How Sustainable Urban Planning Is Helping Seberang Perai Thrive


How Sustainable Urban Planning Is Helping Seberang Perai Thrive

Being the city’s first female mayor is not the only feather in her cap –  Dato’ Maimunah has also been credited for changing the social and economic landscape of Seberang Perai (SP) and turning it into one of the most livable and progressive cities in the country. Some of the recognitions she received included the Europe Business Assembly’s “Best City Manager” Award and the Planner of The Year 2014” Award by the Malaysian Institute of Planners.

The woman powerhouse shares with REENA KAUR BHATT some of her efforts in boosting urban sustainability, which includes reducing waste and boosting citizens engagement. 

As the mayor, you have the vision “To make SP cleaner, more beautiful and a comfortable place to live, stay, work and invest in by 2018”. What are some of the efforts undertaken/being done towards achieving this goal?

SP’s vision was in fact formulated in line with the Penang State Government’s goal for a “Cleaner, Greener, Safer and Healthier Penang”. On top of that, , we have the mission is to provide safer, cleaner, greener and healthier urban management services that are responsive towards the needs of the community in SP. 

The most important aspect of working towards these goals was educating and getting all of the municipal council’s (MPSP) staff and stakeholders on board with the established vision and mission, and to embody them fully in their daily tasks.  

MPSP has adopted a comprehensive 5-year Strategic Plan running from 2014-2018. Each year focuses on a few action plans and the outcome of the efforts undertaken is then measured to understand which services are performing well, and which need to be improved on. 

Some of the focus areas include cleanliness; mobility, connectivity and safety; law and enforcement, flood mitigation, capacity building and public facilities as well as greenery and beautification. Capacity building is a main focus as it helps support MPSP’s staff in implementing these yearly action plans successfully.

We have always believed that the people are the most important aspect of a city’s governance. That is why MPSP make the effort to engage with the general public and relevant stakeholders through town hall meetings and budget dialogues in order to establish these focus areas. These include:

Improving Fiscal Management

A streamlined budget enables the council to provide good facilities and services to the community which in turn enhances their wellbeing. MPSP’s mission is to provide good urban infrastructure and management services that are responsive towards the needs of its stakeholders. As a local government, we run our organisation as a corporate body – we try to reduce the cost of management as much as possible so that revenue could be spent on city development and for improvement of public services instead.

Emphasis on Good and Clean Governance

MPSP holds steadfast to the principles of Competency, Accountability, and Transparency (C.A.T). Meanwhile, the principle of a cleaner development focuses on good waste management. Good goverence is the KEY to success.

4P’s (Public, Private & People Partnership

The Four P’s are about how to manage and maintain public space through engaging with the people and private companies. Good teamwork and cooperation are required not only for public and private entities but with the people as well in implementing successful ‘green’ projects and programmes.

Local Action 21 (LA21) Programmes

These initiatives are in line with Agenda 21, a voluntarily implemented action plan created by the United Nations with regard to sustainable development, which was introduced during the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. LA21 are programmes that centres on the involvement of the local authorities, private sector, and the public to plan and manage a city’s environment through sustainable development. 

Our local Action 21 programmes include:

Green school awards for primary and secondary schools – A holistic programme designed to nurture awareness and love for the environment among the younger generation.This programme began in 2010 with only 30 schools involved. It has now increased to 144 schools in 2016. 

Sustainability Community Awards – Provides recognition for green initiatives carried out by the local communities in SP, there are 20 communities involved at the moment.   

Zero Waste Competition – There are 18 communities in SP under the zero waste initiative. This activity serves to educate the public on how kitchen waste could be easily converted into compost. 40% of waste being dumped at the local landfill comprises of organic waste – this effort helps to reduce waste dumping. 

Composting – MPSP has collaborated with Shence Green Tech, a specialist organic waste management company to carry out this project with public markets, supermarkets and hotels around SP.

Urban farming – This effort not only helps to empower the community, but it also boosts the economy with the provision of local food sources . 8 communities are involved.  

‘Eat Till Finish’ campaign – Carried out to create awareness among communities to appreciate food and to not simply waste it. This helps to reduce waste being dumped at landfills too. 

4Rs’ program (Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) – The city produces on average 1100 tonnes of waste per day and we are aiming to reduce it by 50%.

‘No Plastic Bags’ campaign – Consumers are charged 20 cents for each plastic bag at supermarkets. The money collected is directed towards a state fund for the development of green projects.

Segregation of waste – From 1 Jun 2016 onwards, the Penang State Government has implemented a segregation at the source rule where all stakeholders have to divide their waste into 2 groups – organic waste and recycled items.

Sustainable Development Policies And Guidelines

These serve to guide and assist developers in constructing new developments in SP to ensure that they are in line with sustainable development. Our aim is to make SP as a habitat of choice for residents who will enjoy a sustainable living environment, a location of choice for investors and a destination of choice for tourists.

Seberang Perai was one of the cities to adopt the Seoul Declaration in 2015.  Do highlight some of the programs/policies that you have implemented to promote the welfare of both the people and the environment.

Our efforts include the following:

Gender Responsive Participatory Budgeting (GRPB)

Carried out since 2012 to help identify the different needs of different stakeholders, the annual dialogue involves the community, Members Of Parliament, State assemblymen and women, NGO representatives, government agencies, village leaders, investors, youths, community-based organization (CBOs) and MPSP. MPSP gathers feedback and proposals on how to allocate the council’s limited budget in accordance with the peoples’ priorities. I am proud to say that MPSP was the first local council in Malaysia to adopt GRPB.

Urban renewal & rejuvenation project in Butterworth and Bukit Mertajam

This project was launched to bring back the vibrancy of the town. In an effort to promote the cultural, arts and  heritage aspects of Butterworth, we recently launched the Butterworth Fringe Festival (BFF) in 2015. We believe that a “City without Activities Is a City without Souls” and “A City is for the People” and “The People are for a City.” MPSP has also collaborated with Yokohama City, Yokohama City University, Universiti Sains Malaysia and Japanese International Corporation Agency (JICA) to rejuvenate and improve the sustainability of BM.

Smart Monitoring System (SMS)

This system which was developed by MPSP in August 2012 works to improve the quality of municipal services. SMS is a reporting, monitoring and response system which integrates data from Facebook MPSP Watch and Citizen Action Technology (CAT). Residents can submit complaints at any time with a photo and location and the complaints are assigned to municipal departments which respond to citizens directly. 

Batu Kawan: An Eco-Friendly and Low-Carbon township 

Encompassing 6,000 acres of land, Batu Kawan in Southern SP is a new growth center in Seberang Perai. MPSP has been tasked with turning Batu Kawan into an Eco-friendly city with high standards of sustainability. There are 9 core components which implement sustainable concepts and the use of green technologies to enable the creation of a low-carbon city.


An organized development with features that can be enjoyed by all citizens, which will focus on the provision of facilities and also reliability.


Priority is given to the protection and use of natural resources, application of green technology, green practices, and recycling, with the aim of preserving the environment, improving public health, safety and general welfare of city residents.


Construction of affordable housing is one of the main agenda at the state and national levels. Thus this component will play an important role for a balanced development matrix which will support local ownership.


The emphasis on balance between development and the environment that contributes to the high quality of life and safety of residents.


Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing are major factors in determining the management efficiency and the level of cleanliness of a development. Developers must provide infrastructure facilities.


An emphasis for developments to comply to the Green building certification under the Green Building Index Index (GBI) Malaysia.


Development planning using the “crime prevention through environmental design” (CPTED) approach will be used to ensure resident safety and to reduce crime in neighbourhoods.


This is important in ensuring that new developments will complement the existing ecological system to maintain the harmony and dynamics of mother nature.


Innovative designs will be proposed to reduce the potential or need for renovation post-development. This will help reduce the problem of environmental pollution in accordance with the concept of Eco-City. 

Are there any other ‘green’ programs in the pipeline for Seberang Perai?

MPSP has completed 24 4Ps’ partnership on public spaces projects on upgrading and maintaining parks, open spaces and public spaces since 2011. This is where developers or multinational corporations or any other concession adopt public spaces. They will sign up for five years of maintenance and can even improve it if they want to. In return, MPSP give them the right to advertise their product.

Besides that, we have introduced Car-Free Mornings for the citizens in the first week of each month. Initiated in June 2014, it attracts communities to have fun and programmes on the road without heavy traffic and transportation getting in the way. The venue is at Jalan Todak 2 & 3 at Sunway City, Seberang Jaya. 

We also have other recreational activities aimed to boost healthy living and citizen engagement. These include aerobics, Green Ride, fun runs and tristate (cycling) events.

Moreover, SP is committed to the Low Carbon City Framework (LCCF) which was developed by the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology & Water Malaysia in working towards the national agenda of reducing carbon emission intensity by 40% by 2020. 

The LCCF is a performance-based system that captures the actual environmental impact of a development in terms of total carbon emission and serves to promote awareness on how carbon footprint can be reduced.

MPSP has already formed a task force to look into these efforts and one of our projects focuses on Renewable Energy, where solid waste at the Valdor Close Pig Farm is converted into biogas.

Our efforts have not gone unnoticed – Since 2014, MPSP has been listed as “sustainable” council under the Malaysia Urban Indicators Network (MURNInet). MURNInet is a programme developed by the Federal Department of Town and Country Planning, Peninsular Malaysia (FDTCP) to assess the performance and levels of sustainability of Malaysian cities.

What are the challenges in promoting/implementing urban sustainability and what do you think should be done by the government and other stakeholders to encourage urban sustainability?

The first hurdle will be capacity building. It is very important for every single one of the local council staff to live and breathe the formulated visions and missions of urban sustainability. Only then, could the staff work together to together to create and implement strategies necessary to turn these vision into reality.

Financial constraint and budget limitations are also major challenges as there will always be limited resources but unlimited needs from various stakeholders.

It is tough to find the perfect balance between cost and in providing to the needs and considerations of the citizens. This roadblock, however, could be mitigated through creative thinking and the utilization of technology. 

Besides that, local councils must carry out a thorough assessment of their spending to ensure that every cent is being spent for the betterment of the people and the city. For SP, solid waste management was a huge drain on our finances – we were spending 42% of our budget or RM9 million to dispose of 1100 tonnes of waste daily! 

When almost half of your budget goes to solid waste management, there is very little left for development. That is why we have come up with initiatives to reduce this figure by 50% – These include the 4P’s projects where all stakeholders collaborate to implement the segregation at source policy to make our city cleaner, greener, healthier and most importantly more financially viable.

MPSP has taken the proactive step in engaging with other international cities and organizations to gain insight and guidance on how to deal with the challenges we face in our city.

I would advise local councils to do the same, as it will go a long way in streamlining their governance and sustainability efforts. Remember to think Local, Act Global” and “Learn Global, Apply Local”.

This article was first published in the Malaysia October 2016 Magazine. Get your copy from selected news stands or view the magazine online for free at  Better yet, order a discounted subscription by putting in your details in the form below!

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