Transparency, clarity lacking in Kuala Lumpur’s development

Kuala Lumpur city centre

I am an engineer by profession, though not the type ever involved in creating ‘built environments’ other than the industrial kind.

My understanding of urban planning is from my involvement in civil society organisations and an awareness of regulatory and public administration norms.

In researching the history of the Bukit Kiara green lung in Taman Tun Dr Ismail and what should have been its proper treatment by the government, I came to know about our national capital’s first post-independence city plans.

The Kuala Lumpur Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) of 1970 is made up of just three drawings – CDP 1039 (Central Commercial Zone), CDP 1040 (Density Zoning), CDP 1041 (Land Use Zoning). They are very elusive, unavailable in the public domain and I have only seen photographs of them.

Despite poor resolution, I could discern within the western city limits of 1970 a ‘low-density’ residential area of Taman Duta/Kenny Hills, a ‘not-so-low density’ Damansara Heights/Bangsar, and an ‘institutional’ Jalan Duta government complex. Universiti Malaya was zoned for education, while Bukit Kiara was, as of 1970, not yet even a part of Kuala Lumpur.

I then realised I had looked too far back. When exactly did Bukit Kiara first feature in Kuala Lumpur’s development plan?

It later hit me that the CDP drawings were first given legal effect under the Emergency Ordinance in the May 13 aftermath – before its later adoption into ‘regular’ law.

There must have been a recognition of “social equity in living space” as one of the pathways towards restoring social harmony, and while this would be a long-term endeavor, the time to start work is “now”. All very altruistic and noble, it seemed. So why then are they such closely guarded documents? For how long did they remain in effect, and when were they ultimately superseded?

KL becomes a city

Return to parliamentary rule was quickly followed by declaration of Kuala Lumpur’s city status on Feb 1, 1972, and two years later it grew from 93 sq km to 243 sq km (as it remains today) upon Selangor ceding an “enlarged Kuala Lumpur” to the Federal Government.

By then, the CDP was codified within the City of Kuala Lumpur (Planning) Act, 1973 (KLPA). However, it covered only 40 per cent of Kuala Lumpur’s territory.

How then were the newly subsumed city fringes, (including now Bukit Kiara), being planned?

Fast forward a decade, the KLPA had been superseded by the Federal Territory (Planning) Act,1982 (FTPA) and the First Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan (KLSP) gazetted in 1984. This new two-tier framework, per my layman’s reading of FTPA Sections 13 and 14, required the KLSP to be followed up by the commissioner (mayor) if he considered desirable, initiating draft local plan/s for any part/s or the whole of Kuala Lumpur.

But local plan(s) are optional and can be selectively done – and if the mayor chooses not to, surely he can only follow the KLSP to the extent it can be interpreted to micro level but never go against it.

So what exactly did then mayor Tan Sri Elyas Omar choose to do?

After some probing, it became obvious he did not make any clear choice, or at least none that was transparent to the public. The CDP continued to hold sway, as was allowed under the FTPA. Still the question remains – how was planning done for “Kuala Lumpur Baru” which was by then developing at a furious pace?

First public acknowledgement of ‘4000-series’ plans’ existence

Fast forward two more decades, those expanded areas were found listed in Attachment 1 of Kuala Lumpur Draft City Plan (KLDCP) publication of 2008 described therein as “gazetted (local) plans to be repealed upon this plan coming into effect” – its many drawings each identified as “4xxx” or “4xxx-x”.  A quick glance at the list confirms that these were indeed the parts of the city undergoing intensive development in the 70s and 80s.

So when were these 4000-series plans gazetted? I found no such references from the pre-FTPA period. As of 1982, the CDP still consisted of only those three drawings from 1970. If done post-FTPA, was there ever any public scrutiny and inquiry process for the newly drawn up 4000-series plans?

The mysterious “4000-series” and the implications

Can the government of today come clean on the exact status of the 4000-series plans, from the time they were gazetted until Oct 30, 2018 (following the gazettement of the Kuala Lumpur City Plan).

What level(s) of “respect” did these plans deserve through their 30-plus years history? We assume these are not official secrets since they were briefly made downloadable on City Hall’s website around the time the Draft Kuala Lumpur City Plan was first displayed.

Back to my research. The Taman Tun Dr Ismail plans still did not satisfy my original quest – “Bukit Kiara Estate was not featured in any planning area. But their contents to what certain parts of TTDI were meant to be were “enlightening”.

The abrupt removal of the plan from City Hall’s website suggested some less-than-above-board machinations, and one can only assume they were the legal (but “inconvenient”) local plans of the day. Were they for the most part the sole preserve of City Hall planners and a small private sector coterie – an elite made up of big landowners, planners, architects, lawyers, real estate brokers, etc?

Just looking at TTDI alone, the implications would probably be quite far-reaching if the courts were to agree with what this untrained layman has understood from public domain information, and with so much at stake could a layman’s interpretation ever be allowed to prevail?

I would like to continue believing the CDP was the good work of honourable men and women, trained professionals duty-bound to serve the national interest in the turbulent spring of our nationhood.

It is unfortunate the CDP did not carry with it the narrative which surely must have been put into writing at the time recording the rationale for what was intended to create a more cohesive society. These are hopefully not forever lost to the mists of time.

Perhaps someday, such documents will be declassified to provide some echoes from the past which are pertinent to today’s Malaysia Baru aspirations.

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