The Changing Faces of Iconic Gurney Drive

loading The face of Gurney Drive is set to change with the Gurney Foreshore Reclamation project. Photo: Andrea Filmer.

The beloved Gurney Drive waterfront has witnessed many changes in the last 100 years; from clear blue waves breaking on its reclaimed shore and the loss of its beaches due to coastal erosion, to a growing mudflat and the planting of a mangrove forest after the turn of the century.

But with the opening of Gurney Wharf – a component of the massive Gurney Foreshore Reclamation project – the face of Gurney Drive is set to change once again. Spanning 131 acres, the reclamation exercise started in February 2016 following a concession agreement between the Penang state government and Tanjung Pinang Development (TPD), a subsidiary of Eastern & Oriental (E&O).

The Seri Tanjung Pinang Connection

The Seri Tanjung Pinang development may seem relatively new to many of us, but it was actually mooted back in the 1980s under chief minister Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu. A concession was given by the state in 1990 providing for reclamation and development of approximately 980 acres of land along the northeast coast of Tanjung Tokong.1 Work started but the project fell victim to the 1997 Asian financial crisis and was soon abandoned.

In 2003 and through TPD, E&O took over the project and reconfigured it into a mixed development project. Reclamation for the first phase of the relaunched development was completed in 2005 and the first set of homes was handed over to buyers a year later.

Specially-designed fencing has been put up along Gurney Drive to allow the public to continue to enjoy the seaview during reclamation works. Photo: Andrea Filmer.

Seri Tanjung Pinang Phase 2 (STP2) is the next stage in the development and its masterplan received the state’s endorsement in June 2014, with planning permission obtained in December that same year. A total of 760 acres is to be reclaimed under STP2 and at the same time, TPD has agreed to reclaim 131 acres of land off Gurney Drive at its own cost for the state government.

Jagdeep Singh Deo, chairman of the State Housing, Local Government, Town and Country Planning Committee, explains that 60 acres from the entire reclamation site had initially been reserved as a public realm. “There were three options available to us on what to do with the land. One option included a road linking Jalan Pangkor to the future undersea tunnel up north, taking up about 20 acres of land,” he says, adding that for the moment, the plan has been put on hold but will be reconsidered in the future.

“Apart from those 60 acres, there are two water bodies measuring about 14.5 acres that we have decided to also reclaim. The existence of the two water bodies is because of an original road alignment which included a cloverleaf (interchange). Eventually, we decided to construct a straight road. TPD is able to reclaim this extra area within the next six to eight months. So, we will have 74.5 acres now instead of 60,” he explains.

Jagdeep adds that the rest of the reclaimed land – some 90 acres – has been identified for a possible land swap for Consortium Zenith Construction (CZC) to undertake infrastructure development in the state, which includes three toll-free highways in Penang Island. These roads are a component under a proposed RM6.3bil infrastructure project that also includes the 7.2km undersea tunnel linking the northeast shore of Penang Island to Bagan Ajam on the mainland.

Reclamation and Beyond

In February 2016 a specially-designed permeable mesh fencing was installed along the Gurney Drive shorefront to secure the reclamation perimeter.

Spanning 1,872.9m, fencing works were completed in May 2016, and a 165m Tong Tu dredger with a 20,000m3 capacity was then mobilised onsite in mid-December of the same year to facilitate reclamation works.2 A perimeter rock bund was erected and reclamation works began.

The first handover of land occurred last October, with the first eight acres being surrendered to the state during a site visit by chief minister Chow Kon Yeow and other state leaders.3 A TPD spokesperson says the reclamation of the original 131.09 acres has since been completed, while current works include consolidation processes and surcharge to achieve the final settlement level.

“The sectional handover to the state government as of November is 31 acres out of 131.09 acres, and progressive handover of the remaining section will take place as and when,” adds the spokesperson.

Progress of Gurney Wharf reclamation works. Photo: Tanjung Pinang Development.

Earlier on, in the reclamation process, TPD engaged with several leading architect firms to conceptualise a possible masterplan for the area earmarked to become Gurney Wharf. “TPD, appreciating the importance of Gurney Drive in the hearts and minds of Penangites, as well as Malaysians at large, took the initiative to commission leading local and international award-winning architects to produce a concept masterplan of Gurney Wharf for the state government’s consideration.

“These experts include Malaysia’s GDP Architects who produced the overall masterplan; Grant Associates for the landscaping and Jerde International for the retail F&B component,” the TPD spokesperson says.

To a tune of RM180mil, the new Gurney Wharf seafront is set to include, among others, F&B and retail outlets, a promenade, water gardens, a public park, a water taxi pier, a beach and coastal grove in a comprehensive park-in-the-city initiative.

To ensure smooth progress, Jagdeep says the state is engaging with existing partners on project managing the site. He adds that open tenders will be carried out for the separate components and work on the Wharf will begin early this year.

If all goes well, Jagdeep says Gurney Wharf will be opened to Penangites by June. “I want people to be able to actually step onto Gurney Wharf and enjoy the public facilities. That doesn’t mean that the entire 74.5 acres will be ready by June as it is a big project with many components. It will be opened in stages,” he says.

And with its opening, a new chapter for Gurney Drive will begin.

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