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Monday, February 21, 2011

Property, neighbourhood and the feel good feeling

We all get excited whenever a friend or a family member buys his first property, be it an apartment or a house.

We look forward to the house-warming party where we can freely give advice on how to transform the house into a home.

These days, however, I notice that the topic of conversation has shifted quite a bit.

The talk is more likely to centre on how much the property is worth, how much it will appreciate in six months, and where the next property hotspot is.

You get the feeling that if someone at the party is willing to offer him a good price, this new owner will be more than happy to move out immediately.

It is a reflection of the times, I suppose, when people have the means to either buy property to live in forever, or for short-term investment purposes.

Whatever the purpose, we have the right to be concerned whenever a new project is proposed, especially if there are serious social, health and environmental concerns involved.

It is not fair to always use the term Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY), or the derivative Nimbyism, pejoratively to describe opposition by residents to a proposal for a new development close to them.

In planning projects for the common good, we should allow active debate on the pros and cons.

But what if the main concern is more about the value of one's property being affected, as revealed in recent debates on the mass rail transit (MRT) project?

My colleague, Thean Lee Cheng, wrote last week that the 50km MRT line will affect 91,900 properties along the way. Of these, 82,700 units, or 90%, will be residential units with a total population of about 341,000. About 40% of these are located in the Sg Buloh-Semantan area, and 46% in the Cheras-Kajang area.

She quoted a source who argued that “if you can hear it, see it, feel the vibration, but cannot access it, your property will be negatively impacted. You want it (MRT) close, but not too close.”

Granted there will be an impact on property prices, but where are the loudest voices of protest coming from?

Many of us are blessed just to have a simple property that we can call home. We work hard to pay off the bank loan and probably another loan we take for our Malaysian-made car.

If there is an efficient public transport system, we might even be able to get by without a car. For those who never take public transport, they might still appreciate having fewer cars on the road.

When I first moved into my neighbourhood 25 years ago, there was plenty of open space where I would take my boys to play.

Over time, I watched the space being gobbled out by a potpourri of projects, some of which I appreciated, but not all. I am thankful for the park, the police station, the public health clinic, the stadium, the many banks, the little Giant and the big Giant, the fast-food joints, and of course the LRT line.

I am not too happy with the upcoming shopping complexes across the highway as I am quite sure it will create some havoc on the roads on my side.

But, on balance, as with anything in life, one has to take the good with the bad. We may not be able control the circumstances of what goes on in our neighbourhood, but we certainly can control our attitude towards these changes. That, after all, is what life is all about.

Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin is reminded that NIMBY can also be used more generally to describe people who advocate some proposal (for example, austerity measures, a green lifestyle and a better transport system) but oppose implementing it in a way that would require sacrifice on their part.

By The Star (by Soo Ewe Jin)

JCorp selling land to repay part of debt

JOHOR BARU: Johor Corp will sell a parcel of land it owns in Johor as part payment for the RM3.6bil debt that is due in July 2012, says president and chief executive officer Kamaruzzaman Abu Kassim.

He also said the land had a market value of more than RM2bil.

The land was located within parts of Johor Baru that were earmarked for development under the RM1.8bil Johor Baru city centre transformation plan, he told Starbiz after the recent EGM of Kulim (M) Bhd - the main listed company under the JCorp stable.

It was reported that Johor will unveil the master plan for the Johor Baru city centre transformation project in the second quarter of this year.

JCorp also owns 3,237.48ha land in Sungai Belungkor, Kota Tinggi. It plans to sell 404.68ha, which is close to the Pengerang oil and gas hub, to the state government.

Petronas has been tasked by the Government to develop Penggerang and Teluk Ramunia into a new oil and gas hub in the region.

“We are hoping to get good prices for our land in the Johor Baru city area and in Sungai Belungkor,’’ he said.

Sources said JCorp’s land in Johor Baru was located near the Bukit Chagar and Lumba Kuda low cost flats as well as the Persada Johor International Convention Centre.

JCorp is also the land owner of the 1,698.87ha Tanjung Langsat industrial area in Pasir Gudang.

JCorp’s unit Tanjung Langsat Port Sdn Bhd manages Johor’s third port the Tanjung Langsat Port which handles bulk cargo such as liquefied petroleum gas and hazardous chemicals.

Kamaruzzaman’s statement about the sale of land indicated a change in strategy by JCorp. Late last year, Kamaruzzaman had said that JCorp would not be selling any of its assets to repay bondholders’ RM3.6bil when the papers are due on July 31, 2012. He had then said the plan was to refinance the debt.

But sources familiar with the situation said Kamaruzzaman was referring to speculation that JCorp would be selling its other key assets, such as QSR Brands Bhd (that owns KFC Holdings (M) Bhd and London-listed New Britain Palm Oil Ltd.

“The proposed sale of JCorp’s land does fit into the strategy of refinancing its debt. In situations where the debt is huge, it only makes sense that the borrower shows some commitment by making some payments as part of the refinancing plan. The sale could help JCorp pay off a portion of the RM3.6bil debt and refinance the balance,” an investment banker said.

Kamaruzzaman had explained that the RM3.6bil debt was due to some JCorp investment projects since 2000, mainly in landed and industrial properties.

JCorp is one of the country’s largest state economic development authorities and it has 250 companies.

According to JCorp’s 2009 annual report, it had RM705mil cash but RM6.62bil in debt.

It had also paid RM500mil in interests and RM1.7bil in loan repayments. Despite being perceived as asset-rich, it only booked RM5mil in dividend receipts in the financial year 2009.

By The Star