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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Johor developers keen to play integral role

Property developers in Johor want the Government to engage them in the consultation for and drafting of a plan to transform Johor Baru into a vibrant city.

Simon Heng

Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association (Rehda) chairman of Johor branch, Simon Heng, says the private sector should not be left out in the drawing up of the plan although the initiative was mooted by the Federal and Johor Governments.

“It will be good for all stakeholders if both the public and private sectors could work together to ensure the success of the project,’’ he says in an interview with StarBizWeek.

Heng urges the Johor government to open up state-owned land in the city centre for redevelopment projects via the open tender system instead of awarding the parcels directly to certain parties.

He says it is only logical to engage property developers as they are responsive to the market and know what products sell and what buyers want.

“The former sites of the Lumba Kuda and Bukit Chagar low-cost flats are the best areas to build high-rise condominiums and serviced apartments.

“These properties will attract Malaysian professionals working in Singapore and expatriates based in the republic due to the close proximity,” he adds.

Heng says the number of Singaporeans renting houses in Johor Baru has risen in recent months because of the high rentals in the city-state. Most of these people commute daily from Johor Baru to work on the island.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had last month announced that the Government would allocate funding to rehabilitate and transform Johor Baru.

Under the 10th Malaysia Plan, some RM1.8bil will be spent within the city centre. T

his include RM200mil to clean up Sungai Segget, one of the dirtiest rivers in the country.

Sungai Segget flows along Jalan Wong Ah Fook in the city centre. Several years ago, RM6mil was spent to cover up a stretch of the river, which has a reputation for being a dumping ground for raw sewage.

The money for the proposed Johor Baru project comes from the Federal Government’s facilitating fund while the Iskandar Regional Development Authority (Irda) will act as a facilitator together with the State Economic Planning Unit (Upen).

According to Irda chief executive officer Ismail Ibrahim, Irda and Upen have until the end of this year to conduct studies to determine how the plan should look like. The findings are to be submitted to the Federal Government.

Undoubtedly, it is vital to rejuvenate Johor Baru city centre, in line with its status as one of the five flagship development zones in Iskandar Malaysia.

“Apart from engaging developers, views from property owners, non-governmental organisations, experts in town planning and chambers of commerce should be taken into account,’’ says Heng.

SP Setia Bhd executive vice-president (property division, northern and southern regions) Datuk Chang Khim Wah agrees with Heng.

He says the redevelopment plan will definitely increase the value of properties in areas near the city. These include those in Taman Pelangi, Taman Abad, Taman Sentosa and Taman Sri Tebrau.

Chang says while Johor Baru should have its own identity, the stakeholders can always look at the success stories of city-centre redevelopment in other parts of the world.

“A vibrant city should be a blend of the old and new, and a city should be a lively place not only during the day but also at night,’’ he says.

Chang says Istanbul is a good example as the city, with historical sites and monuments, blends well with its chic Taksim Square.

He says Johor Baru should have enough attractions to lure crowds back to the city centre even after office hours and during weekends. These can be done by having street performances, building specialty stores and boutique hotels in the old parts of the city, and by reopening the Ungku Puan night outdoor hawker centre.

The centre, which was the biggest alfresco dining area in the city centre, was highly popular with locals and tourists but was closed several years ago; instead, ugly concrete kiosks have been put up there.

KSL Holdings Bhd executive director Ku Hwa Seng suggests the authorities re-zone certain parts of the old housing estates near the city centre as part of the transformation plan.

He says residential properties facing the main roads in these estates could be converted into food and beverage outlets and specialty retail stores like in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.

Ku says developers should be allowed to buy these houses, refurbish and upgrade them, and lease these properties to restaurant and store owners.

“Concerted efforts are needed from the relevant parties to ensure the success of the plan. But the most important thing is the political will of the state government,’’ he says.

By The Star

Malacca and Penang: History in abundance

The Malacca government has turned the once old and quiet Jonker Street into the now vibrant and ‘happening’ Jonker Walk.

The saying ‘Old is Gold’ certainly holds true for many things.

Among the things that appreciate over time are family relationships, friendships and the value of some tangible things like real estate.

Many so-called “city folks” in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya actually do not hail from the city; their hometowns are in other parts of the country.

Home is where the heart is and many of us have set up homes in places where we work, after settling down with our own family, and have children attending schools or colleges in the city.

With passing time and wisdom, we learn to appreciate our loved ones better.

And despite the “rat race” of city life, it is important to stay connected with our loved ones and old friends back in the kampung or in other places.

Likewise in the built environment, we can find many undiscovered gems around, which, in spite of their old physical exterior, are actually hidden treasures with strong history and many untold stories within their walls.

The first thing that comes to mind is the many pre-war houses and buildings that can be found in large numbers in the inner cities of Penang and Malacca.

Despite being old and dilapidated, many have the potential to be restored and given a new lease of life.

Some of the ways to reuse these buildings and “monetise” them include turning them into museums, heritage hotels, alfresco dining and restaurants specialising in local fares.

It is interesting to compare Penang and Malacca as they share many similar traits and history.

Both will benefit by learning from each other new ways to improve and manage their built and unbuilt environment.

Since my other half is a Malaccan, I must admit that I tend to compare my hometown, Penang’s George Town, with Malacca whenever I’m back for holidays or family events.

After all, both have been declared Unesco World Heritage Sites and have many interesting buildings and structures that are reminiscent of their rich history and heritage.

Penang and Malacca are both former Straits Settlement states with a long history of early settlers from various parts of the world converging there for trade.

And both are renowned for their Baba/Nyonya culture and heritage.

Being port states, both also have strong foreign connection and influence.

Penang was a bastion of trade for the English and the East India Company after it was founded by Captain Francis Light in 1786, while Malacca was a confluence of Portuguese, Dutch and English influence.

Those influences can still be clearly seen in the architecture of the buildings today.

It is evident that both Penang and Malacca have their own distinctive assets and attractions that have endeared them to many loyal visitors who throng the cities in droves whenever there is a long stretch of holidays.

This could be one of the reasons for the traffic-choked roads during the holiday season and major festivities.

It is common to find many outstation cars among the long lines of cars on the roads during such times.

To give a boost to their intrinsic value as natural tourist attractions, there is a need to improve the public transport system in the two heritage cities to ensure that the different modes of transport are well integrated and connected to each other.

Being on the radar screen of tourists is one thing, but it is equally important to ensure that visitors have convenient access to a good public transport network.

More should also be done to further boost the alluring old world charms of these cities while at the same time, revitalise the inner cities and keep them alive as living heritage.

To achieve this, the old and new attractions and facilities should co-exist and blend seamlessly with one another to make them relevant and refreshing to the people.

Malacca has made some interesting headway in this regard with many old buildings and “once quiet” historical enclaves being given a new lease of life.

One just needs to hop over to the happening and vibrant Jonker Walk, which comes alive every evening, teeming with traders and visitors.

Penangites can certainly take a leaf from their Malaccan counterparts to liven up George Town’s dilapidated inner city.

Deputy news editor Angie Ng is keeping her fingers crossed that the old and new charms of our cities will be the pride of our present and future generations.

By The Star (by Angie Ng)

Sarawak to host infrastructure conference

SARAWAK hopes to attract both foreign and local investors to its shores by hosting its first Asian infrastructure exhibition and conference in Kuching in March next year.

Sarawak Minister of Infrastructure Development and Communications, Datuk Seri Michael Manyin Anak Jawong, said the infrastructure in Sarawak will be as developed as that in Peninsular Malaysia by 2020.

"We certainly have a lot to catch up but we will get there," he said at the soft launch of the 2011 Asia Infrastructure Exhibition and Conference in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Michael Manyin also stressed the importance of established domestic firms in the peninsula to make its way to Sabah and Sarawak.

"There are a lot of investment incentives given by both the federal and state governments. We hope by doing so, Sarawak will be the new Manhattan of Malaysia," Michael Manyin said.

He added that this move is to ensure continuous development and to build roads to link the rural communities together.

The ministry is also targeting big, foreign companies such as London-based mining companies Rio Tinto to invest in the state.

The 2011 Asia Infrastructure, to be held from March 1 to 3 2011, is expected to see some 200 exhibitors from 24 countries participating and to generate RM6.85 million of revenue.

By Business Times