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Fraser's Hill project may lead to overdevelopment

KUALA LUMPUR: Naturalists are concerned that the 15-storey resort and spa, slated for Fraser's Hill will open the development floodgates in the 83,000ha forest complex it rests in.

Ecotourism and Conservation Society Malaysia head Andrew J. Sebastian said the threat was not just to the area of the development, but the greater Fraser's Hill Forest Complex due to the precedent being set in the ecologically-sensitive area.

He said the forest complex, which includes six permanent reserved forests, was under threat due to land use changes for logging, mining, agriculture and infrastructure, before the high- rise hotel was thrown into the mix.

"The fear is the spillover from the demolition of a Maybank Lodge and the Jelai Bungalow.

"What will come next? Will it be another Genting Highlands where 30- to 40-storey monstrosities are built with no consideration to the climate or landscape of the main range?"

"Fraser's Hill has its own flow and identity. It cannot and should not compete with Genting, Cameron Highlands or theme-park like developments, and the first sign of this is when a 15-storey project is allowed on the hill."

He said the density of birds was on the decline in the birders' haunt. This had been observed over the past 10 years.

"Because it is a big forest complex on the main range, if we don't find them here we think 'okay, maybe they are somewhere else in the complex'. But what if this development opens the floodgates and more buildings come up?'

"During migration, birds are going to die as they fly into these buildings and windows that were not in their path before," he said, adding that 250 bird species and counting had been spotted in the area.

Andrew said the development had to preserve the access roads and slopes as sustainable development would bring jobs and business to the community.

"Even ecotourism needs some sort of infrastructure and facilities, but the developer needs to sit down with locals and stakeholders and talk it out, because putting a high rise in a beautiful landscape is going to destroy its view and climate.

"In the long run, it will also affect their business."

He was sceptical on whether a project consisting 180 rooms could be accomplished without widening the roads as they are windy, narrow, with sharp bends and slippery slopes.

However, the developer told the New Sunday Times that the peripheral roads would be untouched as it provided staff quarters on the site.

Andrew said the move to gazette the forest complex as a state park could not happen without addressing fundamental concerns.

"We need to connect all this back to ecotourism and local business so that it is sustainable in the long term.

"If the place allows local businesses such as lodges and restaurant owners to thrive and make money while visitors come and enjoy themselves by birdwatching, walking the trails and reveling in the architecture, there will be traction for the forest to be gazetted as a state park."

He was drawing on the advocacy work done by WWF Malaysia to move the state government to protect the Fraser's Hill forest complex as a state park.

Malaysian Nature Society president Professor Dr Ahmad Ismail said studies had shown that highlands in Malaysia needed to be protected due to their sensitivity to landslides and the climate.

"Fraser's Hill and Cameron Highlands have experienced such incidents in the past.

"Studies have shown that there are important species there that cannot be sacrificed for development or the planting of durian that can be cultivated elsewhere."

Last month, it was reported that a colonial-style Maybank Lodge and the abandoned Jelai Resort were demolished to make way for a 15-storey resort and spa by the developer, a year after Fraser's Hill celebrated its 100th anniversary.

The development has been mired in controversy as residents claimed they were in the dark over the project.

Concerns had been raised over the purported absence of an Environmental Impact Assessment report for the project.


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