“It looks as if someone was trying to build something as large and expensive as possible, without taking the effort to plan it properly,” entrepreneur Curry Khoo said as we sat in a coffee shop in Bayan Lepas, close to Penang International Airport. We discussed the proposed Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP), consisting of five light rail and monorail lines, highways, viaducts and tunnels – one undersea, another cutting through the hills of the picturesque Penang Island. Earlier this week, Khoo had attended a solidarity event in Georgetown organised by the Penang Tolak Tambak (Penang Against Reclamation) association and local fishermen. While there have been previous protests by fishermen and environmentalists against the plan, which will involve massive land reclamation, the event last Monday saw the participation of a new breed of protesters for the first time. There were local painters, musicians and designers supported by artists from Lithuania and the United Kingdom, students, cyclists and members of residents’ associations. Penang wants to be like Hong Kong and Singapore. Problem: its fishermen don’t The state government has presented the PTMP as the long-awaited solution that will boost the northern state’s economy and end traffic congestion. It wants to fund the transport infrastructure by constructing three artificial islands (18.2 sq km combined), and selling the newly reclaimed land to developers. The whole mega project is to cost 46 billion ringgit (US$11.2 billion), almost 40 times Penang’s budget for 2019. But citizen groups ask why is there a need to pursue such a huge project in the first place. They say it is too big, too expensive and will not only destroy ecosystems and impoverish local fishermen but could also endanger the state’s tourism potential, worsen floods as sea levels rise and could ultimately bankrupt Penang. According to the Penang Forum, a group of local non-governmental organisations, the Bayan Lepas LRT line would generate losses of between 23 million and 126 million ringgit annually and still would not meet the mobility needs of Penangites. Survey finds 70 per cent of Malaysian Muslim women believe polygamy is a right for men Khoo, a 40-year-old entrepreneur and start-up community builder, had been looking at the plan sceptically for a while but it was only a few weeks ago when he saw a documentary about fishermen communities that could lose their livelihoods if the artificial islands were constructed. “It’s [PTMP] supported by wealthy developers who just want to earn. Nobody thinks of people’s real needs or future generations,” he said. Along with the group of like-minded people, he decided to voice his concerns. At the gathering Khoo attended this week, many protesters carried banners with slogans such as “One island is enough”, “Your greed is killing us!”, “Grandma said greedy people always lose”. “I was glad to have shown the fishermen our psychological support,” said Lucy, an interior designer who co-owns a hipster cafe in central Georgetown, the state capital. Sattama, originally from Borneo, stressed that creative people tended to be very conscious when it came to social issues. “Our micro community is fewer than 50 people but we hope to build awareness among those who are not directly affected and give power to different voices,” he added. Some of those interviewed did not want to give their full names, citing privacy concerns. To achieve their goal, they discuss using catchy hashtags and organise a social media movement to get more urbanites and millennials involved. Nicole, a fine arts graduate and the group leader, said she believed the issue could easily interest people in their 20s. “This is bigger than a fisherman’s issue, it’s also about environment and our future food scarcity,” said the 29-year-old. She and other young protesters cited pollution and damage caused by sand mining and transport of building materials, more landslides, flash floods and the destruction of forests that the construction of the proposed public transport system would likely cause. They stressed the dangers of blasting and tunnelling close to historical temples, parks, dams and housing estates. Why are so many Malaysians from Penang settling in Hong Kong? Many view all of this as the last straw for Georgetown lovers. “It [PTMP] will kill any remaining city charm that’s still left. Knowing the government’s track record of quantity over quality, maintenance would surely be low priority and so much ugliness would invade the island. We would become a poor replica of Singapore,” said Nicole. Discussions on the transport master plan have been going on since it was first announced some six years ago. The state government has said that it would deal directly with the stakeholders that are impacted by the reclamation, and that it would take note of NGOs’ views. As for the infrastructure, a public survey showed that 97 per cent of the state’s population supported the master plan, but the poll had been criticised by NGOs for its allegedly skewed questions. “We want politicians to finally engage in genuine talks with citizens,” Khoo said. After that happens, he expects the plans to be sent back to the drawing board, modified and scaled down. “Otherwise, even if they scrap the islands, they might chop down our forests or privatise the Penang Hill to pay for this monstrosity”.