30 August 2014

A new lease of life

  30 August 2014

River of Life, KL River, River beautification

THE multi-billion ringgit River of Life (RoL) project to clean up, beautify and redevelop a 110km stretch of the rivers in Greater Kuala Lumpur by 2020, if done holistically, will shore up Kuala Lumpur’s global liveability index and open vast tracts of river-front land for development.

The decade long anchor project under the Government’s Economic Transformation Programme, initiated under the Greater Kuala Lumpur National Key Economic Area, is to breathe new life into dirty and polluted rivers which have been rendered lifeless after years of neglect and exploitation.

Some RM3.4bil has been allocated for the clean-up of the rivers alone, and RM1bil more for the beautification programme.

The rivers are currently classified as class four which is considered toxic and unsuitable for public use, and the aim is to clean them up to at least class 2B which is deemed suitable for public and recreational activities.

This will be a daunting task that needs the full co-operation of all the stakeholders including the federal and local authorities, the public and the business communities to see the costly project realising its true potential.

Sharing enthusiasm for the RoL project, property consultancy CB Richard Ellis Malaysia group executive director Paul Khong says the project is a worthy initiative by the Government to clean up the polluted rivers and make them functional through value adding.

Khong cites some of the iconic river beautification programmes around the world that include River Thames in London, Singapore River, and River Sienne in Paris that can become models for the RoL project.

The other examples involve transforming the river and giving it a new identity like Clarke Quay in Singapore; raising the economic value of the river in Chicago; revitalising the social and cultural heritage of the river as in the Haihe River embankment in China; river beautification in Melbourne; promoting transit nodes in the San Diego Waterfront; and raising environmental awareness in Jinji Lake, Suzhou, China.

“Cleaning up dirty, murky rivers and beautifying them with nice river front spaces, parks and facilities will breathe new life into them and turn them into useful and viable attractions.

“Kuala Lumpur city will be a more liveable place; the public can now appreciate and visit the river side for recreational purposes. Residential and commercial elements can also be incorporated,” Khong tells StarBizWeek.

He says developments should be planned to face the river front, and refocusing developments back to the riverbank will be a good start.

“Residential developments, commercial shops facing river front, hotels with river front view, parks and greens around the river, river front water activities, picturesque views and public facilities such as pedestrian and bicycle walkways, retail outlets, eateries and other attractions for the public to appreciate and enjoy will be among the suitable developments,” he discloses.

Khong says currently most of the developments have their backs to the rivers. “Flooding is a terrible experience for many developments nearby, as riverbanks become natural dumpsites and squatters colonies,” he adds.

VPC Alliance Malaysia Sdn Bhd managing director James Wong says as the RoL project stretches along Sungai Batu, Sungai Gombak, Sungai Ampang and Sungai Klang that meander through Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, there should be a Joint Development Council (JDC) to play a co-ordinating role for overall planning and development of the river cleaning and beautification, marketing, site master planning and packaging of development sites to developers, enhancement of heritage and cultural components of the redevelopment, community consultation processes, and removing squatter houses around the riverbanks.

“The JDC can draw up a blueprint to invite the private sector to participate in the RoL project. The National Sewerage Department, Department of Irrigation and Drainage, the local authorities and the JDC should conduct detailed studies on the river clean-up exercise,” Wong says.

Civic consciousness

Wong raises concern whether the timeline allocated for the RoL project is adequate saying that according to Kuala Lumpur City Council deputy director-general Datuk Mohd Najib Mohd, the RoL Precinct Seven alone is expected to be completed in 2017. “So, the initial estimation for the RoL to be completed in 2020 will not be achievable. We estimate the entire project is likely to be completed in 10 to 15 years,” Wong says.

He is also sceptical about the budget allocated for the river cleaning and beautification exercise given the long stretch of rivers involved.

“As the river cleaning will be conducted along a 110km stretch, it is quite difficult for the Government to clean it up with a budget allocation of RM4.4bil for the entire project which includes the cost of river cleaning and river beautification over the 10 year project.

“Datuk Mohd Najib said the cost for the RoL project in Precinct Seven (Masjid Jamek to Central Market area) alone will incur RM130mil. The river cleaning and beautification of the 10.7km of Sungai Klang are divided into 11 precincts from Gombak to Brickfields. Assuming, if the cost of each precinct is about RM130mil, the total cost for river cleaning and beautification of the 10.7km will reach RM1.43bil or 36% of the total cost,” he says.

Project feasibility

Khong & Jaafar Sdn Bhd managing director Elvin Fernandez says while the RoL project is necessary, its feasibility will depend on the details.

“If the funding of the project and its maintenance after completion is too dependent on the property market (for viability as well as for the required level of income) particularly at a time when there are many other projects that are also looking to secure returns out of property profits and income such as the mass rapid transit and mega commercial projects, then it may be difficult.

“There may be a need to differentiate the project and see if viability can be secured by looking more towards property with a recreational bias and the needed market study should show positive and adequate returns. Management of the project will also become a key aspect of viability,” Fernandez says.

CB Richard Ellis’ Khong says the cleaning up of the river physically does not pose an issue but the main challenge is to keep the river clean.

The RoL project will be a costly exercise and the Government has to mete out hefty and mandatory penalties to maintain the cleanliness of the rivers after the clean-up.

“Enforcement must be efficient, strict and impartial with penalties statutorily enforceable; stiff and painful to deter perpetrators. There must be a strong commitment from all the government authorities and the Kuala Lumpur City Hall. All city dwellers should be committed to keeping the rivers clean and ensure no one pollutes it.

“It is no point to spend billions to undertake the project if it is going to be polluted again down the road. The main challenges shall be to get the public educated and also to commit to ensure continuity and sustainability for a clean river, and to ensure efficient strict and impartial enforcement to keep the river clean. Everyone must truly buy into this project and keep a watchful eye on the rivers for the people and for our next generation,” Khong stresses.

He expresses the hope that the RoL project will change the mindset of the public to create an environmentally friendly and sustainable living for the urban communities.

“We must remind ourselves to be civic minded to keep our rivers clean and uncontaminated. All these must be in place before the RoL project can be successful. There is currently no life in our rivers,” he concludes.



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