TheStar 15th Feb 2009


Sunday February 15, 2009

PETALING JAYA: Despite the controversies involving hillside development, there will be no blanket ban on such projects.

Works Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Zin Mohamed, who disclosed this, said this was because the country’s population was increasing and land was needed for development.

He stressed that a total ban would be a waste of land, and proposed instead an immediate halt on the “tip fill” technique during construction at hillslopes which he said was the cause of landslides in Ulu Klang.

The technique involves the cutting of slopes, and removal and refill of soil.

“To totally prevent landslides or ensure zero risk, we have the option of freezing all construction projects on hill slopes. But this is not practical,” Mohd Zin said at the launch of a seminar on hill site development organised by the National Board of Engineers here yesterday.

The minister said there were many local professional engineers with wide experience and expertise in carrying out safe development work on hillsides “who are capable of reducing or minimising landslides.”

“The Government itself acknowledges the importance of national development by putting aside RM259bil for the construction of highways, infrastructure and other facilities,” he said.

He said that with a ban on the “tip fill” technique, the Highland Towers and Bukit Antarabangsa tragedies would not recur, adding that the slope division of the Public Works Department was currently inspecting existing tip-fill slopes and its retaining walls to ensure no breach.

The minister, however, has his detractors. His press conference was disrupted by an irate Bukit Antarabangsa resident who demanded to know about the report on the tragic Dec 6 landslide there.

And as the minister was making his announcement here, about 200 residents in Tanjung Bungah, Penang, were gathered to protest against what they claimed was dangerous hillslope development in their area.

The minister said development on hill sides should only be carried out on properly engineered slopes and under strict supervision and maintenance.

Following the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide which killed five people and forced thousands to evacuate their homes, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had called on local authorities to ban all hillside development.

Najib subsequently said the Government might adopt Hong Kong’s guidelines of hillside development.

Mohd Zin said hillslope development fell under the supervision of local authorities as they were the ones to issue approvals for construction to begin, adding that the Government and central agencies could only advise.

Developers keen on hillside projects must also be prepared to set aside a bigger budget to ensure all safety standards were met and the slopes were stable, he added.