Spare the beaches, save the
Monday July 25 turned out to be an important date for the planning
profession in this country. This was when the National Physical Plan (NPP,
formerly called the National Spatial Plan) was “officially launched” by the
Government at a five-star hotel in George Town, Penang.
Many conference papers on the NPP have already been presented and published
and there is abundant literature on the subject in cyberspace. There is,
therefore, no further need for me to elaborate on the subject.
By 2020, said a report in New Straits Times (“Guidelines on development”,
July 25, 2005), three-quarters of our population will be living in urban
areas. Therefore the pressure on the Government to provide adequate,
comfortable housing, increased employment opportunities, better and
efficient transport services and a generally better quality of life will be
great and ever mounting
But while more attention has to be focused on the urban centres, it does not
mean that the other areas can be neglected.
In this respect, I have to ask who (if anybody) will look after our beaches?
Will not the absence of continuous monitoring, control and oversight lead to
their degradation, and finally destruction? The following story of a
proposed development along a lovely stretch of beach in Teluk Bayu, Penang,
is a case in point.
NST’s sister paper Berita Harian on June 6, 2005 reported that more than
10,000 residents of the area were protesting plans to develop housing along
a stretch of beach in their vicinity (“10,000 tolak projek perumahan di
The spot is their one and only beach access, which they have been using all
this while for recreational activities. They feared that the proposed
development would deprive them of a vital social amenity they had enjoyed
all these years.
The report said the island-State’s Penang Regional Development Authority (Perda)
wants to build medium and high-cost housing on the beach strip.
Resident Abdul Hamid Ahmad, 57, fears the villagers will lose their
recreational beach forever if the housing project takes off. He said Perda
could do better by turning the place into a rest and recreation area, with
water sports facilities as well. Such a development will benefit everybody,
unlike high-cost housing which can only be enjoyed by the wealthy.
Another resident, Najamuddin Zambri, 53, wants Perda to turn the place into
a holiday resort for local and foreign tourists as this will cause
beneficial spillover for the local residents, especially the youth.
There would be opportunities for employment as well as for the setting up of
various businesses, not only for the villagers in the area.
According to Najamuddin, not many Malaysians, Penangites outside the
locality included, are aware of the existence of the beach. This is because
of poor signages to the place - which is a perpetual problem in all our
towns and cities.
Ismail Nordin, the chairman of the community’s recreational and sports club,
told the newspaper that some time ago, his club had submitted a formal
application to Perda to develop the beach area into a water-based theme park
and recreational project.
A year has passed, and he has yet to receive any reply from the agency.
Being only too familiar with this old malady called ORT or official red
tape, I am not surprised Ismail did not get the reply he has been waiting
for. It is as if the Prime Minister’s call for Cemerlang, Gemilang,
Terbilang (or excellence) in public service has fallen on deaf ears. A pity.
Related to the question “Who looks after our beaches?” is, Do we have a
specific, comprehensive law (either at Federal or State level) to protect
our beaches and shorelines?
I could be wrong, but I don’t think so. In the United States, where the
situation appears to be better than in this country, there is no single
comprehensive legislation at Federal level to protect beaches and
In States such as Hawaii, however, there are several old laws to which the
public can turn for beach protection. Under the Coastal Zone Management Act
(in force since 1972), a national programme has been established to ensure
the beneficial use and protection of coastal zones and to regulate their
Under the Shoreline Protection Act of 1975, the maintenance, restoration and
enhancement of the overall quality of the coastal zone environment is being
continuously monitored and safeguarded, while public access to publicly
owned or used beaches, recreation areas and national reserves has been
Under the Act, no development can be carried out - “no modern structure
shall be constructed” - without a permit from the relevant authorities.
In Michigan there are several piecemeal legislation protecting specially
designated areas. Among these are the Shorelands Protection and Management
Act, the Sand Dune Protection and Management Act and the Wetland Protection
Act. However, the problem in Michigan (very much like that in Malaysia) is
that the authorities “rarely say no” to development projects, even when
“sensitive shorelines” are affected.
Under Delaware’s law, titled Beach Preservation Act 1953, the beaches in the
State are “declared to be valuable natural features which furnish
recreational opportunity” as well as “an important economic resource for the
people of the State”. Delaware stresses that development and habitation of
beaches must be done “with due consideration to the natural forces impacting
This law is stringently enforced “to preserve and protect” the beaches, to
prevent and mitigate beach erosion and to “create civil and criminal
remedies for acts destructive of beaches”. Enforcement of the law is in the
hands of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
Under paragraph 6,805 of the Act, no person shall undertake any of the
following activities unless the department has issued a permit or letter of
• Construct, modify, repair or reconstruct any structure or facility on any
beach seaward of the building line; or
• Alter, dig, mine, move, remove or deposit any substantial amount of beach
or other materials or cause the significant removal of vegetation on any
beach seaward of the building line, which may affect the enhancement,
preservation or protection of beaches.
The term “building line” has been defined to mean “a line generally
paralleling the coast, seaward of which construction of any kind shall be
prohibited without a permit or letter of approval from the department”, and
is marked on maps prepared by the department.
If construction activities are carried out landward of the building line, a
permit or letter of approval from the department is also required.
After reading the law, I got the feeling that approval for development
activities seaward of the building line would be very rarely (if ever)
given, while landward of the building line, permits will be issued only if
various stringent conditions are fulfilled.
In Florida, the law is contained in its Beach and Shore Preservation Act
empowering the Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems, acting in concert with
the Department of Environmental Protection, to control and regulate
developments on the State’s beaches. Detailed rules are made in the form of
subsidiary legislation, contained in documents known as the Coastal
Construction Permit Program as well as the Coastal Construction Control Line
To sum up, while we welcome the official launch of the National Physical
Plan (anchored under the new Section 6B of the Town and Country Planning Act
1976), earlier this week and everything that comes with it, we should also
be serious about protecting our beaches and shorelines.
In this age of runaway development, can’t we all agree to leave them be just
as they are? Why must we spoil everything that Mother Nature has given us?
Salleh Buang is senior advisor of a company specialising in competitive
intelligence. He is also active in training and public speaking and can be
reached at email@example.com