Fate of controversial KL City Plan 2020 lies in court’s hands

Bangsar land

Today is a crucial day for a group of aggrieved Kuala Lumpur residents – their judicial review application against the Federal Territories Ministry and Kuala Lumpur City Hall will be heard at the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

It is understood the concerned stakeholders are seeking a declaration that the government’s decision to gazette the Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020 is illegal and that the government had acted ultra vires.

The government decision in October 2018, some 10 years after the Draft Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020 was made public, effectively means the plan is the blueprint for development in the city until 2020.

Although a series of public hearings, roundtable discussions and workshops were held to compile suggestions, objections and recommendations, the plan was not gazetted as intended in 2012 by the then Barisan Nasional administration.

As a result, there were a series of infringements, including change in land status, unwarranted development, and increase in plot ratio and density levels which were not made known during public hearing sessions.

Present Federal Territories Minister Khalid Samad, however, decided to push for the gazette by including an addendum on development.

It is understood there are some 273 infringements in the gazetted plan, including a 0.2 hectare piece of land in Jalan Maarof, Bangsar.

The land next to Bangsar Village II and opposite the Saidina Abu Bakar As-Siddiq mosque in Bangsar, was marked as open space as per the Draft Kuala Lumpur City Plan that was revealed in 2008.

Back then, the said land was occupied by a car showroom operator who has sinced relocated to Chan Sow Lin.

This land rob actually dates back to 1977 when Bangsar Baru developer Eng Lian Enterprise Sdn Bhd was told to surrender the plot as public open space to City Hall.

The developer fulfilled the condition set by City Hall, but the Federal Territories Land and Mines Department did not gazette the land as open space, claiming City Hall did not notify the department.

In 1999, Melor Travels Sdn Bhd paid a premium of RM2 million to the land office for a 99-year lease of the land. It subsequently rented out the land in 2004 to the car showroom operator.

The authorities intervened after this matter was brought to light in 2008. Despite several attempts by ‘negotiators’ including then former minister Datuk Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin and then mayor Tan Sri Ahmad Fuad Ismail, Melor Travels rejected offers for a land swap deal in a bid to return the land to the people.

In late 2017, however, City Hall received and approved an application by Melor Travels (which is also the developer) to build a four-storey commercial building. A visit to the site recently showed construction work is under way at the site.

Jalan Maarof construction board
A building block, complete with a basement car park, will be built on the controversial land at Jalan Maarof, Bangsar.

Prem Kumar Nair described the episode as a ‘travesty of justice’ and one that does not uphold the principle of good governance.

As a long-time resident and secretary of the Bangsar Baru Residents’ Association, Prem wonders how the development was approved as the land was marked as open space in Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020.

“We strongly and categorically object to any form of development on this piece of land. How on earth was the development order issued when this is controversy over the land?” he questioned.

“It looks like anything goes now. We thought the new government would put an end to the days of mismanagement and maladministration but the new government is no different,” said Prem, adding Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil has been silent on the matter.

Construction work
Construction work going on at the plot of land which was meant to be an open space in Bangsar.

The association’s former president Datuk George Joseph had handed over documents pertaining to the land to Fahmi on May 21, 2018 hoping for intervention.

Joseph, who has been ‘fighting’ the matter for the last decade, says the land is government land that has been “hijacked”.

“It is not acceptable. The land has been robbed. No one, not even City Hall, wants to take the blame and despite all this, City Hall has approved a development project on this land contrary to the KL City Plan 2020.

“We have had ministers, mayors in the past intervening, trying to offer alternative sites to ensure the land goes back to the people but look what has happened now. It is utter nonsense,” said Joseph.

Prem and Joseph are not alone in their battle as their sentiments are shared by many other aggrieved stakeholders in other areas, including Taman Desa, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Taman Rimba Kiara, Jalan Kelang Lama, Federal Hill and Taman Tiara Titiwangsa.

The question is: Will the court protect the rights of these private citizens by declaring the authorities had acted ultra vires in gazetting the Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020 or will the plan go into the history books as local government expert Derek Fernandez once said – the “biggest abuse of power in planning and development control in Malaysia”?