The northern coast of Penang is set to change dramatically following the state government's recent approval for a 308ha island to be built, to allow for more housing and recreational facilities.
The mega reclamation project is being undertaken by Eastern & Oriental (E&O), a developer known for its luxury properties as well as the well-received refurbishment of Penang's famed E&O Hotel and Lone Pine Resort.
Deputy managing director Eric Chan said work could begin by the year-end, with the new island due to rise from the sea in two years.
The project, called Seri Tanjung Pinang Phase Two (STP2), is about 15 minutes away from downtown George Town. When completed in 15 to 20 years, it will have 12,000 homes for around 50,000 people. About 20 per cent of the land area will be set aside for commercial properties and 15 per cent for "green lungs".
The detailed masterplan has yet to be unveiled, but there will be a marina for super-yachts, a museum, tourist attractions and a canal that can host Penang's famous dragon boat race.
The 2.7km-long island will be linked to the main island of Penang by two bridges, lying 350m across the sea from E&O's first reclamation project, completed in 2004. Dotted with clusters of high-end houses and condos, Seri Tanjung Pinang Phase One (STP1) includes the Straits Quay mall and a yacht marina. Most of the buyers are locals, while Singaporeans top the list of foreign buyers.
The new island has a gross development value of RM25 billion (S$10 billion); a proposed reclamation project in Johor is targeting to create an island five times bigger. Still, STP2 has drawn criticism from those who fear it will damage the coastal ecology and create a snob enclave.
To critics, the project, which cleared its last major regulatory hurdle early this month, is part of the rampant development that is rapidly turning Penang into an overcrowded concrete jungle.
The revival of manufacturing and tourism in the past five years has restored Penang's lustre as the Pearl of the Orient and pepped up its economy, but its more environmentally conscious residents are dismayed by the loss of iconic features, among them its shoreline and majestic spine of hills.
In January, Democratic Action Party assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu shaved his head to protest against the clearing of Relau Hill. Critics have lashed out at projects for Penang Hill and the RM6.3 billion plans for a 7km undersea tunnel to link the island to the mainland and three highway extensions.
The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of Nature Malaysia) have been the most persistent in voicing concern.
CAP president S.M. Mohamed Idris recently noted that the first phase of the reclamation had already caused muddy sedimentation along Gurney Drive - a popular promenade lined with colonial mansions, hotels and food stalls.