BUTTERWORTH - What was supposed to be a recreational park has turned into a slum after unlicensed eateries took over the Pantai Bersih shoreline.
The public beach with sandy shores and a panoramic view of Penang island is now filled with unlicensed restaurants and cafes.
Some have extended their premises onto the shorefront and at least one poses a public danger as the raised platform has partly collapsed.
The state government's directives and attempts at enforcement since 2014 do not seem to have worked.
Patrons have been coming from Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore.
None of the six large restaurants and 10 smaller eateries there have a licence to operate.
The area's assemblyman Phee Boon Poh, who is also state Environment Committee chairman, said he is waiting for a report on the investigations and legal implications.
"The beach is supposed to be a park that can host more than 10,000 people. Today, the recreational park plan has failed and it has become a slum," Phee added.
He said the eateries began sprouting up when fishermen from Kampung Gajah and Bagan Jermal were temporarily relocated there to make way for construction of the Butterworth Outer Ring Road in 2003.
"They were supposed to be there for only nine months. Later, more moved in and the businesses grew out of control," he added.
He said a restaurant owner was ordered to tear down an illegal extension last month.
At the assembly meeting last month, Opposition leader and Teluk Air Tawar assemblyman Datuk Jahara Hamid rapped Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow for the lack of enforcement.
The operators are sceptical that they will ever get a licence, but hoped they will be allowed to continue and be given a temporary occupation licence (TOL).
Pantai Bersih Residents Association chairman Soon Chooi Chun said the operators supported the livelihood of about 200 fishermen.
He said most of the fishermen were low-income earners whose families relied on small businesses there to support their income.
"The large restaurants were approached by state officials several years ago to relocate further down the beach, but negotiations broke down," he said adding that it is difficult to move them out just like that.