By INS Contributors

KUALA LUMPUR (March 8)--Residents seeking to object to development projects impacting them and their quality of life must be given full disclosure in order for them to participate in the public objection process in a meaningful way.

Lawyer L.S. Leonard, who represents the residents of Taman Tiara Titiwangsa, told INS that public objection is a local democratic process where affected landowners are consulted by a local planning authority before approving development projects.  Without arming residents aiming to object, with correct information, documents and thereafter notifying them of the results, local authorities will not be providing meaningful participation for the residents.  

“As a local planning authority, DBKL ought to know that public participation is a crucial element in planning law and local democracy. This means DBKL must strive not only to fulfill but enhance ‘meaningful participation’ in every category of public consultation process.  Besides refusing information, failure to give reasons to affected landowners or objectors, runs counter to this vital element.  

"Local Authorities must stop treating ‘public participation’ as a mere right to speak and ‘not a right to be heard’.  The right to be heard has many components and one of it is the right to know reasons.

“Like a developer who would want to know why his application for planning permission was rejected by the local authority, an aggrieved landowner who objected to a proposed development would also want to know why his objections were not considered or disregarded by the very same local authority,” he said.

Leonard was responding to the Kuala Lumpur mayor seeking to reverse the Court of Appeal’s decision quashing City Hall’s development order in Taman Rimba Kiara, arguing that the ruling will result in stunted projects in the capital.

In a sworn affidavit, DBKL Legal and Prosecution Department deputy director Izmah Nor Idris said the city’s development will come to a standstill if everyone claiming to be adversely affected by decisions to grant planning permissions could put forth challenges, The Vibes reported.

Leonard says developments in cities will not be halted by the public participation process.  By providing meaningful participation, there can be effective town planning as local authorities will be able to see and examine the adverse effects of a proposed development from the perspective of aggrieved land owners. He also added that while the Federal Territory Planning Act 1982 (FTPA) does not expressly state the Mayor has to give reasons for his decision on the objections, such obligation can be imposed under the principle of ‘duty to act fairly’ in Natural Justice.

“Further, if the objectors are aggrieved by the said decision, they must know the reasons or grounds of the Mayor’s decision in order to enable them to formulate their next course to challenge the said decision via a Judicial Review suit,” he said.

It was previously reported that several residents’ associations (RAs) are up in arms over Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) attempt to file an application for leave at the Federal Court to challenge a Court of Appeal decision in a case pertaining to Taman Tiara Titiwangsa.

DBKL is appealing against the decision of the Court of Appeal on March 13, 2019 declaring a public objection hearing conducted with Taman Tiara Titiwangsa residents null and void.  According to LS Leonard, the Court of Appeal had ruled that the residents should have been allowed to obtain the documents even if the FTPA is silent on the matter.  This position was also endorsed by the unanimous decision of the Court of Appeal in the recent Taman Rimba Kiara case.

The Taman Tiara Titiwangsa development has drawn the ire of residents since its inception with the project being a joint venture with Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan (YWP), a limited company presenting itself as a charitable organisation whose board members include the Federal Territories Minister, his deputy and the Mayor, leading to cries of a conflict of interest.

Further, the area in question, Lot 9885 went from 10.3 acres of reserve land meant to house a sewage treatment facility before being rezoned after as a community centre and public open space with a density of no more than 32 people per acre to ‘Residential 3’ which permits a high density development from 121 persons per acre up to a maximum of 400 persons per acre.

Despite initially applying its Development Order (DO) by justifying the development as one that would provide affordable housing, INS has learnt that the affordable housing element has since been dropped with the present development now focusing on its high-end component only.