JOHOR BARU - Malaysia's Department of Environment has issued a temporary stop-work order against all coastal land reclamation works to build a man-made island in the Strait of Johor, the New Straits Times reported on Tuesday.
The stop-work order follows a decision to study in greater detail the environmental impact of the project, the newspaper reported, quoting a state government official.
"The order came about a week ago and all land reclamation works in the area have been suspended pending further studies on the environmental effects of the project," Johor State Health and Environment Committee chairman Ayub Rahmat told the newspaper.
The project, called Forest City, is being jointly developed by Chinese property developer Country Garden Holdings and a Johor government company Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor.
It involves creating 2,000 hectare man-made island - nearly three times the size of Ang Mo Kio estate - that will feature luxury homes and will be completed in 30 years' time. The project also includes a 49-hectare tourist hub and some recreational facilities.
The reclamation works for the tourist hub began in early March and were expected to be completed by the year end, the New Straits Times said.
According to Malaysian regulations, projects that are larger than 50 hectares in size require an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report before they can be approved.
Mr Ayub clarified that an EIA report for the tourist hub had already been conducted because of concerns about its density even though the project was 49 hectares in size.
"Normally, shoreline reclamation projects below 50 hectares is size do not need an EIA under the Environmental Quality Order 1987.
"However, as the project will have an 80-room hotel, increasing the area's density, a preliminary EIA was conducted and its findings submitted to the authorities," he said.
Mr Ayub said the state government would monitor further discussions between the project developers and the Department of Environment.
"We will wait for the Department to complete their studies on the project, after which we will also ensure that all the guidelines are met," he told the New Straits Times.
According to a project map, a part of the island is to lie under the Second Link, which connects Tuas in Singapore to Johor.
Singapore has expressed its concern over the project and asked Malaysia for more details so it could study the possible impact on the Republic and the strait.
Some Malaysian environmentalists have also expressed concern at the consequences of the project, pointing out that the area is home to mangroves, sea-horses and dugongs.