Sunday, August 04, 2013

Multi-million ringgit airstrip project in Hulu Bernam deemed 'illegal'

PETALING JAYA: A multi-million ringgit project involving luxury bungalows with a private 1.2km-long airstrip in Hulu Bernam has become a subject of controversy after it failed to take off.

The Hulu Selangor District Council has deemed it an “illegal airport” and ordered Yayasan Selangor, the owner of the 86ha land near Slim River, Perak, to submit a development plan for the airport within a month or face having the place sealed.

The project, a joint venture between Yayasan Selangor and a private company, was to develop the land at Kampung Sri Keledang into a first-of-its-kind “aviation resort” in the country, promising bungalows with parking space for light aircraft.

Inked in 2004 and started three years later, the project had already seen the construction of an airstrip – which bears the International Civil Aviation Organisation code of WMBF for West Malaysia Bernam Field – hangars, chalets, a swimming pool and a clubhouse.

Council president Tukiman Nail, who led a team of officials on a spot check to the site recently, told The Star that a notice had been served on the foundation for carrying out illegal development.

Although the project never took off, the airstrip is still being used by small planes while the chalets and clubhouse are used for private parties.

“Many aircraft owners and pilots who use the airstrip are foreigners, actively taking part in various aviation activities, including competitions, at the site.

“We are concerned about where these people are coming from and where they are heading to. Our observation reveals that there are airplanes flying out to neighbouring countries, including Thailand and Indonesia.

“We don’t have a real idea of the routes as the flight plan is controlled by the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA),” he said, adding that the council was also told by the airstrip’s operator that the Subang Air Traffic Control Tower controlled its flow of aircraft.

The council, he said, was concerned over the lack of ground control as there was no Customs and Immigration checkpoint to screen visitors.

“We fear this can pose a threat to national security,” he said.

He said although the company operating the airstrip was private, the site was situated on Selangor government land allocated to Yayasan in 2004.

“Both the company and the foundation have not submitted any development plan.

“They have built structures such as an airstrip, hangars and chalets and have been in business for a few years without any approval from the council,” Tukiman claimed.

Yayasan Selangor general manager Ilham Marzuki confirmed that it had received the notice urging the foundation to submit building plans within 30 days.

“However, I do not wish to comment on the issue due to a pending court case between us (Yayasan Selangor) and the private company which operates the airstrip,” he said.

The foundation is currently engaged in a legal battle with the company over the settlement of lease and the change of land status, which is still listed as “agriculture”.

Under the original deal, the foundation was supposed to have earned some RM16mil from the venture.

It was earlier reported that Selangor government officials had visited the site in October 2011 and decided to stop the operations.

A state government official said the proposed development had appeared very promising at first, with the company expecting to generate income from the sale of property and earn revenue from maintenance, use of utilities and membership fees.

“The chalets were supposed to cater for visiting aircraft owners who do not own homes at the site but wish to fly in anyway.

“However, it is a shame that the development was not carried out as promised,” he said.

The cost of existing development on the land was estimated at only RM500,000 contrary to the original proposal, he said, adding that the status of land – mainly grown with oil palm, rambutan and durian trees – remained as “agricultural”.

The land value has been estimated at RM20mil although its value could rise to 10 times that should it be converted to industrial land.

With hardly 10% of the land being used, it was understood that the lack of usage of the vast piece of land had cost the foundation heavy losses.

When The Star visited the site, two planes – a Piper Warrior and a Cessna – were parked there while an inflatable swimming pool was also seen.

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