By Jahabar Sadiq
KUALA LUMPUR, June 6 — Malay businesses are at risk in the capital city’s main shopping district in Bukit Bintang as the multi-billion ringgit My Rapid Transit (MRT) project will take over Bukit Bintang Plaza (BBP) in 2013, starting with the foyer of the building and the adjoining Yayasan Selangor building from July 1 for preparatory works to build a massive underground station there.
The Malaysian Insider understands that city train project owner MRT Corporation Bhd has decided to start the project from the BBP side of Jalan Bukit Bintang as talks with owners of buildings across the shopping complex are at a standstill and time is ticking away to complete the MRT system by 2017.
BBP houses a majority of Malay businesses while Chinese businessmen run their companies in the adjoining Sungei Wang Plaza and nearby shophouses.
The decision to go ahead with taking over the BBP and Yayasan Selangor frontage was made yesterday at a meeting chaired by Treasury deputy secretary-general (Policy) Datuk Dr Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah and attended by officials from MRT Corp, BBP owner UDA Holdings Bhd, Yayasan Selangor management.
“MRT Corp is taking over the frontage of both buildings first, then their basements for the underground station, and by mid 2013, everyone will have to move out,” a source told The Malaysian Insider.
Despite a development notice about the works to BBP tenants, The Malaysian Insider understands the traders are still in the dark about compensation for having to leave before their leases expire as UDA Holdings wants the Treasury or MRTCorp to underwrite the payments.
“There hasn’t been talk about compensation for UDA Holdings, Yayasan Selangor or their tenants but the Treasury has promised to look into this. Perhaps MRT Corp will make the compensations,” the source added.
The Treasury owns MRT Corp, which took over the MRT project from Syarikat Prasarana Negara Bhd last year after the government decided that the MMC-Gamuda joint-venture will manage the development of the 51km rail line between Sungai Buloh and Kajang as the project delivery partner (PDP).
MRT Corp has been negotiating land acquisitions for the project but has run into a standstill with land owners in Jalan Sultan and Jalan Bukit Bintang, while it is expected to sign an agreement with several property owners in Jalan Imbi.
The Malaysian Insider had reported on May 21 that delays in acquiring land in Jalan Bukit Bintang had prompted the Finance Ministry to call MRT Corp and other parties for an urgent meeting to consider options to ensure the country’s most expensive infrastructure project meets its 2017 deadline to start operations.
Bukit Bintang traders embarked on a signature drive last October to pressure Putrajaya into reverting to its original plan for two MRT stations in the area. Two stations, BB West and BB East, were originally meant to bookend the capital’s premier shopping district but the proposal was later dropped in favour of a single station underneath the busy intersection of Jalan Bukit Bintang and Jalan Sultan Ismail.
To ensure the construction goes as planned, MRT Corp will have to acquire land nearby as a yard for equipment and supplies. But traders there are refusing to deal with the project owner.
The BB central station is expected to be the biggest station along the 9.5km-long underground stretch of the 51km line from Sungai Buloh to Kajang.
The Malaysian Insider understands the lots include two fast-food restaurants, a Porsche showroom, a batik gallery, a private club, offices and residential properties. Landowners said their properties were not included during the three-month public display of the project when it was put up in February 2011.
MRT Corp chief executive Datuk Azhar Abdul Hamid said last October that the project owner had no intention to take over the affected lots and promised to put back “brick-by-brick” any building that had to be demolished during construction.
But an ongoing dispute with Chinatown traders in Jalan Sultan has pushed the Treasury to also consider options in Jalan Bukit Bintang.
The dispute over land acquisition began soon after landowners in Chinatown, Imbi and Bukit Bintang were informed in mid-2011 that the government would acquire lots above the MRT tunnel as owners’ rights extend to the centre of the earth under the law.
Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) chief executive Mohd Nur Kamal has said landowners could then apply for stratum titles but added there was no guarantee Putrajaya would re-alienate the surface land back to them.
Critics have questioned the need for compulsory acquisition of both surface and underground land as the National Land Code 1965 was amended in 1990 to allow underground land to be acquired without affecting surface rights.
Unhappy landowners have mounted a high-profile campaign marked by many protests, signature drives and claims that Putrajaya was conducting a “land grab” in order to defray project costs.