Sunday, 31 August 2014

(The Star) ‘Soonstead won’t be torn down’

GEORGE TOWN: The developer of a proposed six-star boutique hotel in Penang’s Millionaires Row has given its assurance that the iconic Soonstead mansion on its grounds will be conserved.

BSG Property’s business development manager Chong Hock Aun said the 103-year-old mansion, which was bought over by the late tycoon Tan Sri Loh Boon Siew, had been restored to its former glory in recent years and there were no plans to demolish it.

“As a trusted brand name, we want to give back to the community and will not build something that would damage the heritage value of such buildings,” he said.

This was the first time the developer was publicly commenting on the building since an online petition campaign was launched on Aug 22 by the Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) to save the mansion in Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah.

Chong said that no part of the house would be taken down and that the proposed hotel development would enhance the value of the mansion and the surrounding area of Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah.

PHT president Khoo Salma Nasution said the heritage trust was not picking on any developer, but merely looking at facts.

“An application for the development at the Soonstead site has been submitted to the Penang Municipal Council and is now pending approval.

“We saw the planning application and our heritage alert is based on that. That’s why we started this petition: to appeal to the council in the interest of the public,” she said, adding that they were concerned the development of a 11-storey tower block might cause the house’s dining room wing and annexe buildings to be demolished.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

(The Star) Shoe city soon a reality

The Ipoh Shoe City project will soon become a reality with the inking of an agreement between the Perak Footwear Industry Association (PFIA) and DSG Shuez City Sdn Bhd of DS Group.

The multi-million ringgit project in Pengkalan Lahat, which was first mooted by the state government in 2011, is set to catapult Ipoh to becoming the nation’s shoe capital.

Up until now, the shoe manufacturing industry in Perak remains very much a cottage industry despite it being accountable for about 70% of the nation’s shoe production.

DS Group managing director Datuk Tan Buck Lai said construction of the Ipoh Shoe City project, with a gross development value of RM100mil, was set to begin soon.

“Ipoh Shoe City will be developed in two phases over a 1.21ha area.

“Phase One will consist of 54 units of single-storey terrace light industry units and 65 units of double-storey semi-detached light industry units.

“Phase Two will consist of a convention hall, footwear academy, shoe wholesale outlet, shoe museum, shoe gallery and a hotel,” he told reporters after the signing ceremony recently.

The project, he added, would take five years to complete.

Earlier in his speech, PFIA president Low Heng Keat said the association planned to hold shoe fairs at the 9,290sq m exhibition centre in order to facilitate its members’ operations while creating a platform to promote more creative designing, manufacturing, wholesaling and retailing activities.

“With the establishment of Ipoh Shoe City, we hope to attract more foreign investors to our exhibitions.

“This could help us expand to the overseas market and create for us a larger trading platform,” he said, adding that exhibitions that PFIA planned to hold in future could further accelerate Ipoh’s economic development.

According to Low, PFIA members were also exporting shoes to Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, the Middle East and England apart from supplying to the local market.

“Our annual production value is approximately 70 million pairs of shoes and our turnover is about RM670mil,” he added.

State executive councillor Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon, who witnessed the signing ceremony, expressed hope that the state’s shoe manufacturing industry could export to more countries with the setting up of Ipoh Shoe City.

“The state also foresees the project as being a tourist attraction with Malindo Air recently announcing its interest to fly to and from Ipoh.

“The state has also been approached by Tiger Airways from Singapore and another airline operating out of Southern China to operate flights to and from Ipoh,” he revealed.

(The Star) Penalty for further delay

The company given the contract to rebuild the controversial car park at the foot of Penang Hill will be penalised RM5,000 a day if it fails to complete the job by Sept 25.

Penang Development Corporation (PDC) has given an ultimatum to Yuan Seng Building Trading Sdn Bhd, which was awarded the contract on Nov 26, 2012, to complete the RM11.5mil project by then or face liquidated and ascertain damages at a rate of RM5,000 a day as stipulated in the conditions of the contract.

PDC deputy general manager Hartini Ali (technical) said the project was originally scheduled for completion on Nov 25 last year but Yuan Seng was given an extension of time until May 31 and again till Aug 31 when it was still unable to complete the job.

She said the reasons for the delay included changes made to the building design and requirement imposed by the local authority.

“The contractor also had difficulties in progressing smoothly and was not able to provide full commitment to the project,” she said during a visit to the site in Air Itam yesterday.

Also present were Penang Development Corporation Consultancy (PDCC) Sdn Bhd director Soon Lip Chee and its chief operating officer Tan Choon Jin.

Hartini said should Yuan Seng still fail to complete the job by Oct 31, the company would have to vacate the site for another contractor to finish the job.

Yuan Seng also has to bear the cost for the next contractor. She said the eight-storey building was now 75% completed.

“The only things that are outstanding are mechanical and electrical works which include the installation of lifts, plastering, painting and drainage,” she added.

She said it might take three months to obtain the Certificate of Completion and Compliance after the project was completed. She said the car park could only be used after the certificate was obtained and hoped it could open to by Chinese New Year next year.

The original RM5mil car park, which was completed in March 2011, did not get a certificate of fitness for occupation as it drew criticism for poor design structure that included very steep ramps and parking bays said to be only suitable for Perodua Kancil cars.

The state had come under fire for the project which was implemented by the PDC although it was part of the RM73mil Penang Hill funicular train upgrading project by the Tourism Ministry.

Following an outcry, the state decided to demolish the building and build a new car park. It was reported that the new building would consist of six levels of car park, one level of office space and one level of commercial space.

(The Star) New building for Tamil school

An initiative by a contractor, who was merely supposed to repair leaky roofs at a school in Klang, has led to the construction of a new school building.

Thanks to ECL Management Sdn Bhd’s proactive action, 1,000 pupils from SJK (T) Batu Empat in Kampung Jawa, Klang will be able to learn in a conducive environment.

The pupils and teachers are set to move into the new two-storey building, which is currently getting its finishing touches, in several weeks.

ECL managing director V.K. Regu said the company was initially awarded a contract worth RM500,000 to repair the leaking roofs at the school building.

However, Regu said their cost assessment revealed that a new building could be built with an additional RM300,000.

Since the building was too old and there was a dire need for a new school building, he said, ECL took the initiative of appealing to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak for a bigger budget so that a new building could be built.

“I thank the Prime Minister for approving an additional RM300,000 for the school and allowing ECL to construct the new building.

“We have undertaken the project on a cost-to-cost basis as our intention was to offer a service to the community, especially for the benefit of the pupils and teachers,’’ he said.

Regu said the original school building was more than 50 years old and was in a deplorable state.

As a result, he said, the pupils had difficulty attending classes at the school.

“The school was prone to flash floods which distrupts classes,’’ he said.

Initially, Regu said the company faced a lot of challenges in laying the foundation for the building because of the soft soil condition.

However, he said ECL managed to rectify the situation and the construction went on smoothly since then.

“The school is being built under the Intelligent Building System (IBS) with the aid of pre-fabricated materials.

“The pre-fabricated materials, which is coated with concrete plastering, is very strong,” he said, adding that he was happy that the school would be ready soon.

(The Star) KL’s hip nightlife enclave

Changkat Bukit Bintang is bustling with activities at night with its streets filled with pubs, bistros, eateries and hotels.

With Jalan Alor offering visitors a dynamic range of food all along its 350m stretch, the place is definitely a catch for both locals and international tourists.

Located right in the middle of Kuala Lumpur, the saturated commercial area has limited space for parking.

Today’s guide to parking spots in Kuala Lumpur explores various options to weave your car through the busy streets of Changkat Bukit Bintang.

Parking spots are widely available during the weekends due to the absence of working crowd.

Council parking lots are scarce and will be easily taken up by diners who patronise nearby eateries.

Motorists might also find it difficult to park their cars during the night as parking spots will be filled with the crowd looking for a good meal or fun night out.

One might consider exploring Changkat Raja Chulan and Jalan Alor, which are connected to Changkat Bukit Bintang as there are several private parking lots available.

Visitors to Changkat Bukit Bintang can opt for public transport such as the LRT train or public buses to head to the area, if one does not mind a little bit of walk from respective stations.

The following list compiled highlights the parking spots at Changkat Bukit Bintang and other surrounding areas.

(The Star) PLUS to go cashless to help ease congestion on highway

Traffic congestion along the Federal Highway Route 2 (FHR2) will reduce when the cash lanes are removed from two toll collection points along the route beginning Sept 1.

This means only the Touch ’n Go card, SmartTAG and PLUS Miles card can be used at the two collection points, namely Sungai Rasau and Batu Tiga — with a rate of RM1 and RM1.10, respectively.

The introduction of the electronic toll collection (ETC) system at the tolls will lead to faster transactions and result in a smoother traffic flow on the highway stretch.

According to studies, the transaction time for cash payment is 15 seconds per vehicle, Touch ’n Go is six seconds, and SmartTAG only three seconds.

On average, the toll booth can only accommodate 400 vehicles per hour for cash lanes, 550 vehicles for Touch ’n Go, and 1,000 vehicles for SmartTAG lanes.

“We are doing this at the two toll collection points first because they have been identified as the most congested so far,” said PLUS Malaysia Bhd managing director Datuk Noorizah Abd Hamid.

She added that the other four most congested booths are the Plaza Ebor on the Elite Highway, Plaza Pantai Dalam (New Pantai Expressway), Plaza Keramat (KL-bound) (Akleh) and Plaza A (Penang Bridge).

All these toll booths have been earmarked by the Malaysian Highway Authority (MHA) to be converted to 100% ETC as soon as possible, starting with the two FHR2 tolls.

“We are confident that this move will be successful as the 100% ETC is already being implemented at five toll booths in Johor Baru,” she said.

In 2008, the Bangunan Sultan Iskandar toll plaza was the first to migrate to the 100% ETC system.

Noorizah assured motorists that the top-up counters would operate 24 hours, with at least two lanes open every day.

In addition to that, the booths would also sell Touch ’n Go cards and the PLUS Miles cards.

Based on studies done by PLUS, the traffic congestion in the morning was after 9.30am.

By implementing the ETC, PLUS expected all toll booths at the toll plaza to be equally utilised, as there would no longer be a long line at the cash lane.

Also, a multi-class system for heavy vehicles, public transportation and taxis would be available at most ETC lanes.

“There will be someone sitting inside the toll booth counter to handle the multi-class payment, so they need not rely on the cash lanes like previously,” she said.

In addition, PLUS would have portable readers on standby for emergencies if the electronic system malfunctioned.

The portable readers would be able to read all ETC systems and PLUS staff would be on hand to assist at all lanes.

Another issue cited was unreadable SmartTAGs.

If a SmartTAG was unreadable or wrongly placed, the Touch ’n Go card reader at the lane would be activated for drivers to use.

“Instead of blocking the lane, they can now use their Touch ’n Go card to pass through,” she said.

Motorists who want receipts from the toll booths, could proceed to the two left-most lanes to get the receipts printed.

Motorists have also been advised to go online to print the transaction statements and receipts.

To date, there was a daily record of about 161,816 vehicles passing through the Batu Tiga toll and about 111,563 vehicles passing the Sungai Rasau toll.

Over 70% of these vehicles are already using the ETC system as of July.

“Our internal target is for at least 70% ETC usage at a certain toll booth before the 100% ETC migration can take place.

“For both Sungai Rasau and Batu Tiga, we have reached that target, therefore we are implementing the 100% ETC there,” said Noorizah.

To implement this, PLUS had allocated RM10mil to subsidise their PLUS Miles card.

With only RM5, motorists would be able to obtain a PLUS Miles card for free with a RM5 top-up value inside.

A PLUS Miles card operates on the Touch ’n Go platform but aims to reward PLUS highway users through rebates. Also, RM2.1mil had been allocated to subsidise the cost of the SmartTAG.

The original price is RM120 but the current promotional rate was RM99 with a condition that users have to top-up at least RM30.

A million PLUS Miles cards and 100,000 SmartTAGs have been allocated for this promotion, which available while stocks last.

SmartTAGs could be purchased from PLUS highway customer service centres near the FHR2 toll booths which would be open daily from 7am to 10pm.

The ETC is in line with MHA’s long-term goal of moving to cashless transactions.

“We are also hoping to get everyone on board to use the SmartTAG instead of the Touch ’n Go card,” said MHA director-general Datuk Ismail Md Salleh.

By 2009, MHA hoped to implement 100% ETC at all toll plazas nationwide.

By 2020, MHA planned to implement the Multi Lane Free Flow (MLFF) system, which did not require cars to stop at toll booths.

An overhead beam fitted with sensors would be used to sense tags placed in vehicles for motorists to drive through without stopping.

(The Star) Mah Sing earnings for Q2 jump to RM84.7mil

PETALING JAYA: Mah Sing Group Bhd’s net profit for the second quarter ended June 30 rose 21.4% to RM84.7mil from RM69.8mil in the previous corresponding quarter.

The property developer told the stock exchange yesterday that its revenue for the quarter increased 48.19% to RM705.02mil from RM475.75mil a year ago.

Earnings per share rose to 5.93 sen from 5.17 sen previously.

For the first half year, Mah Sing recorded a 21.2% jump in net profit to RM168.76mil from RM139.3mil a year earlier, on the back of higher revenue of RM1.35bil from RM898.9mil previously.

Mah Sing said that for the first half, its revenue from property development rose 57.3% to RM1.2bil compared with RM758.8mil in the corresponding period last year.

“The improved revenue is attributable to the higher work progress from the group’s ongoing development projects,” it said.

The group said it achieved property sales of RM1.55bil.

It explained that the development of Southville City @KL South, M Residence 1 & 2 and Kinrara Residence contributed about RM670.5mil, or 43%, of total sales.

“In Southville City@KL South, our savanna executive suites and Avens superlinked homes were the main contributors,” Mah Sing group managing director and chief executive Tan Sri Leong Hoy Kum said in a statement yesterday.

The group has about 1,505ha with potential gross development value of RM45.23bil, combined with unbilled sales of about RM4.79bil, according to the latest figures on Bursa Malaysia.

Going forward, Leong believes that the long-term prospect of the property market is still strong.

“The continued income growth and stable employment market fuelled by an expanding economy, as well as a preference for properties as hedge against inflation are motivation for property purchase,” he said.

Mah Sing had a cash pile of about RM715.4mil and a low net gearing at 0.21 times as at June 30, which is below management’s optimal net gearing target of 0.5 times.

“The group is in a strong position to continue its expansion drive via land-banking exercises and development activities,” it said.

For the second half of 2014, Mah Sing expects to launch several property projects, namely, serviced apartments at D’Sara Sentral in Sungai Buloh, Canal Link @ M Residence in Rawang, Meridin Bayvue@ Sierra Perdana in Johor, The Coastal @ Southbay City in Penang and Ferringhi Residence – Precinct 2 in Penang.

(The Star) Gabungan AQRS looks to bid for more jobs

Gabungan AQRS Bhd, which recently saw the emergence of seasoned construction player Datuk Ng Kee Leen, is looking to bid for more construction projects, especially those with higher profit margins, says executive director Datuk Azizan Jaafar.

He also says the company is looking to increase its involvement in the property segment, including seeking opportunities to expand its landbank.

“The take-up rates for our property development projects have been encouraging. While it is true that there has been a cooling of the property market recently, there is still a steady demand for affordable housing, which we aim to capitalise on by offering properties costing below RM500,000,” he says.

The engineering and construction services provider, which has ventured into property development, currently has an orderbook of RM1.74bil.

Some of the company’s ongoing construction projects include the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (KVMRT) Sungai Buloh-Kota Damansara line, which entails the construction and completion of the viaduct guideway and other associated works for the rail project from Sg Buloh to Kota Damansara.

It is also involved in road enhancement works in Negri Sembilan and Tropicana Metropark in Subang Jaya, with an estimated value of RM172.99mil. The latter entails the construction of two towers of 28-storey serviced apartments complete with infrastructure and amenities such as a multi-purpose hall, swimming pool, gymnasium and a multi-level car park.

These projects are expected to keep the group busy in the next two years.

In the property sector, Gabungan AQRS’ main projects are The Peak, Contours in UluKlang, The Avenue@Kinrara and Gombak Grove@Setapak, which have an estimated gross development value (GDV) of RM440mil.

It has two more property development projects to be launched this year, namely, The LINQ at Kinrara Uptown, Selangor, which is 682-unit apartment project with a GDV of RM330mil and Westlake apartments on the fringes of Cyberjaya comprising 1,142 units with an estimated GDV of RM645mil. “Both these projects are viewed as high growth-potential locations which will strengthen our proposition going forward,” says Azizan.

Gabungan AQRS has about 14ha of land bank in the Klang Valley to be developed.

Ng’s entry comes at a time when Gabungan AQRS is looking to scale up its operations, both in construction and property development.

The company’s management has said that it aims to hit an orderbook of RM2bil in the near future.

Ng, a former director of Gamuda Bhd, acquired a 5.64% stake in Gabungan AQRS via a private placement last week when he bought 22 million shares in the company at an issue price of RM1.10.

The company’s other shareholders comprise chief executive officer Alvin Ng Chun Kooi with a deemed interest of 18.22%, Lim Ann Kok with 10.95% and Azizan with an 8.45% interest via privately held Ganjaran Gembira Sdn Bhd.

Gabungan AQRS is a fairly new entrant to the stock market, having listed in July 2012 at an initial offer price of RM1.18, and for its growth story to be noticed by the market, it needs to grow its earnings significantly to justify the higher valuations currently, say analysts.

The counter is currently trading at RM1.63 with a market capitalisation of RM639.62mil. Since the start of the year, the stock has hit a low of RM1.09 and a high of RM1.74.

Azizan also sought to explain that the company’s recently announced second-quarter earnings were an improvement over the previous period, if one-off gains from the previous period were excluded.

Gabungan AQRS reported a net profit of RM14.05mil in the second quarter ended June 30, 2014, which was lower than the RM23.04mil recorded in the previous corresponding quarter.

However, in the previous quarter, the company had incurred an extraordinary item of RM15.05mil. Stripping this out, it made a profit of RM7.99mil in the previous corresponding quarter.

“This means that the company improved its financial performance by 75.84% for this quarter compared to the previous corresponding quarter, and based on a cumulative six-month profit of RM26.1mil, it represents almost 95% of the profits for the full year of 2013 of RM27.49mil (excluding the extraordinary gain),” Azizan says.

(The Star) Property slowdown more evident in Johor

Cracks are starting to show in Iskandar Malaysia’s once-booming property market.

UEM Sunrise Bhd, considered a bellwether to Iskandar, this week slashed its sales target for 2014 to RM2bil from RM3.2bil, citing weakness in the market for homes in the economic corridor south of Johor.

This comes as a whopping 100,000 units of high-rise apartments – many of them from the China developers, and many of them on the waterfront – are set to flood the market, data from real estate consultants shows.

And things could get worse before they get better.

A report in the Financial Times on Wednesday said that China Vanke Co, the country’s biggest developer, is offering up to US$325,000 (RM1.02bil) in discounts via e-commerce site Taobao to entice homebuyers amid slackening demand.

Sluggish sales and an oversupply in the second and third-tier Chinese cities are driving prices lower, Bloomberg reported.

Here, the talk among property circles is that Country Garden Holdings Co, which last year rolled out a record 9,000 high-rise units on the coastline enclave of Danga Bay, could follow suit.

It is believed that about half of the condominiums in Country Garden Danga Bay remain unsold, and the Guangdong-based property giant is now looking increasingly desperate to unload its stock by either hiking discounts of dropping prices, although the exact quantum is unknown.

Company officials did not respond to text messages from StarBizWeek seeking comment.

The Danga Bay project was launched with much fanfare last year at an average of RM900 per sq ft.

Most of the real estate firms in Johor Bahru have been roped in to sell homes for Country Garden Danga Bay, and it is dangling commissions of up to 8% versus the typical 2% to 3% as an added incentive, brokers tell StarBizWeek.

In fact, says an agent, three people were spotted carrying sandwich boards near a bank in Johor Bahru last month advertising units in Country Garden Danga Bay. It is not clear who they were representing, but property executives speculate they could be acting for Country Garden’s foreign buyers.

Channel checks with agents reveal that the Phase 2 units are going for the same price for all floors, a departure from the usual practice of pricing the topmost levels at a premium.

Buyers can opt for the promotion price, which in some instances adds up to a 40% discount, provided they pay for the property in cash over several transactions. Doing so will shave RM300,000 off the price of a single-room unit measuring between 400 to 500 sq ft, which would normally cost RM800,000.

Country Garden hasn’t raised its maximum discount beyond 21% since launch day, say agents familiar with the matter, but it may not be long before the company has to dump prices.

Right next door, China’s state-owned Greenland Group will soon launch 2,478 units of apartments and townhouses, according to PA International Property Consultants Sdn Bhd executive director V. Sivadas.

R&F’s Princess Cove project will introduce about 3,000 units of apartments in the first phase, and another 30,000-plus units thereafter.

“There are also a few other projects in the Danga Bay area being prepared for similar types of developments,” he tells StarBizWeek via e-mail.

The problem here is clearly one of mismatch between demand and supply, Sivadas points out.

Demand remains strong for affordable homes costing below RM400,000, yet much of the new supply is heavily skewed towards high-rises.

“Our records indicate that slightly more than 100 high-rise projects scattered throughout Johor Bahru and Iskandar Malaysia, comprising a little over 100,000 units, are expected to come onstream in the next few years.

“One third of that is within the R&F site, and another 10% within known projects at Danga Bay, where Country Garden and Greenland are based.

“We expect more high-rise projects to be planned within waterfront areas in the Danga Bay region, such as Stulang Laut, Bayu Puteri and Puteri Harbour. The proposed Forest City at the Second Link in Nusajaya is another huge project on the horizon,” he quips.

All that has led to a visible slowdown over the past 10 months.

“Many investors, particularly foreigners (the main target for high-rise projects in the waterfront areas), appear to be adopting a wait-and-see attitude.

“We have not helped ourselves by changing policies and the price threshold limits. We, however, do not expect to see a crash in the market unless there is a catastrophic failure at the national, regional and global levels,” Sivadas notes.

“In property development, success is predominantly driven by demand, not supply. There is an urgent need to boost demand and facilitate ease of purchase by locals as well as foreigners.

“We require more employment generators in Iskandar Malaysia and facilitated migration and immigration to ease or solve acute labour shortages across many sectors. Also, a balance must be sought to ensure controls on speculative activity, which was prevalent for the past few years up to end-2013.

“In the meantime, the question almost everyone is asking is, who will occupy the vast numbers of high-rise, high-priced waterfront units which were mainly purchased for investment?” he asks.

“We are not sure at the moment.”

But there are bright spots, says Landserve (Johor) Sdn Bhd executive director Wee Soon Chit.

“I believe that value-for-money products will still see demand. For example, Botanika@Bayu Puteri (by Tebrau Teguh Bhd) is doing well because their prices range from RM430 to RM500 per sq ft.

“We expect the industrial sector to grow further due to demand from Singapore industrialists, especially the Jurong area. The Singapore government recently announced that the Jurong area will be re-zoned, and the victims will be industrial companies who have no choice but to relocate,” Wee reasons.

A number of recent Iskandar launches, like Sunway Bhd’s Citrine office suites and Eastern & Oriental Bhd’s Avira Terraces, were snapped up.

Even so, sentiment could get worse in 2015-2016, when a large number of the high-rises sold during 2012 and 2013 are handed over, according to Maybank IB Research analyst Wong Wei Sum. The problem is especially acute in hotspots such as Nusajaya, Medini and Danga Bay.

“We welcome foreign direct investment into Johor, but not at the expense of the local players,” laments one industry executive.

“It was going so well until a couple of years ago. Now they seem to have killed the goose that laid the golden egg.”

While the Chinese may be accustomed to building thousands upon thousands of apartments, the Malaysian market simply can’t take that kind of volume, the executive says.

“I hope the market will cool just enough to make them realise that. The state government also needs to take a good, hard look at the situation.”

Friday, 29 August 2014

(The Star) Pilot project to assess safety of 100km of Kuching-Serian roads

KUCHING: The Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros) is surveying 100km of roads between Kuching and Serian to assess their safety in a pilot project.

The survey is being done using the new Road Attribute Data Logger and Inspection System (Radis) developed by Miros in collaboration with Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka (UTeM) and Recogine Technology Sdn Bhd.

“We are working together with the state Public Works Department (PWD) on the survey and we should be able to get it done this week,” Miros director-general Prof Dr Wong Shaw Voon told reporters after the system’s launch by Infrastructure Development and Communications Minister Datuk Seri Michael Manyin here on Wednesday.

He said the aim of the assessment was to rate the roads in terms of their safety and to identify areas for improvement, such as putting up guard rails and removing hazards.

“The assessment will help the authorities to make good use of available resources and make improvements. It is also important for road users to know the rating of the roads they are driving on so that they can be alert,” he added.

Radis, which comprises video recording and data processing systems, uses cameras mounted on the roof of a vehicle to capture high-resolution images of the road environment for assessment purposes.

It serves as a platform for Miros to promote road assessment as a proactive approach in identifying high-risk road sections and prioritising road safety investment plans.

State PWD director Zuraimi Sabki said the department was excited to work with Miros on the pilot survey.

“This will complement the work that we are doing on road maintenance. The system can identify in precise details which road attributes are not in compliance with safety.

“With that we can plan improvements and ensure that the critical ones are implemented,” he said.

(The Star) Baram in for a smoother drive

MIRI: The rural people of ulu Baram in northern Sarawak can look forward to better roads soon with the expected dispensing of RM240mil from the Federal Government for the upgrading of rural roads in the region.

Telang Usan state assemblyman Dennis Ngau told Sarawak Metro yesterday that Putrajaya was believed to be in the process of channeling the money to the Sarawak government to enable the upgrading of more stretches of rural roads in Baram to proceed.

“During the visit by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak to the Long Silat settlement during the Gawai Dayak celebrations two months ago (June 1), he promised that the money would be dispensed.

“The money is coming to Sarawak. That amount is part of a package of RM300mil promised by Putrajaya to help upgrade the rural roads in the Baram area.

“So far, the Federal Government had already given RM60mil to upgrade the rural roads from Baram to Bario.

“The balance of RM240mil still at the federal side will be channeled to Sarawak soon to enable the other areas in Baram to have their rural roads repaired and upgraded as well,” he said.

The RM240mil allocation from the Federal Government is meant to help improve the conditions of the rural road leading from interior Baram to Miri.

Most parts of the rural roads in Sarawak are still latrite and yet to be tar-sealed.

These roads built across the timber concessions areas are being used by the timber companies to ferry the logs they have harvested to sawmills for processing and to urban ports for exports to overseas.

Najib had also said that the federal authorities would also allocate another RM26mil to facilitate the upgrading of micro-dams in the Long Bangah settlement as requested by the folks there.

He expressed hope that the Baram folks would continue to render their undivided support to the ruling Barisan Nasional so that the BN would be able to win in the next state election.

Ngau said the state government was refocussing its strategies to focus on developing the rural areas so that within the next 15 years, the rural people would be able to enjoy the same level of social-economic progress as the urban population of the state.

(The Star) Interest in transport plan

More than 30 companies have expressed interest in being the Project Delivery Partner (PDP) for the RM27bil Penang Transport Master Plan (TMP), said Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.

He said to date, 27 local and foreign companies had bought the Request For Proposal (RFP) tender documents.

“Among the companies are Gamuda, IJM, Prasarana, Sunway, UEM, YTL and CHEC,” he told reporters after a briefing for interested bidders by Penang Traffic Management Unit chief engineer Lim Thean Heng in Komtar on Wednesday.

The RFP is based on the recommendation in the TMP Strategy for implementation from 2013 to 2030.

In his closing speech earlier at the briefing, Guan Eng said Penang was proceeding with the public transportation plan as it “refused to be choked by the traffic congestion to death” and could no longer wait for the Federal Government to undertake it.

He said the successful bidder was responsible for obtaining the respective licences from the Federal Government for the public transport.

To lessen the time pressure for interested bidders, Guan Eng also said the state would consider extending the closing date for the open tender by two months.

The tender opened on Aug 15 and was originally supposed to close on Dec 16.

However, after the briefing, a number of engineers during the question-and-answer (Q&A) session expressed concern about completing a quality study in these four months.

Guan Eng’s announcement of the two-month extension was met with applause but a check with several company representatives revealed that they were still worried about meeting the deadline.

Perunding Trafik Bakti Sdn Bhd engineer Lean Kok Woei said the additional two months was welcome news.

“We definitely need more time for analysis and to produce a good report, but we understand that the Penang Government is ambitious to initiate this project for the betterment of the state.

“A six-month duration is much better than four months. It makes a lot of difference,” he said.

State Local Government, Traffic Management and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow, who sat on the panel during the question and answer (Q&A) session, said the priority was the public transportation system, mainly the tram services and LRT.

Among the points brought up at the briefing were proposals drawn up by the state’s consultants for three Light Rail Transit (LRT) radial routes on the island, two Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) radial routes on the mainland, and tram services orbital loops in George Town.

Thean Heng said the LRT proposal was from Weld Quay to the floating mosque in Tanjung Bungah in the north (13.3km), to Paya Terubong in the west (12.5km) and to the airport in Bayan Lepas in the south (12.4km). The BRT proposal was from Penang Sentral to Machang Bubok in Bukit Mertajam in the eastern corridor (18.7km) and to Simpang Ampat in Nibong Tebal in the Southern Corridor (23km).

As for the tram services, he said there was a proposed heritage site loop covering 6.1km, a Komtar to Penang Times Square 6.4km loop, and an 18.7km outer George Town loop, and the trams’ speed would be about 40km/h.

(The Star) Traffic lights installed for users’ safety

Traffic lights have been installed at the junction of Persiaran Subang Mewah and Jalan USJ 1/1 for the safety of road users.

Grandville Residents Association secretary Veronica Au, who has been living in the area for five years, is pleased as she feels safer using the junction now.

“It is difficult to get in and out our neighbourhood, especially during peak hours,” she said.

Subang Jaya assemblyman Hannah Yeoh said residents had been requesting for traffic lights to be put in place at the junction.

The issue was raised during a dialogue on Dec 10 last year.

“Hopefully, all local councils have traffic dispersal plans,” she said.

The cost of RM100,000 to install the traffic lights was borne by developers Mammoth Empire Holding Sdn Bhd, as required by the Subang Jaya Municipal Council.

The company also forked out approximately RM10,000 to repair the streetlights in the vicinity as well as another RM500,000 to build a pedestrian bridge near SJK(C) Chee Wen, along Persiaran Subang Mewah.

The developer will also construct an interchange to connect the Kesas Highway and USJ 1, at a cost of RM90mil.

Yeoh said, “We are committed to improving traffic in the municipality.

“The interchange near Summit USJ has been turned from a four-phase to a three-phase system and it has shortened the waiting time.

“Plans to change it to a two-phase system are still in discussion,” she added.

(The Star) Frustrated residents still waiting for new housing

Scores of residents of Taman Permata, Dengkil, are still living in tents more than a year after being forced to evacuate their flats when a sinkhole appeared in the vicinity.

The residents have put up a white board marking the number of days — 443 — they have been living outdoors since the incident happened in June last year.

Taman Permata Residents Association secretary K. Ramadass pointed out that it had been 15 months and their situation was unchanged.

Despite talk of a new housing project in the pipeline, he said the affected residents had not seen anything tangible.

He said the Federal Government, via the National Housing Department, had earlier written to the residents stating that the 12ha site proposed by the state government was suitable to build 400 low-cost houses.

“A meeting was held between the Federal and state governments to expedite the matter so that the project could take off.

“We were told the state was in the process of converting the status of the land from agriculture to residential and that the process is ongoing,” he said.

However, he added that the residents were left in the lurch now because of the ongoing problems within the Pakatan Rakyat-led state government.

“State executive councillor V. Ganabatirau, who chaired the Plantation Workers, Poverty and Caring Government Committee, was the person who was representing the state to resolve the Taman Permata issue.

“We have been in the dark about the project status since the ongoing political turmoil in Selangor started, and it has left us in a worse situation,” he said.

On June 22 last year, StarMetro reported that 80 families had to put up tents in the carpark of Taman Permata low-cost flats after Sepang Municipal Council (MPSepang) declared their homes unsafe for occupation.

The residents had complained that the units had cracks all over, with wall tiles falling off and the ceilings on the verge of collapsing.

Although MPSepang has since declared Block 5 safe but they are unwilling to return to their homes, citing safety concerns.

Some have been housed at a hall nearby.

S. Muthaiah, 64, a former worker at Prang Besar Estate, described his living conditions now as being much worse than estate life.

“We used to have housing and medical benefits provided while our children’s education needs were also taken care of,” he said.

Residents in Taman Permata were relocated from four estates — Prang Besar, Galloway, Sedgeley and Medengley -- in 1999.

(The Star) Mah Sing swoops on 105ha Puchong prime land, plans RM9.3bil project

PETALING JAYA: Mah Sing Group Bhd has inked agreements for 105ha of prime land in Puchong’s central business district (CBD), with its first acquisition of 35.9ha to be used for its largest integrated mixed development in Malaysia.

According to Mah Sing, the proposed development with an estimated gross development value of RM9.3bil is expected to be completed within 10 years. The group, via its wholly-owned subsidiary Mah Sing Group Ventures Sdn Bhd, entered into a sales and purchase agreement with Huges Development Sdn Bhd yesterday to purchase the land for about RM656.9mil or RM170 per sq ft.

Ten per cent of the consideration would be paid upon the signing of the agreement, with the balance 90% stretched over 48 months.

Besides this, Mah Sing also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Huges Development which granted it the right to an additional 69ha next to the land for outright sale or joint venture subject to terms and conditions to be mutually agreed upon.

Mah Sing has also been granted the first right of refusal on this land.

On the proposed development, Mah Sing group managing director cum group chief executive Tan Sri Leong Hoy Kum said it wanted to create a product that was suitable for the mass market of youngsters and upgraders who wanted to stay in the central business district areas and enjoy the amenities and connectivity.

He noted that accessibility to the area would be “nearly second to none”, with five LRT stations within a 2km radius once the Light Rail Transit (LRT) extension project was completed in 2016.

“Transportation linkages – highways and public transportation – make it appealing for these people to invest in a service residence and still be able to work in town,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Leong added that Mah Sing was confident of replicating and improving upon the success of Lakeville Residence Kuala Lumpur, as well as its existing integrated commercial hub, Icon City Petaling Jaya.

He said the new land was more than seven times bigger than the the 5ha Lakeville Residence development, which had seen an 85% take up rate amounting to 1,057 units valued at RM708mil.

He said 800m of the land fronted a 64.74ha lake and 500m of the land faced Sg Kelang.

The leasehold land, located just south of Sunway City and flanked by IOI Mall, Tesco and Giant hypermarkets and Setia Walk, is surrounded by matured neighbourhoods with fairly high population density, providing a large catchment of potential buyers.

Based on preliminary plans, the proposed development would include offerings to a full range of customers and appeal to the mass market and medium-to-higher income households.

It will offer office towers, retail lots, shop offices, a retail mall and a hotel, as well as serviced residences (executive suites) starting from RM585,000.

With the land acquisition and MoU, Mah Sing’s landbank will increase to 1,574ha with a potential total GDV and unbilled sales of about RM66bil.