Proposal to turn Penang’s South Islands into BiodiverCity


Malaysia is filled with beautiful natural islands. There’re plenty of them to find dotting our country’s coastlines, from larger ones housing floating hotels to islets such as Pulau Jerejak in Penang. 

But nothing takes the cake when it comes to stunning islands quite like the Penang South Islands, or Three Islands Project. This mega proposal under consideration by the Penang State Government seeks to add 3 man-made islands to Penang Island.

There’s now a masterplan for the islands which will see floating islands resembling lily pads, and acres of parks and public beaches added to Penang Island’s coastline.


Sustainable project proposal, BiodiverCity, for Penang’s coastline


Penang South Islands
Image credit:
BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group 

A Masterplan Design Competition was held by the Penang State Government in November 2019. It called upon local and international architects to design a masterplan for the islands, which have been dubbed Malaysia’s very own “Dubai Palm Islands” located near Bayan Lepas and the Penang International Airport. The addition of the islands are part of the Penang Transport Master Plan, which sets to bring efficient modes of public transportation to Penangites through new highways and an LRT line. 

The design winners who emerged as of 21st August 2020 are Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) from Denmark and local architecture firm Hijjas Architects and Planners – which you might recognize through the KL Telekom Tower which they helped design. 

According to architecture project website Arc Hello, the BiodiverCity joint proposal for the 3 man-made islands was chosen because it’s in line with Penang2030’s green and tech-driven vision. The scenes that BIG shared on its website look more like landscapes in an interactive game than the usual layout of a city. 

Penang South Islands
Image credit:
BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group 

The proposal states that the masterplan seeks to promote sustainable living while rapidly developing these artificial islands into a mix of business and pleasure. It includes plans for up to 18,000 residences for locals and tourists alike.

This whole project will also span a whopping 4,500 acres – which is over 5 Pulau Jerejaks put together – with no cars in sight and only public transportation available. According to Channel NewsAsia, it’ll also take 15-20 years to be completed. 

Penang South Islands
Image credit:
BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group 

The islands will also take on names of The Channels, The Mangroves, and The Laguna, with different functions for each island. The Channels island will be the first island developed, and its construction will be carried out in 3 phases. This island will tie in Penang’s beloved George Town vibes with a technology and digital park for a mix of the new and old. 

Penang South Islands
Image credit:
BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group

Attempting to stay sustainable, The Mangroves island will create buildings from mostly low-carbon-footprint materials – such as bamboo and locally-sourced timber – along with recycled material and industrial waste for local businesses to occupy in the middle of the wetlands. 

Penang South Islands
Image credit:
BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group

The Laguna will be formed by 8 smaller islands located just across Tanjung Gertak Sanggul. It’ll make up a cosy archipelago housing floating residences that’ll get connected by boardwalks and canopies. This way, animals will be largely undisturbed in the ocean and fishermen can continue to navigate through the waters despite the urban development in the area. 

Penang South Islands
Image credit:
BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group


Malaysians have mixed reactions to the project’s land reclamation


While the whole proposal looks like Walt Disney’s Epcot in Malaysia – but with much more nature included to balance out the harsh urban-scapes – the Three Islands Project hasn’t been well-received from many Malaysians since the project was announced by the Penang State Government.

According to The Malaysia Reserve, environmental groups and local fishermen have even gathered on the streets to call for a complete stop to the project. The grounds for this is that it could harm the natural landscapes of Penang while also affecting the livelihoods of over a thousand fishermen in the area. 

Penang South Islands - protests
Image credit: Malay Mail

There’s even an ongoing petition on Change.org with over 115,384 signatures from those who are rejecting the proposal. The petition includes points of concern, such as financial risks borne by the public and state from the mega-project and environmental risks from land reclamation.

Penang South Islands - petition
Image credit: Change.org


Project still pending approval from DOE


The large-scale project has been pending approval since 2019, and with a series of hold-ups further stalling the project. This includes an appeal against the Department of Environment’s (DOE) initial approval of the project from Sungai Batu Fishermen Unit. They are one of many groups who will be affected by the islands, as Sungai Batu is located on the tip of Penang Island’s coastline where the new islands are set to be located.

As of 23rd July 2020, the project is still pending approval from the DOE over its Environment Management Plan that seeks to meet one of 72 conditions required by the Environmental Impact Assessment for land reclamation, as reported by New Straits Times. The project will not proceed until all 72 conditions are met.


BiodiverCity masterplan for Penang’s South Islands


No doubt, the architecture from the winning masterplan called BiodiverCity looks next-level. But we understand why Malaysians are up in arms about it, especially when our pristine beaches and natural landscapes are put in harm’s way due to man-made development.

We hope that public concerns are taken into account by everyone involved in this project while this land reclamation is underway.

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