Mon, 05 May 2003

Housing complex could worsen flooding in Semarang

Suherdjoko, The Jakarta Post, Semarang, Central Java

The Semarang city administration's plan to allow a century-old golf club to be turned into a housing complex has come under fire from experts and locals who fear the move would worsen the annual flooding problem in the city.

Development of the Semarang Golf Club (SGC) area began in 1901, and its location above the city has made the SGC a vital water catchment area for the rivers that flow toward flood-prone central Semarang.

"If the SGC becomes a housing complex, then flooding in Semarang will get worse because there is nothing to catch the rain and water will just flow to the lower Semarang city area," Eko Budihardjo, a lecturer at the Diponegoro University who heads the city's advisory council for city development said last week.

SGC is located in the foothills above the city in an affluent neighborhood. The Grand Candi and Patra Jasa hotels, the housing complex of the Diponegoro military command and the police academy are among its neighbors.

The city administration is planning to sign a land-swap deal with developer PT Putra Wahid Sejahtera. Under the deal, the city would sell SGC's land to the developer and move the golf club to a site on the outskirts of the city in Tinjomoyo.

The sale could earn Semarang Rp 220 billion (about US$24 million) due to SGC's higher priced land.

Putra Wahid then would build a luxury housing complex with each unit going for a reported Rp 1 billion.

Semarang is also in talks with PT Cilpa which is offering land in the Mijen district.

However, since last February, the plan has met opposition from the 140 caddies working at SGC and residents of Kaliwiru.

Kaliwiru residents said that their lower lying houses would face increased flooding without the SGC water catchment.

SGC also employs many of its surrounding residents as caddies and other staff, some of whom have been working at the club for over a decade.

A number of residents also complained of being intimidated into ceasing their protests.

"But this terror will not diminish our spirit to save SGC as a water catchment area during the rainy season," said coordinator of the residents' protest, Ari Yudihantoro.

Ispriyanto, who has been a caddy at SGC for 20 years, said that SGC caddies were offered work at the new golf club in Tinjomoyo. But many of the caddies were over 40 and their families did not want to move to Tinjomoyo, he said.

SGC caddies could also not find work at Semarang's other three golf clubs due to resistance from those already working there, he added.

Mayor Sukawi Sutarip said the development of the luxury housing complex would greatly contribute to the city's budget.

He said the plan was being evaluated by a team that included the advisory council for city development, non-governmental organizations and the city administration.

"The city administration of Semarang is not violating any regulations because the land on SGC was originally designed for a housing complex," according to M. Farkhan the deputy head of the area development office at the Semarang Regional Development Planning Agency.