Some 80 years ago, when planting rubber was a major business activity in then Malaya, the British set aside an area 'far away from Kuala Lumpur', in Sungai Buloh, to be the site of the Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia, to conduct studies. Even up to 20 years ago, however, Sungai Buloh was hardly top of the list of places to go, as it also housed a national medical facility for lepers. But as the number of patients dwindled, Sungai Buloh - which means 'Bamboo River' in Malay because of its many bamboo groves - found favour with property developers seeking reasonably priced land on the northern outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Recently, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced that 1,000 hectares belonging to the research institute would be used to build 10,000 low- and medium-cost homes, priced at less than M$100,000 (HK$203,000). The proposal was hailed as a brilliant idea, the forerunner of many housing schemes for the poor by a government-owned entity, Syarikat Perumahan Nasional Berhad (SPNB). It took six weeks for the first voice of opposition to be raised - by Primary Industries Minister Lim Keng Yaik, on Tuesday. Dr Lim, who oversees the rubber industry, accused the group of failing to discuss its proposal with him. The outburst by Dr Lim, the president of the Gerakan Party, a component of the ruling National Front coalition, has puzzled and intrigued many, who wonder why he chose to voice his displeasure over the project so late in the day. Perhaps he is unhappy that he was not consulted fully on such a big project. Or it could be due to the current uneasy feeling among veteran politicians like him after Dr Mahathir, who will step down next Friday, called for long-serving officials to make way for a younger cast. Dr Lim is 65. Dr Lim has announced that a 'Rubber City' was being planned on some 400 hectares of the land owned by the institute, which is under the purview of his ministry. The institute has 1,480 hectares in total in the area. The new city will house a rubber technology park, housing, and recreational facilities, costing some M$4 billion. The plan is yet another twist in the development of Sungai Buloh. In 1986, the institute's land was being eyed by the Department of Civil Aviation. It wanted to extend the runway of Subang airport, which was then the international gateway to Kuala Lumpur. But the department met opposition from the institute, which claimed the rubber trees should be left untouched because they were research specimens. Hence, the new Kuala Lumpur International Airport had to be built at Sepang, near the west coast of the Malaysian peninsula. As Kuala Lumpur continues to grow at a frenetic pace, the appetite for development land is growing. The institute's land, located near several new housing schemes, is considered a prime site. Dr Lim said: 'If the SPNB wants to come in, it must fit in with the ministry's master plan. It cannot just come in and grab our land free of charge.'