Malaysia: Progress threatening Kota Kinabalu’s charm?

New Straits Times 28 Sep 14;

KOTA Kinabalu is running out of space as progress is squeezing the city of its few remaining land plots.

Rapid development and a population boom has prompted the search for new areas and fresh ideas on ways to optimise land use.

In 2010, the population stood at 460,000, but every day, the number will increase as those from nearby districts make their way to work or study in the state capital.

In 2000, the population in Kota Kinabalu was 360,000. Tourist arrivals, too, have risen three-fold from 1.1 million in 2002, to nearly 3.4 million last year.

Prime areas, within and at the edge of the central business district, look poised to experience major development but it all hinges on political will and infrastructure planning.

Six locations — the old port, Tanjung Aru, Sembulan, railway station, Tanjung Lipat and Pulau Gaya — are all earmarked for major development.

Then there is the idea of shifting the recently upgraded international airport for land space and to allow for vertical growth of building beyond 30 storeys in the city centre. This is presently hindered by its proximity to the taxiway.

The airport, which houses two terminals, is the second busiest in the country with more than 120 international and 400 domestic flights weekly.

Last year, the airport handled 6.9 million passengers, double the number recorded 10 years earlier.

Sea reclamation, too, is no longer an option as the government has taken a stand not to expand.

Signal Hill at the back of the city centre is standing in the way of expansion eastwards because a big portion of the land is privately owned and there are also environmental concerns of hillside developments affecting structural integrity.

Another option would be to look for innovative ways to expand through redevelopment of brownfield sites — old commercial or residential areas — on the fringes of the city centre and turn them into attractive self-sustaining properties.

All these are key topics considered in development plans proposed in and out of the state capital.

It won’t be long before the central business district turns into a jam-packed hub — a situation that could affect its growth and attraction.

Kota Kinabalu city planner Alijus Sipil

There are no longer any big plots for major development though except for six locations where proposals have been made for housing, tourism, commercial and infrastructure components.

Big plans have been laid out at the old port by state-owned company Suria Capital, Tanjung Aru Eco Development, which is another government initiative, the railway station by public company, SP Setia, and the Sabah International Convention Centre in Tanjung Lipat by Yayasan Sabah.

Plans have been mooted to turn Sembulan into a traditional village that can be turned into an attraction and Pulau Gaya where about a third of the 1,465ha island is available for development (the rest comes under Tunku Abdul Rahman Park).

There is also the Greater Kota Kinabalu Plan in future to make the state capital a metropolitan, including nearby suburban areas like Menggatal, Inanam, Telipok or districts, such as Penampang, Putatan, Tuaran and Papar, within a 50km radius.

All these leave the city with the six locations and possibly, some brownfield sites at nearby extensions, such as Likas, Kolombong, Kepayan, Luyang and Petagas, to absorb expansion plans for at least a decade from now.

To do this, however, there is need for major improvement in the public transport system, infrastructure, such as road networks and drainage, among others.

Civil engineer Shahelmey Yahya

Despite space limitations, the growth of Kota Kinabalu could be supplemented by the northern, southern and eastern corridors outside of the central business district.

Central Kota Kinabalu has always been a unique and attractive coastal city with the Crocker Range in the background. It should remain that way.

Accessibility, however, is a key issue to make it a liveable city by means of sufficient public transport, roads, cleanliness, security and efficiency of its local authorities.

Two areas with space readily available are Sembulan and Pulau Gaya, but the challenges that lie ahead are unique in each location.

The main hindrance to developing Pulau Gaya will be the squatter colonies but it’s not impossible to resolve. It does need stronger will, such as relocation and political negotiation, among others.

On the island, most of the land that faces the city centre comes with individual titles and to develop it, once the squatter issue is resolved, would be just a matter of economical feasibility.

The challenge would be to connect the island with the mainland, sufficient water and power supply and even the environmental impact because of its rich marine life, reefs and beaches.

On the need to shift Kota Kinabalu International Airport, I think a long-term plan needs to be put in place, especially with Sabah projected to grow with more activities in the oil and gas industry.

Senior research fellow of Institute of Development Studies Sabah, Anthony Kiob

Suggestions to relocate Kota Kinabalu International Airport should not be entertained.

If indeed there is a need to expand its operations, a new one should be considered.

The focus should be on maximising land utilisation.

It also means the need for a better transportation system, relocation of certain sites monopolised by immigrants, a review of strategic zoning plans such as locations for hospitals, schools, residential areas or parking areas.

Designated jetties for passenger boats, recreational fishing boats and commercial fishing boats would also help.

The government should consider relocating water villages inland and this might attract investors for redevelopment of the affected sites. The profit generated should cover the relocation cost.

With a better transportation system, the central business district would not lose its charm. Better access, with improved infrastructure and ring roads, would keep the city centre vibrant.

The challenge now is to introduce creative parking bays, a light-rail transportation system, scheduled trams probably or even bus transfers outside the city area.
President of the Federation of Chinese Associations Sabah, Datuk TC Goh

The city has evolved and expanded, but many issues have accumulated at the same time. These need to be addressed by the state or even at federal level before we move on because, otherwise, it would be one chaotic city.

Our sewage and drainage systems need a lot of upgrade. This can be seen from what flows out of Kota Kinabalu at the Sembulan river.

Another pressing issue is public transportation. The bus service needs to be improved as soon as possible.

Because our public transportation service is not up to par, many have resorted to driving or riding their own vehicles to the city centre. This creates another headache — lack of parking space.

It’s about time innovative ideas are introduced to provide motorists with ample parking.

These are areas that need major upgrades because, otherwise, the city will lose its flavour.

It’s high time plans were made for some sort of light railway system, especially in the central business district area. Our fire fighting capabilities, too, need to be enhanced in terms of equipment. One of the reasons why Kota Kinabalu does not have many high-rise buildings is the lack of fire fighting equipment.

We can do away with the present airport, shift it to a new place, but first, we need to improve the basics and resolve the looming issues. Without the basics in place, what’s the use of relocating the airport?

Property developer Datuk Susan Wong

Kota Kinabalu is blessed with a beautiful coastline and scenic background.

It also comes with a killer sunset from the sea horizon and centralised location with it being the administrative hub for Sabah.

All these add value and people, who live or work here, would normally agree it is not a hectic place like other cities.

These are qualities that makes it a popular tourist destination because its attractions like the islands are just minutes away, or the parks and other districts nearby are reachable within an hour or two.

To expand, we definitely have to be more creative but the areas of major development would have to be extended to areas outside of the central business district.