SEBERANG PERAI, July 21 — Meandering through housing estates, tracts of agricultural land and even industrial estates before finally opening into the Penang Channel, the 24-kilometre Sungai Perai is probably the longest river in the state.
This river was historically a physical border between the British-controlled Province Wellesley in the south to Kedah in the north when Province Wellesley was first seceded to the British East India Company in 1798.
The fact that it was the border is probably how it got its name too; it became known as “the end” (in Siamese, it is prai) of the Kedah kingdom.
The British named the river “Prye” and by the time the border between Province Wellesley and Kedah was shifted north to Sungai Muda, the name of the river was long entrenched.
Sungai Perai also has one of the last remaining peat swamps in Penang. It is home to over 150 plant species, 125 bird species and 35 fish species.
Over the years, the river also played an important role as docks were built for ship repairs and transporting of coal.
Even the earliest factories such as rice and sugar mills were built along the river. The Mak Mandin Industrial Estate was established near the river in the 1960s and then more factories were built on the southern banks of the river mouth.
Today, due to urbanisation and industrialisation, the river’s natural mangroves and peatland have been cleared and this has affected the river’s ecosystem.
The river water quality has been categorised as Class III which means it is polluted and requires treatment.
In a bid to bring the river back to life and make the riverside attractive to residents and visitors, Think City is collaborating with the Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP), the Penang state government, and other stakeholders.
“A baseline study of the river was recently completed by Perunding Pinang of Universiti Sains Malaysia to determine the health of the river and now we hope to involve other key stakeholders as well as obtain feedback from the public to devise a programme to rehabilitate the river,” said Think City’s Daniel Lee.
The Celebrating Sungai Perai Programme
The Celebrating Sungai Perai Programme, now being developed, is meant to improve the environment and reclaim the river as a public asset by activating it as a public space.
Naturally, the river’s ecosystem will also have to be rehabilitated so that the river itself will be a recreational venue.
There are opportunities to create more public spaces and parkland along the river as well as connect the different districts through the river, such as pathways for the public to walk, jog and cycle alongside the river, as well as possibly to connect Ujong Batu, Taman Kimsar and Ampang Jajar.
And the Air Hitam Dalam Educational Forest hosts some of the last remaining peat swamps in Penang.
“We are looking for suggestions from the relevant stakeholders and the public as to how to activate spaces along the river, for instance by improving accessibility and curating programmes for the public to reconnect to the river,” Lee added.
After rehabilitating the river and activating public spaces along the riverside, there could be opportunities to introduce more leisure and watersport facilities to turn the river into a recreational site.
Cleaning up the river is no easy task as it involves not only the local authorities and federal agencies but also stakeholders such as factories, residents and farms along the river.
These efforts at rehabilitating and activating Sungai Perai are part of the Butterworth Baru Programme, which is an urban regeneration collaboration between MPSP and Think City to make Butterworth a more liveable city.
* Think City is currently undertaking urban regeneration programmes for Butterworth, George Town, Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baru. Find out more about Think City and its projects at thinkcity.com.my.