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Friday, November 19, 2010

Comprehensive plan needed to revive JB

An aerial view of Johor Baru city centre. Visitors used to stop by before the opening of the CIQ complex.

Opening of new immigration complex and shifting of govt offices left city centre deserted

JOHOR BARU: Comprehensive planning is needed to ensure the Johor Baru city centre transformation succeed together with strong political will and concerted efforts from various parties.

Views from property developers, owners, businesses, non-governmental organisations, town planning experts, chambers or commerce and Johor Baru folk must be taken into account in drawing up the urban renewal plan.

Prof Ahmad Nazri Muhamad Ludin ... ‘It is vital to rejuvenate Johor Baru.’

It is vital to rejuvenate Johor Baru into a vibrant city as it has lost its appeal,'' said Universiti Teknologi Malaysia dean in the Faculty of Built Environment Prof Ahmad Nazri Muhamad Ludin in an interview.

Under the 10th Malaysia Plan, some RM1.8bil will be allocated under the transformation plan with the Iskandar Regional Development Authority and the state economic planning unit as the project's facilitator.

Many blamed the opening of Bangunan Sultan Iskandar Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) complex at Bukit Chagar in 2008 as the reason why the city centre is now deserted.

Prior to the opening of the CIQ complex, motorists and visitors especially Singaporeans and locals working in Singapore entering Johor via the old CIQ would stop at the city centre to change money and patronise the eateries.

But the traffic now has been diverted to Jalan Tebrau and Stulang Laut, hence money changers and eateries in the two areas enjoyed brisk business.

He said the shifting of state government offices to the state's new administrative centre of Kota Iskandar in Nusajaya in 2009 from Bukit Timbalan here made matters worse.

Lunch crowds especially office workers have declined and the public dealing with the government offices now have to go to Nusajaya,'' said Ahmad.

He said unlike Kuala Lumpur, after the federal offices moved to Putrajaya, it still has contents such as Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Jalan Petaling, Jalan Chow Kit and Central Market to attract crowds, but not Johor Baru.

Ahmad said people did not see a need to come to the city centre as its suburban areas were also developing; in fact Johor Baru has more vibrant suburban neighbourhoods than the city centre itself.

Samuel Tan Wee Cheng says that opening up Sungai Segget is the right move.

KGV-Lambert Smith Hampton director Samuel Tan Wee Cheng lauded the plan to redevelop the former sites of Lumba Kuda and Bukit Chagar low-cost flats in the same way as KLCC.

He said the development should include high-rise condominiums and serviced apartments as these could attract Malaysian professionals working in Singapore and expatriates based in the republic.

The sites' close proximity to the CIQ and the proposed extension of the MRT line from Singapore to Johor Baru Sentral are the good selling points to attract buyers,'' said Tan.

He said incentives should be given to property owners in the form of soft loans to upgrade their rundown properties in the city centre as the upgraded properties could fetch better rental returns for owners.

Tan said these properties could be turned into boutique hotels, specialty retail stores, food and beverage outlets as well as offices like in Singapore's Arab Street, Emerald Hill, Joo Chiat and Tanjung Pagar areas.

He said opening up Sungai Segget which flows alongside Jalan Wong Ah Fook in the city centre was the right move as water elements would bring back life and soul to the area.

Under the transformation plan, RM200mil will be spent to clean up Sungai Segget, one of the dirtiest rivers in the country with its reputation for being a dumping ground for raw sewage; RM6mil was spent several years ago to cover the stretch.

Southern region representative of Malaysian Association for Shopping and Highrise Complex Management Jenny Chan said old parts of Johor Baru city should be preserved in the renewal plan.

She said Johor could learn from Malacca and Penang in retaining and preserving old buildings in Jonker Street and George Town.

Chan said old buildings within the enclave of Johor Baru city might not be as old as those in Malacca or George Town but still worth preserving them due the uniqueness of the faade such as art dcor and neo-classical designs.

A vibrant city should be a blend of the old and the new. Look at London and Istanbul where the two elements blend well in the two cities attracting tourists from all over the world,'' said Chan.

She said regulat street performances, arts and culture activities, al fresco hawker centre could attract crowds back to the city centre after office hours and weekends and it was high time for Johor Baru to have its own Central Market like in Kuala Lumpur.

By The Star

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