IN my previous article, I raised a point about a government rule that requires two hectares of open space for every 1,000 persons. Admittedly, the reasoning behind such a rule was not explained in detail, which led reader hclau to hypothesise that such a rule would raise the cost of buying a house for the average buyer.
It is good that readers question government policy, because it should be incumbent on the government to explain and justify their policies. Even though I’m no longer in government, my stint as a councillor led me to deal with numerous development issues that allowed me to appreciate and understand why these policies are needed.
Today’s exciting episode of Ampersand will explore the reasoning behind this policy and where it came from.
The first thing I would like to address is the correlation that such a policy would increase property prices. Property prices in Petaling Jaya (PJ) are already sky-high without this policy being implemented. PJ has almost 600,000 residents, which would mean that 1,200ha of open space are required if this policy was adopted. PJ does not have 1,200ha of open space demarcated within its borders.
Since there’s no evidence to support the notion that this policy would increase property prices, allow me to put forth a different argument: No developer ever wants to build a property that would go down in value. Indeed, it is not difficult to find brochures where the developer guarantees a minimum price value for the property.
So, taking the fact that the open-space policy has never been implemented and the fact that developers would want their property prices to constantly go up, would property prices ever come down?
Property values can drop when high-density buildings are allowed without the requisite open space rules being enforced upon them. The price drop, however, would not affect the properties that are being built. The prices of existing houses in the neighbourhood where the new project is coming up would be the ones affected. After all, the developer only has to look out for the interest of their own buyers and not the value of surrounding properties that were already bought and sold.
The example that comes to mind is the Mentari Flats, which were built in PJS 5 Taman Desaria, right next to the houses that were there first. Because there was no consideration for the required open space, everything is crammed into a small area. The original residents in the area reported a spike in crime and accidents after the flats came up and the value of their houses plummeted.
Other examples include the houses located in SS2 next to the Tropicana City Mall project, and houses along Jalan Universiti on the Petaling Jaya side.
Even commercial buildings are not immune to the effects of property devaluation from newer developments. An example would be the new Paradigm Mall in Kelana Jaya, which no doubt tremendously increased the value of the land it sits on.
This new mall is, however, slowly killing off its next-door neighbour and rival, Giant Mall. Giant Mall was the destination of choice for nearby residents to shop at until Paradigm Mall opened. If Giant Mall wants to stay competitive, it would have to build something bigger and better, and the only way to do that would be to ignore the open-space requirement.
Paradigm Mall is bigger and better than Giant Mall because it did not allocate the requisite open space. Having said that, Giant Mall, too, did not have the required open space set aside when it was first developed and it was certainly bigger and better than the sundry shops that were operating in the area for its time.
By not following the rules on open space, the local council is promoting purely commercial interests and is encouraging developers to constantly build bigger and better with nary a thought for existing property owners.
Aside from commercial considerations, having sufficient open space could help ease ethnic tension and provide an answer to the shortage of land for non-Muslim houses of worship.
Although open space is defined as a publicly accessible space under the law, the authorities have in the past reclassified open spaces to be used for other purposes when the need arises. An example of this would be the relocation of a Hindu temple in Shah Alam.
Do note that there are actually other rules that mandate the provision of land for both Muslim and non-Muslim religious purposes. But because the authorities have also failed to implement these rules, the easiest way to correct this “oversight” is to ensure sufficient open spaces are set aside.
Because land in an urban area is a premium, setting aside such land for religious purposes (or open spaces for the matter) would be deemed much too costly. This is why we see temples and churches springing up in factories or shop lots, along with accusations that these properties are not approved for religious use.
In this instance, by not requiring developers to provide the requisite open space, the local council is indirectly causing the tension between ethnic and religious groups.
I use places of worship as an example, but there are certainly other social infrastructure facilities that are insufficient like schools, fire stations, police stations, sewage treatment plants and electrical power supply stations. Some of the problems associated with shortages of these facilities are detailed in the Selangor State Structure Plan.
This brings me to the policy of two hectares of open space for every 1,000 persons. That policy was formulated in 2005 by the National Physical Planning Council, whose chairperson is the prime minister, the deputy chairperson the deputy prime minister, and the committee members the chief ministers and menteris besar of their respective states.
That policy was recorded in a 2007 circular that was then issued to all the state governments. I shall quote a portion from this circular:
Penetapan saiz kawasan lapang, kemudahan sosial dalam sesuatu kawasan kediaman juga memberi impak kepada kepadatan penduduk. Mesyuarat Majlis Perancan Fizikal Negara ke 5/2005 pada 6 Oktober 2005 telah bersetuju supaya untuk mencapai sasaran taraf Negara Maju, kawasan lapang seluas dua (2) hektar perlu disediakan bagi setiap satu ribu (1,000) penduduk.
So, this policy was meant to cater to both the size of the open space and to provide for social-infrastructural facilities. Having looked at the social problems I described above, besides others, I believe that this policy is exactly what we need.
From my experience in the local council, money alone cannot solve all the social problems that we face as a nation, which is why, for me, a government cannot and must not ever consider an issue or policy based solely on profit concerns.
This open space policy is a good mechanism to ensure the nation’s social needs are prioritised. Now, if only it would be implemented.
Former MBPJ councillor KW Mak has just launched his book The Truth About Petaling Jaya Land on the history of Petaling Jaya town and why property owners there with leasehold land titles actually deserve freehold titles. Get a copy for RM10 by contacting Mak at 016-2939603.