Is sustainable development possible?

By Ampersand and KW Mak, The Nut Graph


WHEN residents talk about development in an urban environment, the discussion primarily focuses on ensuing traffic problems for the existing neighbourhood. Developers would, in turn, talk about how they are bringing in much needed economic activity into the area to justify the project.

Any discussion without a base framework to start from would invariably lead to disagreements, as I have often enough witnessed in objection hearings for development projects. To provide that base framework, I shall present today’s topic – sustainable development.

Defining “sustainable development”

The Town and Country Planning Act (TCPA) has a provision for each state government to prepare a development policy document called a state structure plan. This plan governs how land is used and how development would take place within each state.

In providing the specifics on how to prepare the state structure plan, Section 8(3) of the TCPA states: “The draft structure plan shall be a written statement – for the improvement of the physical living environment, the improvement of communications, the management of traffic, the improvement of socioeconomic well-being and the promotion of economic growth, and the facilitating of sustainable development” (my emphasis).

Following this instruction, the Selangor Town and Country Planning Department came up with the Selangor State Structure Plan (SSP) in 2002 and gazetted the document in 2007. Its role in governing development is clear, as the document states that developers must refer to and comply with the policies within when preparing development proposal reports.

In describing what constitutes sustainable development, the SSP states: “Sustainable development will enable the current generation to satisfy their needs without compromising the needs of future generations.” To achieve this, the SSP prescribes numerous policies for development (economic, social, physical and environmental), a land use strategic plan, and specific instructions on how all these policies shall be implemented.

These policies cannot be ignored either. Section 22(4) of the TCPA clearly states that any application for planning permission shall be rejected if it is found to not comply with any development plan – which is what a state structure plan is.

Thus, the SSP is an expansive document that defines sustainable development and is also legally binding on the government and developers. This makes it a good reference point for any disputes and arguments residents and developers may have over a particular development proposal.

Development policies

The SSP policies are categorised according to issues and how to solve them. Examples of problems for development in an urban area include traffic congestion, waste disposal and open spaces. Let’s focus on the traffic congestion bit since this is a popular and valid issue.

The SSP mentions the uncontrolled urban development along main roads as a problem. Such developments contribute towards traffic congestion and the degradation of environment quality.

Several policies were formulated to help mitigate this issue, among which are as follows: