Shadow over MBSKL? PDF Print E-mail

The Menara Warisan Merdeka development in the heart of Kuala Lumpur has been a hot potato issue since it was unveiled by the Prime Minister during his Budget 2011 speech in October last year. The issue seemed to tap into a wellspring of resistance with tremendous numbers of people raising criticisms, particularly via social media networks.

Of primary concern has been the economic viability of the development, an especially touchy aspect that has fired up public sentiment during a climate of rising food and energy prices and subsidy cuts. The price tag for the construction of the 100-storey building has itself been 'revised' by news reports from the initial RM5 billion quoted by the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak during his Budget 2011 speech to RM2.5-RM3 billion in the following weeks. However, this has not tempered public accusations of profligacy.

Touted to be the country’s tallest when it is completed in 2015, the building will have gross floor space of 3 million square feet and 2.2 million square feet of net floor space. The entire development of the 19-acre site, undertaken by Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB), will take ten years, targeted to finish by 2020. According to The Edge Financial Daily's assessment of data gathered from the National Property Information Centre (Napic), as of September 2010, Kuala Lumpur has 72.7 million square feet of existing office space supply, of which 58.5 million or 80.5% is occupied. The rate has dropped over the previous nine-month period from 83.2% in December 2009. Occupancy levels in the city have remained at the 80% mark for the past ten years.

But it's not just about the money. Take a look at the map (below paragraph) of the development and you will see that Menara Warisan Merdeka is surrounded by Stadium Merdeka, Stadium Negara, Victoria Institution, SRJK(C) Jalan Davidson, Confucian Private Secondary School and Methodist Boys’ School, not to mention the nearby Chin Woo Stadium along Jalan Hang Jebat.



The impact of such a massive commercial development in an area that has largely been devoted to non-commercial activity for decades will not be subtle. The influx of machinery and vehicles, and the ensuing construction work is not exactly the kind of environment conducive to educating the school children of the four schools within the vicinity. And that's just over the ten years when the proposed building work will take place.

The mixed development will include office blocks, retail outlets, a hotel and high-end condominiums. With an expected capacity for 10,000 people, and the possibility of the 

Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) route having a station at the site, the Warisan Merdeka project will have an irreversible effect on the environment and transform the locality for the decades to come.


(A comparison of Menara Warisan with Petronas Twin Towers and Dayabumi Tower, all of which are located in Kuala Lumpur)


The first thing that comes to mind is the traffic jams this will cause, during and after the construction of the development. It is the opinion of former MBSSKL principal Yong Chee Seng that this will not be a good thing. "The impact is going to be very adverse, where the schools are concerned," he says. "Unless they improve the traffic situation, you can just imagine what the traffic will be like with a working population for a 100-storey building."

PNB group chief executive Tan Sri Hamad Kama Piah Che Othman has tried to allay such fears. "We are aware of the public’s concerns that the traffic jam in the area will worsen with the tower project, and will be working with the relevant authorities to look at ways to improve the infrastructure and traffic flow in the area,” he says, in an interview with The Star.

Even accounting for possible measures (as yet unspecified) to mitigate this particular effect, Yong worries that such endeavours, like the widening of roads will then encroach into the space for the schools.



This is precisely the main concern for Mr. Wong Chee Kheon (inset), the current principal of MBSSKL. "If public transportation is enhanced, and the authorities impose some kind of measures like a limit on vehicles entering the area, or heavy parking fees, you can solve a lot of problems," says Wong. "And I understand that there might an MRT line going through the development."

"However parents being parents, they are worried about the safety of their kids, and most prefer to ferry the kids to and from the schools themselves."


Ex-principal Mr. Yong Chee Seng also raises questions about the air and noise pollution the development will bring to the area. "Environmentally, the impact will be negative, because you can just imagine what the demands of such a building will have – the infrastructure for sewerage, the supply of water, electricity, transport, the quality of air. The high-rise construction will dwarf all the surrounding buildings and this will disrupt the easy flow of air that we enjoy up on the hill."



(Mr. Yong Chee Seng having a look at the school's foundation stone)


Meanwhile MBSalumni vice-president Peter Yap wonders about the corollary effects that such a big development will bring to its surroundings. "The property prices around the building will rise and corporations will be eyeing available pieces of land in the area," he says.

While Stadium Merdeka and Stadium Negara are sitting on land owned by PNB, they are gazetted as heritage sites, and Hamad has assured that not only the stadiums will not be touched, but also the architecture for the development will be consistent and complementary to the iconic status of the stadiums.

As for all the schools and other buildings nearby, Yap hints that they will be up for grabs. "For the owners of these other buildings, some offers will be hard to resist." A good example of this is the demolishing of Bukit Bintang Girl's School to make way for The Pavilion.

Yap is skeptical whether this project will get off the ground in the next couple of years (it is slated to begin construction next year). But if the government is determined to go through with this development, Yap doesn't believe that efforts like petition will stop it from going ahead. "While this is a concern, but it's not at the top of my 'must-think-about' list. 

I'm thinking a lot about concerns that are tangible and immediate rather than something that I have no control over."  

Those acquainted with the history of mega-projects being pushed through despite public resistance will be familiar with such sentiments.




(This article is reproduced from the alumni's newsletter The Bridge No. 3. Reproduction of this article is prohibited without the permission of the author and the MBSalumni.)


*Mr. Wong's Picture - Courtesy of MBSKL
*Mr. Yong's Picture - Courtesy of The Star Online


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