Kuala Lumpur residents say the Federal Territories Ministry and City Hall should understand the implication of a landmark judgment over a controversial highrise housing project in Taman Tiara Titiwangsa before deciding to take matters in their own hands.
On Wednesday, the Court of Appeal declared that a public objection hearing conducted by City Hall for Taman Tiara Titiwangsa residents on Feb 27, 2017 to be null and void.
The court concluded that City Hall had failed to furnish pertinent documents including the proposed layout plan, development proposal report, traffic and social impact assessment reports, to residents ahead of the hearing.
The court also ruled there was an element of bias as the Kuala Lumpur mayor, who sits in City Hall, was a decision maker being a director/trustee for project landowner Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan.
Yesterday, Federal Territories Minister Khalid Samad said City Hall would conduct fresh public hearings although the court’s ruling on Wednesday effectively set a different tone for hearing public objections and how projects are approved in Kuala Lumpur.
Taman Tiara Titiwangsa resident Sylvester Navaratnam said the residents were prepared to fight on following Khalid’s mention of a fresh hearing.
“Bring it on. The case has far more implications than merely calling for a fresh hearing.”
“Can the minister assure us that the chairman of the hearing is impartial and does not report to the mayor?” he asked.
“We also want to know if we will be given pertinent documents ahead of the hearing. Are these reports prepared by an independent party and not the developers?”
Save Taman Rimba Kiara working group co-ordinator Leon Koay said the group also had an upcoming court case, with facts similar to that in Taman Tiara Titiwangsa, and he believes the landmark case on Wednesday will act in their favour.
“In our case, the development order was issued after City Hall’s public hearing but we too were not given access to pertinent documents. The project is also linked to Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan.
“We urge the minister to consider the court’s judgment and get a proper independent briefing from experts on how the decision would affect City Hall and projects linked to the foundation,” he said.
Koay’s sentiments were echoed Philip Phang, a member of Protect Taman Desa group. He said they too have an upcoming case concerning an upscale development project in which ownership was transferred to a private developer through Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan.
“We spent thousands engaging consultants to prepare a traffic impact assessment report as we were not furnished such documents ahead of our objection hearing,” he said, adding that a development order was subsequently issued without them knowing the outcome of their hearing.
Save Kuala Lumpur deputy chairman Datuk M. Ali said City Hall has been abusing Rule 5 for decades.
“There were instances where we were informed by the chairman of the hearing that the council was not obliged to provide any feedback on the outcome of the hearing or decision to aggrieved parties.
“We were even told that if the development plan needed changes, the developers could be notified by City Hall to do so and subsequently approval would be considered favourably. There was no place for natural justice.”
He added Rule 5 was “a big farce” and the powers that be need to make it relevant to present times.
“We also believe Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan should be disbanded as there is a huge conflict of interest as those who sit on the board of trustees include the FT Minister, his deputy and the KL mayor,” said Ali.
Under Rule 5 (which is part of the Planning Development Amendment Rules 1994), the mayor must refer to registered owners of the adjacent land where a project is set to take shape through advertisements in newspapers and exhibitions. This is to invite objections pertaining to conversion of land use, zoning and increase in density.
Peter Raiappan, a former president of Medan Damansara residents association said while the court ruling is a breath of fresh air, moving forward, City Hall must come up with a more detailed procedure in engaging stakeholders.
“Over a decade ago, we were battling a hillside development project in our neighbourhood and were denied access to pertinent documents
“It is just not enough that you invite us to attend a hearing and get away with it later without us knowing reasons for approval for a project, especially if it involves a major change in land use and density,” he said.