Buyers in Bangsar land issue ‘betrayed’ by govt agencies

Bangsar open space

News of a piece of land at Jalan Maarof, Bangsar meant to be an open space that was ‘robbed’ from the people, highlighted by Twentytwo13, has caught my attention.

As a senior town planner, it defies logic to see how land surrendered for public green space by Eng Lian Group (the developer of much of Bangsar) has now been sold off to a company for commercial development.

When it comes to development proposals, there are always firm and fixed procedures to follow.

Such requirements usually include roads and drains, green and open spaces, sewerage treatments plant(s), storm water retention pond(s), and social and public services facilities, including surau, multipurpose hall, market, police station or educational facilities.

All these involve designating identified plots as infrastructure or public institutional land. Their size, numbers and locations depend on how large the population is and how they are to be distributed across the planned development area.

In proposing a master layout plan, the above must be thoroughly considered. Discussions with the local planning authority are usually undertaken.

Irrespective of how these discussions are conducted, there are prescribed templates and formats for preparing proposals with official publications. These include the manual on the preparation of development proposal reports and specific planning decisions on how much and where to allocate public institutional and infrastructure land.

In the federal capital, Kuala Lumpur City Hall and the Federal Territory Land and Mines Department are the authorities in charge of such project approvals and land dealings.

Upon approval by the local authority, the land conversion premium is then computed based on professional valuation and work performed on the approved layout. The premium must be paid for the land office to re-alienate the land and issue the lot titles.

Besides earning revenue, land titles are also issued for public institutional land and open spaces which have been earmarked as public parks. Depending on the size of the development, green spaces could fall in one or a combination of park hierarchies i.e. neighbourhood, local parks or playgrounds.

After the developer meets the requirements, these non-revenue earning lands will be surrendered to the Department of Director General of Land and Mines – the land agency under the Water, Land and Natural Resources Ministry.

In effect, these lands return to being federal land since the title is not vested in the state land office which undertook the re-alienation that created these lots. In practice, the state land office manages these lands while the Department of Director General of Land and Mines is a mere rubber stamp.

The department also holds the land in trust and must ensure it fulfills the public purpose for which it is surrendered. Most importantly, the buyers of houses and shoplots in the area have effectively paid for these lands by way of the developer grossing all development cost into the price of each unit sold.

This means it is the buyers who are morally entitled to enjoy the facilities and utilities of what was meant to be built on those lands in accordance with the developer’s master plan.

Let us take a simple example of a surrendered plot earmarked for a Tenaga Nasional Berhad electricity substation. It is surrendered to the Department of Director General of Land and Mines and now “belongs” to the Federal Lands Commissioner.

While it is a clear requirement in the development master plan that the intended usage be endorsed on the express condition of the title, there have been cases where there are lapses.

If Tenaga decides subsequently not to use the land as it can supply electricity without having a substation, does this mean this land can be used for other purposes at the pleasure of the state land and mines office or the Department of Director General of Land and Mines?

Neither Tenaga nor the Department of Director General of Land and Mines has paid for the land and in principle it belongs collectively to the buyers of the particular development scheme.

As such, any alternate use decided for that land must be one that serves a public purpose.

Another example is storm water retention ponds for preventing flash floods. The land size for these ponds is not arbitrarily decided. A hydrology engineer has carefully done the calculations and added the appropriate safety margins and provided this to the planner who will incorporate it into the master plan.

It is morally incorrect for any local authority to procure any “creative re-calculation” which seemingly allows for reduced retention pond acreage and magically making additional developable land available to the highest bidder.

Yet, this is happening. And this is what has happened to the piece of land (Lot 56437) in Jalan Maarof, which was surrendered by Eng Lian to the authorities 40 years ago.

The Department of Director General of Land and Mines is the custodian only of lands meant for public purpose. It does not own the lands but is the de facto trustee for house buyers and property owners.

If infrastructure and public service agencies such as Tenaga, police and Indah Water for example, do not need the land, it should be returned to the people and must be used to benefit the community.

In most urban areas today, there is always some social need which would benefit the public.

As a town planner, I have put forth these legal questions and I hope those in power, including the legal fraternity, look into the matter.

The case in Jalan Maarof should be the acid test for land in other parts of the city which is also being robbed from the people.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.