‘Town planners to blame for Taman Rimba Kiara mess’

Taman Rimba Bukit Kiara

The controversial high-end development project in Taman Rimba Kiara in Taman Tun Dr Ismail has been hogging the limelight for some time.

While it is still unclear how the then Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor had alienated parts of a park to be developed by a private company, one issue which has been overlooked is the role of town planners who submitted proposals for the project.

To get a better insight, it is vital to understand our town planning system.

In Malaysia, the tiered system of town planning was legislated via the Town and Country Planning Act (TCPA) 1976.

This framework has its roots in the UK’s Town and Country Planning Act 1968. It took some years for town planning to be brought into line with this two-tier concept of development planning, i.e. structure plans and local plans.

In March 1982, the Federal Territory (Planning) Act (FTPA) superseded the pre-TCPA Kuala Lumpur (Planning) Act of 1973, thereby formalising the same two-tier planning framework for Kuala Lumpur.

The structure plan is described as “a written statement accompanied by diagrams, illustrations and other descriptive matter containing policies and proposals in respect of the development and use of land in the area and may indicate action area/s.”

The FTPA prescribes for the commissioner (mayor), upon obtaining the minister’s consent, to publish and call for public representations and objections to a draft structure plan prepared by Kuala Lumpur City Hall.

In 1984, the first KL Structure Plan (KLSP) was gazetted but a local plan was not introduced. Instead, development plan/s already in place since the 1970s were maintained and added piecemeal-wise, as allowed under the FTPA.

The FTPA treats the preparation and eventual gazettement of a legally binding KLSP as a mandatory exercise, whereas preparation/gazettement of local plans appears to be optional and can be selective.

Local plans are more granular and describe land uses and development intensities down to individual lots.

The Kuala Lumpur local plan only appeared for the first time in draft form in 2008.

Known as the Draft Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020, the plan was presented to the public for representation and objections in line with FTPA’s procedures and processes.

The Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan 2020 which came into effect in 2004, has never been subsequently degazetted or suspended, hence Taman Rimba Kiara’s status as a city park remains legally binding.

Section 13 of the KLSP describes green spaces, recreational area and sports facilities. Under the plan, Taman Persekutuan Bukit Kiara and Taman Rimba Kiara are identified collectively as a city park.

As such, it is highly questionable whether the recently gazetted KL City Plan 2020 could ever “override” what is in the KLSP.

Under the previous government, 12 acres of land in Taman Rimba Kiara was alienated to a private developer in 2014 and the development order for a high end condominium project was issued in 2017.

During this period, the local plan was still ungazetted and no part of the KLSP pertaining this area has ever been suspended.

It is baffling how the recently gazetted KL City Plan retroactively legitimises the illegal act of transforming a park into high density residential and mixed development.

While it was reported that Tengku Adnan had allegedly abetted the developer and the matter was investigated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, it is my view that the town planner who submitted the development proposal for the high-end condominium project in Taman Rimba Kiara has done an injustice to Kuala Lumpur residents.

The structure plan is a gazetted document and the draft local plan was in place when these planners submitted development proposal to the authorities.

As a professional, the town planner should have known Taman Rimba Kiara is a park which is a community space and should not be developed.

A cardinal rule for town planners is to protect public interest and community spaces, and as such it was immoral and unprofessional of this town planner to do what he did.

The said town planner has done an injustice to the community and gone against the ethos of the town planning profession.

The professional association, namely the Malaysian Institute of Planners, needs to address the growing trend of its members submitting development proposals in deviation from established and legally binding structure/local plans.

It must self-regulate its professional practice standards in order to preserve public confidence.

In recent months, Federal Territories Minister Khalid Samad has claimed the development plan in Taman Rimba Kiara can be scrapped if City Hall is willing to fork our RM110 million as compensation for the developer.

Why is the minister worried about compensation?

Would the courts deem an illegal act to be legal by awarding compensation? I am no legal expert but I trust that an illegally signed agreement cannot hold in a court of law.

If at all there is a need to arbitrate, give the developer an alternative location of a size and value commensurate to whatever real ‘loss’ they may have suffered.

I trust Kuala Lumpur residents would not object if it is in a location which neither compromises any community green spaces nor congests their roads.

Khalid should make every possible endeavour in this direction, instead of trying to justify “scaled-down alternatives”.

Khalid should have little difficulty finding an alternative site if it looks at the broader portfolio of developable lands across ‘prosperous’ neighbourhoods of Kuala Lumpur.

Even within remnant lands of the former Bukit Kiara Estate (acquired by the Federal Government in 1976 for public purposes, one-quarter of which comprises today’s Taman Persekutuan Bukit Kiara and Taman Rimba Kiara), there are parcels still held under the Federal Lands Commissioner i.e. “Federal Land” as we commonly call it.

There is unused federal land beside the National Institute of Public Administration (Intan). And while there is land at Kelab Golf Perkhidmatan Awam (KGPA), its operator, a civil service officers’ association, is developing a ‘hotel resort’.

Kelab Golf Perkhidmatan Awam
The development plan signage shows a ‘hotel resort’ will be built at KGPA.

Why not use some of this land to compensate the developer instead of bulldozing to destroy a public park?