Penang’s mainland – Seberang Perai by the numbers

Breaking Seberang Perai down by the numbers.

The recent Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat by-election and announcement of the Penang Sky Cab cable car system have cast the national spotlight onto Seberang Perai. Let’s take a look at the mainland’s geographical and population demographics.

Physical geography

Province Wellesley, now known as Seberang Perai, was ceded by the Sultan of Kedah to the British East India Company in 1786. It was named after Richard Wellesley, the British Governor of Madras and later the Governor-General of India. Today, Penang is divided into five administrative districts, Timur Laut (North-East) and Barat Daya (South-West) on the island, and Seberang Perai Utara (North), Seberang Perai Tengah (Central) and Seberang Perai Selatan (South) on the mainland.

The largest district by area is the Seberang Perai Utara which constitutes 25.67% of the state’s total landmass at 269sqkm. As a whole, the three mainland districts make up 751sqkm, equivalent to 71.66% of the state’s total landmass.

Much of the mainland is still devoted toward agricultural activities. Nonetheless, the Penang state government has ambitious plans to develop the mainland’s economy into a high-tech and high value added industrial economy. One such push toward this direction was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Penang Development Corporation (PDC), Temasek1 and Economic Development Innovations Singapore Pte Ltd in May last year. The MOU is intended to form a joint-venture company to develop the Penang International Technology Park (PITP) and Business Process Outsourcing Prime (BPO Prime). The project will be located on two sites totalling 206.8 acres in size: one in Batu Kawan on the mainland and another in Bayan Baru on the island. It is projected that the gross development value of this project will be around RM11.3bil and that it will create 25,000 to 30,000 high income jobs 2.

Interestingly, Figure 2 indicates that despite having a larger landmass, the mainland has less forest area than the island. One plausible explanation for this situation is that much of the forests on the mainland were cleared off and converted for agricultural purposes. The other contributing factor is the island’s hilly topology, whereby 45% of the total landmass is 250ft above sea-level and thus protected from development under the Land Conservation Act 1960 (Act 385).

Seberang Perai has longer road lengths than the island, largely because it has 2.5 times the land size to cover. Despite not being the largest district by land size, Seberang Perai Tengah registered the longest length of road network under the Public Works Department, almost double that of Seberang Perai Utara, or more than all roads on the island combined. The MBPP manages 35% of public roads on the island, whereas MPSP manages 22%.

With the electrified double-tracking project linking KL to Butterworth, the Electric Train Service provided by Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) is expected to begin operations in June 2015, shortening the train journey down to three hours3.Currently there are only three train stations located in Penang, all in Seberang Perai, namely Butterworth, Bukit Mertajam and Nibong Tebal. The Butterworth train station will be integrated into the Penang Sentral transportation hub, linking the station to bus, taxi and ferry terminals, and potentially also the Sky Cab cable car station. The number of passengers using KTMB service in Penang between 2008 and 2012 hovered around 140,000 to 160,000 users, with the exception of 2010. It is expected that once the said facilities are completed there will be a surge in passengers utilising the Butterworth station.

Population demographics

In 1970, 44.2% of Penang’s population lived on the mainland; by 1990 this figure had gone up to 51%. In fact, it was last estimated that 54.5% of the state’s population resides on the mainland 4. On average, the rate of growth of the three mainland districts combined has outpaced that of the island over 13 years from 2001 to 2013. Seberang Perai Selatan in particular experienced a rapid pace of growth, averaging 2.9% a year during this period. However it should be noted that it is still the least populated area on the mainland and the high growth rate is not uncommon given its relatively small population. Since 2010, however, the mainland has experienced an evenly distributed growth in population.

As of 2013, some 891,300 people have called the mainland home. This is a 5.1 % increase from 2010 when the population of the mainland was around 847,500 people. In terms of population density, Seberang Perai Tengah is the most inhabited of the three mainland districts with an average of 1,653 people per sqkm. This is largely due to the attraction of the higher economic activity around the industrial townships of Bukit Mertajam, Bukit Tengah and Bukit Minyak.

[4] Beng-Lan, G. (2002), Modern Dreams: An Inquiry Into Power, Cultural Production, and the Cityscape in Contemporary Urban Penang, Malaysia, Ithaca, NY: Cornell South East Asia Program Publications.

While Seberang Perai Selatan currently has fewer residents than its larger neighbouring districts directly to the north, this is set to change over the next decade. In 2013, the state government committed to the provision of 11,800 units of affordable housing within Batu Kawan. With the opening of the Second Penang Bridge connecting Batu Kawan on the mainland to Batu Maung on the island, accessibility to the manufacturing zones on the island has increased. Additionally, the announcement made last year that developer Aspen Vision Land, IKEA franchisee Ikano Pte Ltd and Penang Development Corporation (PDC) have entered an agreement for an RM8bil integrated development in Batu Kawan will certainly likewise draw more people toward this part of the state.

From the breakdown according to ethnicity, Malays make up the largest ethnic group in each of the three districts on the mainland, with most of them in Seberang Perai Utara. This is followed by the ethnic Chinese who form the second largest community on the mainland and most commonly reside in Seberang Perai Tengah.

The ethnic Indian community makes up the third largest community on the mainland and is by far the most evenly distributed community across the mainland. However, in recent years, the influx of foreign nationals, especially in Seberang Perai Tengah, has led to them becoming the third largest community in this district.

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