisition in 1976.

Rot begins

Long-time Taman Tun Dr Ismail resident Peter Leong said the ‘abuse’ or non-compliance which started in the early 90s saw:

  • Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club (KLGCC) opening its doors.
  • Bukit Kiara Equestrian & Country Resort (owned by Berjaya Corporation) commencing operations on over 130 acres originally designated for the arboretum.
  • In 1997, KLGCC, after being taken over by Sime Darby, expanded by an additional 100+ acres at the expense of the arboretum.
  • Sime Darby later obtained a planning approval for a mixed residential project.

 

“Today, only 400 acres is left of the arboretum site, now known as the ungazetted Taman Persekutuan Bukit Kiara (TPBK),” said Leong, who is also secretary of Friends of Bukit Kiara.

“The National Botanical Gardens plan has gone down the drain save for the remnant of the arboretum which had been downsized by 40 per cent.”

Peter Leong
Leong says the private sector recreation clubs and high-end residential and mixed developments had violated the purpose of the government’s acquisition plan.

“Taman Rimba Kiara was originally contiguous with and integral to TPBK. But in 2010, City Hall handed over the management of TPBK to the National Landscape Department while retaining Taman Rimba Kiara under its own landscape and recreation department.

“The fact remains that Taman Rimba Kiara was part of and should be bound by the purpose of the 1976 acquisition,” he said.

Why the hesitation in gazetting the remaining park?

The call to gazette the Bukit Kiara Green Lung, which is a haven for cycling, hiking and nature enthusiasts was first initiated in 1994 by the Taman Tun Dr Ismail residents association via a petition to the then Kuala Lumpur mayor.

“In 2005, a coalition of 44 residents associations and 19 environmental groups lead by the pro tem Friends of Bukit Kiara escalated the gazettement petition to then Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

“It was a ‘last stand’ rear-guard action to salvage whatever remained of the National Botanical Gardens,” said Leong.

Bukit Kiara park
The Bukit Kiara Green Lung is a haven for hikers and nature lovers.

He added there was reprieve when the Cabinet announced in June 2007 its decision to preserve 466.86 acres of Bukit Kiara as a green lung specifically designated as ‘Taman Awam Berskala Besar’ or large scale public park.

“Despite the promises, a decade later, the formal gazettement remains elusive and uncertain.”

Messy current state of affairs

Adding to the complication is two plots of land (104 acres), forming part of the large scale public park, were leased out to Measat Digicast Sdn Bhd after the company carried out media broadcasting during the 1998 Commonwealth Games.

In 2012, the National Landscape Department erected a 4m fence around one of the lots to demarcate the park and separate it from Berjaya Corporation’s Bukit Kiara Equestrian Club. This followed a High Court ruling declaring City Hall had entered into a lease agreement with the club over 62.57 acres (meant to be part of the large scale public park declared in 2007). However, the Housing and Local Government Ministry said the fencing was to deter illegal rubber tapping and to expedite the transformation of the park into a world-class arboretum.

In 2013, the ministry said the large scale public park would comprise four parcels (of which the first lot is an amalgamation of three parcels). The government had then said it was still sorting out matters related to the two lots leased to Measat.

Since 2013, then Segambut MP Lim Lip Eng raised a list of questions in Parliament regarding the delay of the gazettement. The replies given included gazettement could only be made once the Federal Lands and Mines Department had received all land titles from the Commissioner of Land.

Twentytwo13 had over the past month contacted the Federal Land and Mines Department several times seeking an explanation on the current status of the gazette and why land acquired over the years using public funds had been alienated to other parties, but the department has yet to respond.

Sources familiar with the matter, however, say the department is in the final stage of negotiating the lease fee with Measat after the latter agreed to surrender the land in return for an alternative piece of land.

“The land belongs to the Federal Land Commissioner but it was leased to Measat. When the government decided to create a large scale public park in 2007, the land had already been leased and we cannot simply terminate the lease,” the source said.

Adding to the mess is the proposed development of 12 acres of land within the now remaining 25-acre Taman Rimba Kiara land through a joint venture between the Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan (the welfare arm of the Federal Territories Ministry) and Memang Perkasa Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Malton Bhd. The proposed project would see the construction of 350 units of affordable housing for the Bukit Kiara longhouse community and eight blocks of 50-storey high-end condominiums unit at a gross development value of RM3 billion.

The matter prompted residents to file a judicial review to annul the conditional planning permission and a development order granted by City Hall is set to be heard in court next month. Earlier this month, Federal Territories Minister Khalid Samad said it will not allow the proposed development if a portion of the park is compromised.

“It remains to be seen if the authorities have the willpower to do what is right without letting the rot set in.”

“We hope the powers that be will do the right thing once and for all and undo the wrongs that have been committed for far too long,” Leong said.