Public parks and ferry routes
Published on: Sunday, August 26, 2018

By Avtar Singh
Public parks are an integral part of everyday city life, especially in an urban setting like Kota Kinabalu where, we are blessed with the beauty of the Crocker Range Mountains in the background and the vast natural beauty of jungles, flora and fauna we have at our doorstep in Penampang.

Common features of local public or municipal parks include playgrounds, gardens, hiking, running and fitness trails or paths, public restrooms, all the while maintaining and preserving the natural features of the park.

Parks are good for the body and mind and are essential to good health. Parks are also a good site for natural plant and animal biodiversity and they are free to the public.

Where else can you entertain your children or family in Kota Kinabalu that is free other than Tanjung Lipat or Tanjung Aru Beach in a natural setting?

There is this sad realisation, however, that in the past, authorities in some places, desperate to reduce operating costs or perhaps to raise revenues, made the mistake of trying to exploit the public parks for commercial use, and decided to “offload” these park on to the private sector for a fee and did not put the public’s needs ahead of commercial interests.

The problem with “offloading” these public parks for commercial interests is the failure of the authorities to realise the great value of these parks and their contribution towards the community wellbeing.

The failure to recognise the benefits of public park management does have consequences and are part of some of the most important policy agendas facing our communities today across the nation.

Public parks are an asset for the long term wellbeing of any city and the community that resides in that city.

Kota Kinabalu has three parks for outdoor health, fitness and recreation; Tun Fuad Stephens Park (TFSP), The Tanjung Aru Perdana Park and the Likas Sports Complex Recreational track.

TFSP is clearly the most visited and the most popular amongst locals in the city so let’s focus on TFSP given the Chief Minister recently announced the possibility of a federal budget allocation of RM100 million for TFSP which includes the development of a botanical garden within TFSP in 2019.

In a written answer to a question by Luyang Assemblyman Phoong Jin Zhe, Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal stated the budget for this RM100 million was presented to the National Landscape Department (NLD) in 2016 and that “the proposal to upgrade the park had been approved and the work is estimated to be carried out in 2019.”

When will the State Government, DBKK and NLD share the development and upgrading plans for TFSP to the general public and will there be public feedback and opinions on the masterplan for TFSP before it is officially approved and implemented?

Surely public opinion should be sought first before any government or state agency proceeds further with any development plans in 2019 especially if such development plans impact the users of the park and will change the landscape of the park for the long term.

These are some of the concerns raised by some TFSP visitors:

- The need to relocate the stalls occupying valuable parking space and to increase the number of parking spots for users as TFSP is not an appropriate place for these stalls

- The urgent need to improve the cleanliness standards and quality of the food and beverage outlets that exist at TFSP

- To increase the number of rubbish bins and recycling bins for plastics, tins and waste across the park

- Real concerns over possible plans to cement and convert natural climbing steps on hills into cement steps and possible cementing of existing natural hiking trails on the hill routes above TFSP which goes against the principles of the natural settings of TFSP

- To replant treeless areas with variety of forest trees and to replace the invasive acacias with local species.

- To stop mountain biking activities on active hiking trails as many hikers and trail runners have complained about near misses and near accidents with mountain bikers

- To stop commercialisation of TFSP and to relocate wedding restaurants, water theme parks and seafood restaurants in the park which disturb the peace and tranquillity of the park and to convert the existing building into a public gym and reflexology centre for the blind association who are now placed in a small wooden hut that is hot, cramped and very uncomfortable for users.

I would go further and to ask the authorities what is the rational of needing TFSP to be a “tourism product” when it is essentially a public park for locals who utilise the park for both recreational and health purposes.

Do we not have enough “tourism products” to sell as it is without disturbing the local general public who depend on TFSP remaining undisturbed by tourists?

And, where exactly do tour agents plan on parking their tour buses given we locals who use TFSP can’t even find parking spaces at TFSP when we want to go to the park ourselves?

Is there no other location outside of Bukit Padang that a Botanical Garden can be built?

Why must it be done at TFSP?

How will local walkers and runners on the existing jogging tracks who go to TFSP to exercise get past mass tourists walking in large groups on the jogging tracks and walk ways? Have these issues been thought about?

On a side note, the proposed Labuan Island to Menumbok bridge, which was said to potentially cost RM5 billion, and has never been built till today has apparently now been cancelled.

In a report by Daily Express on 18th August 2018 titled “It’s Bye Bye To Labuan Bridge Proposal,” Federal Territories (F.T.) Minister Khalid Abdul Samad said the RM14 million feasibility study on the project had been cancelled by the Ministry of Finance and the decision was in line with the new government’s policy to be prudent in its spending due to current financial situation.

Perhaps I could suggest an alternative plan to the honourable F.T. Minister that will not “break the bank” but will potentially cost significantly less, will still benefit the Labuan economy, reduce the journey time on the car ferry and will ensure the ferry operators are able to continue to operate but at a lower operating costs.

It will also mean car ferries are also able to provide an increased number of trips per day thereby making Labuan easier to access by visitors and tourists and helping the island’s economy to recover in the long term.

I would suggest moving the current car ferry terminal from the present location in downtown Labuan, hereby also reducing the congestion and parking woes there to a new car ferry terminal at the Tanjung Aru area, on the island’s North-East coastline.

Thus giving the car ferries a direct bee-line journey from Labuan to Mempakul, instead, reducing not only the journey time to 30 minutes, but also the distance to travel to a mere 10 kilometers instead of the present 18 kilometer journey at sea from downtown Labuan to Menumbok and a 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on load, weight and weather conditions.

However, this can only happen if the Sabah Government and F.T. Ministry agree to work together and have a common goal that includes a common sense, rational and sensible approach towards overcoming the failure to build a bridge in the long term that islanders have been waiting to see built.

Labuan Island is an essential asset for the Sabah Government and Federal Government in it raises revenue from oil and gas exploration off the coast of Sabah and the support services the Island provides oil companies so to neglect improving the current economic situation for the locals of Labuan Island at a significantly lower cost would therefore make no sense.

The F.T. Ministry needs to take an aggressive attitude into solving the current problem of reducing the journey time it takes to get to/from Labuan to mainland Sabah.

Note: The author wishes to state the suggestion to moving the car ferry terminal from the present location to Tanjung Aru or Kerupang may have been proposed in the past by other individuals or officials possibly but feels this idea needs to be re-looked urgently since the bridge will no longer be a reality under the new Federal Government as an alternative solution.

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