Brighter times ahead

Residents  in Batu Kawan, South Seberang Prai, are eagerly awaiting the completion of the RM4.5bil Second Penang Bridge, which will connect their hometown to Batu Maung on the island.

The oil palm estate, which is fast shedding its kampung image, is set to become an industrialised township, with the bridge spurring various economic activities and spillover benefits to the surrounding areas.

Local resident Tan Ah Bah, 86, said that in his younger days, he used to walk for miles, ride on horse carts and take boat and ferry rides to go places from his Pengkalan fishing village in Batu Kawan.

“About 60 years back, I remember taking 30-minute long sampan (boat) rides for dua duit (two cents) per ride to travel from Batu Kawan to Bukit Tambun and vice-versa.

“Later on, there were three types of ferry services that were introduced, which were eventually re-placed by tarred roads and small bridges in the 90s,” he said.

To get to George Town, Tan said he used to ride on a sampan from Batu Kawan to Bukit Tambun, then ride on a horse cart to Simpang Ampat before taking a bus to Bagan (now Butterworth) and later boarding a boat fuelled by coal to cross the Penang Channel to the island.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that someday a bridge connecting the island would be built from the humble Batu Kawan village here,” he said with a broad smile.

Fellow resident Chew Kean Nam, 28, said Pengkalan village had one of the country’s oldest Teochew temples in the northern region — the Ban See Ang Temple — that was built somewhere in the early 1800s.

He said the local community would be celebrating the birthday of the temple deity — Xuan Tian Shang Di — with special prayers this Friday and a grand float procession featuring 12 floats on a 7.5km-long journey in Batu Kawan town at 7pm this Saturday.

Batu Kawan estate resident P. Parvathi, 63, an ex-oil palm estate general worker, said Batu Kawan residents had long been waiting for a major transformation to take place in the area to help elevate their economic status.

“Three generations of my family have been living here and we strongly believe that the new bridge project will help create more job oppor-tunities for the locals here,” she said.

Her neighbour M. Amaravathi, 73, said she hoped the government would help build a hospital, market, recreation parks, colleges and places of worship in Batu Kawan.

Student M. Gaayathiri, 22, who is pursuing a human resources management diploma at Island College of Technology in Balik Pulau, said instead of spending more than two hours taking the ferry, she hoped to use the bridge to travel to her college from Batu Kawan.

Foodstall operator Zalina Sakan, 36, said she hoped more shopping centres would soon be built in Batu Kawan, noting that at present many locals travelled far to Bukit Mertajam, Prai, Nibong Tebal and Parit Buntar to do their shopping.

“I hope more factories will set up operations here in Batu Kawan, as the workforce will create a demand for more restaurants and eateries to open to cater to the needs of the growing population,” she said.

Zalina said she hoped the authorities would widen the road leading to the State Stadium in Batu Kawan, noting that the present single-lane road stretch was insufficient to cope with high traffic volume, especially when football matches are held at the stadium.

General worker Shakir Baharom, 55, said he expected the prices of property in the neighbourhood to double, if not triple, with the opening of the Second Penang Bridge.

“At present, a single-storey terrace house that was originally sold at RM58,000 is now going for RM120,000.

“The residents here look forward to the state government’s affordable housing scheme project that will soon be built here in Batu Kawan, but we hope priority will be given to the locals,” he said.

School canteen operator Rosidah Din, 43, said at present there were only three schools — SK Batu Kawan, SMK Batu Kawan and SJK(T) Ladang Batu Kawan — located in the town, adding that she hoped there would be more schools built in the future.

Another resident Salina Bakar, 45, said currently there were only 10 housing schemes in the area, adding that many middle-income earners there hoped more single-storey terrace housing units would be built there.

Fellow resident Murazali Allabah, 63, said he hoped the government would take special efforts to preserve Batu Kawan’s last three Malay, Chinese and Indian villages — Kam-pung Mesjid, Kampung Pengkalan and Ladang Batu Kawan — respectively.

“These three villages are culturally unique and could be used as tourism sites apart from promoting the State Stadium, Bukit Tambun seafood paradise and Pulau Aman homestay here,” he said.

Fisherman Ong Kah Ho, 63, said the bridge’s alignment had affected fish, shrimp and cockle catches in the area, but the fishermen there had found new sites to fish.

SOURCE: The Star

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