Update of news and articles on Bukit Brown

September 2011

ST News
Sep 28, 2011

The road between heritage and progress

Free up burial land and bring to life our 'glorious dead' in other ways

The road between heritage and progress -- ST ILLUSTRATION: MIEL

HOW I love Lornie Road. As a boy, I would travel weekly in dad's blue Peugeot on that road, from our home in Tanglin Halt to visit grandpa in Paya Lebar.
Years later, after I moved to the north-east, I would traverse that same road frequently on my motorbike to Holland Village to visit a girlfriend. This was followed, over time, by another 'long-distance' relationship that fused my bond with Lornie.

Today, when going over to the in-laws in the West Coast for Sunday dinners, I often choose Lornie over the quicker expressways.
The wide-arching tarmac and lush greenery on either side always relax me, no matter how hectic the day has been.

The scenery to and fro via Lornie Road has changed gradually over the years - the removal of roundabouts (including the beautiful Holland Circus which had a fountain), the exhumation of graves at Bidadari Cemetery in Bartley, the appearance of underpasses and viaducts, and so on.
The sweeping stretch from MacRitchie Reservoir to just before Sime Road - my favourite - has also changed.

There are now traffic lights (with one set at Sime Road leading to and from Singapore Island Country Club); and Lornie on the whole has been widened to accommodate a rise in traffic flow since the viaduct just outside Mount Alvernia Hospital opened.
Often, the road becomes too busy. As a result, it is losing some of its charm.

But hope is in sight.

Two weeks ago, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced that it will build an eight-lane arterial road that will cut through Bukit Brown, forming a high-capacity alternative to Lornie.
Construction will start in 2013, and be completed in mid-2016. Lornie will then be 'downgraded' to a lower-capacity carriageway - back to two lanes in each direction.

The freed-up space will be devoted to a park connector on the fringe of MacRitchie.

That, to me, is good news. The new road should cope with a growing traffic volume that Lornie is obviously having problems accommodating during peak periods.
With it, Lornie will, I hope, revert to what it was - a picturesque tree-lined boulevard that harks back to simpler times.

But the prospect of a massive road cutting through Bukit Brown Cemetery near the Lornie corridor has incurred the ire of folks who feel the site has strong heritage value. They point out that many of Singapore's first immigrants are buried there.

It is understandable that people are upset, even if the road project will affect only about 5 per cent of the more than 100,000 graves there.

I would not be thrilled if Choa Chu Kang Cemetery, where my Xiamen-born grandfather rests, was to make way for redevelopment. But I would also understand if there was such a need.

The reality is Singapore does not have the luxury of a vast hinterland. It will always have to balance competing needs for space, more than bigger countries. Difficult decisions will often have to be made.
Bukit Brown was earmarked for residential development by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) as early as in the 2003 Master Plan. The area is sizeable, equivalent to some Housing Board towns. Its central location makes it a prime residential zone.

So, while detractors will point to other alternative sites, Bukit Brown's suitability for housing cannot be denied.

The same goes for Bidadari Cemetery, which dates back more than a century, and whose graves have been exhumed for a largely residential development in the future.

Like it or not, in a small city-state, the dead have to make way for the living.

What's important is that efforts are made to preserve their memory through proper documentation, archiving, and even memorials if the occasion calls for it.

It is pointless to pin a 'heritage' label on an area or a building if it will never be a part of our lives. Bukit Brown is, to all intents and purposes, tucked away into the far corners of our consciousness. Take a walk through the place and you will see that it is unkempt and largely overgrown.
It may be better to move some of the more prominent graves and perhaps display their artefacts to make them more accessible.

Take the case of 19th-century tycoon Ong Sam Leong, who is buried there. Why not erect a plaque or commission an artwork at or near the location of Bukit Rose, his once-magnificent house in Bukit Timah Road, if his descendants don't object? Why not celebrate a man's life and times when he walked the earth rather than preserve the spot beneath which he is buried?

A country with the luxury of land can let historic graves lie. But one with a limited surface area must wake up to the reality that present and future generations should take precedence.

Whether Singapore's population policy is right or wrong is for another forum. The fact is that we have more than five million residents today, and the figure could hit 6.5 million within the next decade or so.

Yes, heritage is important to a city. But heritage is best appreciated as a living, breathing entity that blends the past with the present in a relevant and tangible way.

It might be a better nod to heritage to designate Lornie Road - like Mount Pleasant, Mandai and South Buona Vista roads - a 'heritage road'.

And besides a park connector on Lornie Road on the MacRitchie Reservoir side, a heritage trail could be paved on the opposite side, with signs and sculptures bringing to life, as it were, our glorious dead.

ST Forum, Sep 27, 2011

Cemetery's heritage value considered in Lornie Road changes, replies LTA
WE THANK Mr Liew Kai Khiun ('Rethink road widening affecting cemetery') and Mr Jacob Tan ('Why allow traffic lights to serve a private road at huge public inconvenience?') for their feedback on Sept 16.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) adopts a holistic approach in building Singapore's urban transport system. This includes expanding our public transport network, building roads, and managing traffic through measures such as the vehicle quota system and Electronic Road Pricing.

Given land constraints, our priority is to make public transport attractive for more Singaporeans. But even as we promote the use of public transport, roads are still needed to serve new developments and support economic growth. Buses also need smooth-flowing roads to serve commuters. Lornie Road is part of the Outer Ring Road System that allows motorists to travel between the east and the west without having to go through the city centre. It is also an essential connection with the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) for motorists from residential estates in the central and northern parts of the island, such as Ang Mo Kio and Bishan.

Today, with increased traffic, Lornie Road experiences heavier traffic, especially during the morning and evening peak hours. Poor traffic conditions are also observed on the slip roads connecting PIE and Lornie Road. The alignment of the new road to alleviate Lornie Road traffic was drawn up in careful consultation with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and National Parks Board, taking into consideration immediate transport needs, future development plans for Bukit Brown, and environmental factors.

Care was taken to avoid adversely affecting the MacRitchie Reservoir Nature Reserve and acquiring private land.

When completed, the new road will increase road capacity to facilitate east-west travel. It will also provide connectivity for future housing developments in the Bukit Brown area.

To preserve the heritage of Bukit Brown Cemetery, URA and LTA will work with the Singapore Heritage Society and relevant stakeholders to identify and document key heritage elements of the cemetery.
Mr Tan asked about the traffic lights located along Sime Road. The traffic lights do not operate during the morning peak hours.

Besides providing access to Sime Road, the lights provide motorists, who wish to make a U-turn along Lornie Road, with the necessary traffic gaps to turn.

We will review the need for the traffic lights when the new road in Bukit Brown is completed.

Helen Lim (Ms)

Acting Director, Media Relations

Land Transport Authority

HIS hands dark with motor grease, the old man ate silently under the van's raised boot as the rain fell.

 His tools of the trade: A can of engine oil, spanners and a car jack lie in a heap at the back of his van.

 A former car mechanic, he runs a mobile workshop out of his beat-up Toyota van at the gates of Bukit Brown Cemetery off Lornie Road, where he does simple repairs for a small fee.

 Rain or shine, he will be there, said a regular group of bus drivers and cabbies who share the spot for a quick rest.

 To them, the old man is known simply as "Uncle". And like his scenic, serene surroundings, "Uncle" will also disappear when works start on the planned new four-lane, dual carriage road which will affect part of Bukit Brown Cemetery.

 When The New Paper visited him yesterday afternoon, he was alone and eating rice from a packet. "Uncle" said that he is in his seventies, and owned a car repair shop in Bukit Brown way back when there was a kampung.

 He said: "This place was bustling with activity in the 1970s. There was even a coffee shop around here."

 He said that he was later forced to close his shop and move away, but declined to say more.

Regular customers

 A school bus driver in his 40s, who gave his name as Mr Ang, said that "Uncle" has a "regular but small" pool of customers, who drop by at about 10am.

 Mr Ang said that the old mechanic is "very selective" about his customers.

 He explained: "He will only fix your car if he knows you. You must call him first to make an appointment.

 "He does simple things like servicing brakes and changing engine oil. He only fixes older cars because new ones have computers in them.

 Mr Ang usually drops by Bukit Brown for a quick break after work at midday.

 He and cabby Tony Png, 65, are a few who choose Bukit Brown as a place to get away from the bustle of city life.

 Scant sounds of distant traffic are the only hint of the urban landscape beyond this quiet sanctuary.

 Said Mr Png: "Not many people know of this place, so there's no one to disturb my nap."

 A certain Mrs Chan, a 78-year-old resident living at Sime Road, which is behind the cemetery, said that she is "apprehensive about the noise and traffic levels" that the new road would bring.

 "I was hoping that the land would be preserved," said the former teacher who has lived in her semi-detached house for 26 years.

 But "Uncle", who currently lives with his son in a landed property, is resigned to leaving Bukit Brown, a place that holds many memories for him.

 He said irritatedly: "I don't really care what they are going to build here. These things happen. "Maybe I will just close my business."

ST Forum, Sep 16, 2011

Rethink road widening affecting cemetery
I AM shocked by the Land Transport Authority's (LTA) plans for a dual four-lane road along Lornie Road and the Pan-Island Expressway that will cut into the existing Bukit Brown Cemetery, affecting some 5,000 of the estimated 100,000 graves ('New road to ease Lornie Road jams'; Tuesday).

Although the cemetery, with its rich cultural heritage, is reserved housing land, plans for the road extension are premature. There is insufficient research into the area's historical and ecological value for a more informed judgment.

Given the scarcity of space, road widening runs contrary to developing a more sustainable and environmentally friendly transportation system, an issue which previous transport minister Raymond Lim had acknowledged.

He had stated that increasing road capacity and deploying traffic engineering measures would not in themselves guarantee smooth-flowing roads ('Keeping traffic flowing smoothly'; Jan 31, 2008). Additional lanes and new roads would attract more traffic and congestion would soon return.

His remarks apply precisely to Lornie Road. Decades-long efforts of road widening and other civil engineering works resulting in the appearance of a network of viaducts streaming into even Braddell and Upper Thomson Roads have not improved traffic conditions.
These measures will also create more discomfort for residents in the vicinity as they find their surroundings increasingly replaced by noisy and inhospitable vehicle carriageways.

The LTA should consider alternatives first, including Electronic Road Pricing.
With ERP, motorists can be persuaded not to choke the Lornie Road exit and use less congested exits along Bukit Timah Road, Eng Neo Avenue and Jalan Toa Payoh.

If we persist with the short-term solution of road widening, the traffic problem will not be solved. Transport planners must come up with more imaginative, culturally sensitive and environmentally sustainable solutions.

Liew Kai Khiun

TODAY Voices Sep 14, 2011

Making way for more roads not the solution

Letter from Goh Si Guim

I REFER to the article "New dual four-lane road in Bukit Brown to ease heavy traffic" (Sept 13). I am dismayed that more land will be mowed down to accommodate the relentless and unsustainable car population growth in Singapore.

Bukit Brown was earmarked as a land bank for future housing development. Unfortunately, an ugly stab will be made into its tranquility as yet another stretch of land, large enough to provide eight lanes, would be conceded to vehicular traffic.

Many cars on the road end up carrying only one occupant and, hence, are not efficiently utilised. Instead, they take up land space and spew tons of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
With the expansion of the rail network, it is time to relook the current disincentives to curb car usage. The measures taken to cope with car numbers in recent decades, such as Electronic Road Pricing, are nowhere successful thus far.

More persuasive action is needed to nudge more people to use the rail system, which is touted to be one of the best in the world but has still been found wanting. I hope that when the entire system is operational, the current undesirable conditions would ease.

As we have done in many other areas, let us lead the world in caring for our environment, such as by doing away with cars as much as possible and fully utilising the rail network. In a small dot like Singapore, we can do better when we set a common goal.

ST News
Sep 13, 2011

New road to ease Lornie Road jams

A NEW road will be built in Bukit Brown by 2016, easing peak-hour snarls along Lornie Road.

In a statement yesterday, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said construction of the estimated 2km road - four lanes in each direction - is expected to begin in early 2013.

The road will start from Lornie Road near Caldecott Hill and cut through the existing Bukit Brown cemetery before joining Adam Road near the slip roads leading to the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE).

It will connect motorists travelling between Thomson Road, Adam Road and the PIE.

An LTA spokesman said currently between 6,000 and 7,000 vehicles per hour use Lornie Road during peak hours.

Traffic is expected to increase between 20 per cent and 30 per cent by 2020 due to future developments in central and northern Singapore.

'The projected traffic volumes would be well beyond what the current Lornie Road can handle,' said the spokesman.

The LTA has also observed slow traffic on the slip roads connecting Lornie Road and the PIE.
The spokesman said the project's cost will be known only after the tender - not called yet - is awarded.
After the new road is completed, Lornie Road will be downsized to a dual-two lane road, from four lanes going towards Adam Road and three towards Braddell.

The freed-up space will be used for future park connectors alongside the existing nature reserve.
Lornie Road functions as a link in the Outer Ring Road System, a network of major roads that allow motorists travelling between the east and west of Singapore to bypass the city.

It is also a vital connection between the PIE and residential estates in the central and northern parts such as Ang Mo Kio, Bishan and Thomson.

Asked why the new road was not built when LTA widened Lornie Road in 2009, the spokesman said the agencies had to ensure that new roads would not adversely affect the nature reserves.
Accordingly, the LTA widened Lornie Road in the direction of Adam Road as an interim measure to alleviate congestion.

In its joint statement with the Urban Redevelopment Authority and National Parks Board, the LTA said various agencies have worked closely to plan an alignment that takes into consideration more immediate transport needs as well as long-term development plans for the area.

It said the agencies took care to avoid adversely affecting the nature reserves near MacRitchie Reservoir or acquiring private land for this road project.

It is also part of a road network that will support future developments in Bukit Brown.
The URA has already earmarked the area for future housing development due to its central location and proximity to established residential areas.

There are also plans for a future Circle Line MRT station to serve the area when it is developed.

The LTA estimates that the new road will affect about 5 per cent of more than 100,000 graves in the Bukit Brown cemetery.

It will call a tender this month to identify the graves and exhumation will take place in the fourth quarter of next year.

Motorists are happy that a new road will be built.

Piano teacher Jolly Liew, 45, said traffic flow on Lornie Road is quite bad after 8am on weekdays. She uses it up to three times a week during peak hours to take her father from their home in Clementi to his office in MacPherson.

On the way back, it can take more than an hour to reach home due to the congestion. She said: 'The new road sounds good. Anything to ease the traffic is good because traffic in that area can be quite bad.'

ST News
Sep 13, 2011

Redevelopment plans for Bukit Brown site


About 5 per cent of the more than 100,000 graves in the Bukit Brown cemetery is expected to be affected by the building of the new road with four lanes on each side. Construction is slated to begin in 2013 and is expected to be completed by 2016. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

A NEW dual four-lane road is the first step in the clearance and redevelopment of the Bukit Brown area.
When the road is completed by 2016, it will serve as a link between Adam Road, the Pan-Island Expressway and Thomson Road for residents of future developments there.
Provisions have also been made to connect future residents to the MRT network, with an area set aside for a Bukit Brown MRT station on the Circle Line.

However, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) could not give details of the other developments slated for the area.

Heritage enthusiasts have been lobbying to keep the area untouched after the URA announced in May that the 86ha Bukit Brown cemetery off Lornie Road is likely to make way for redevelopment.

The building of the new road alone will affect about 5 per cent of the more than 100,000 graves in the cemetery.

Once the graves that need to be exhumed have been identified, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will contact families affected.

The exhumations and cremations of the remains in these graves will be done in the fourth quarter of next year.

Assistant Professor Chua Ai Lin, an executive member of the Singapore Heritage Society, said it was still unclear what the impact of the road would be on the cemetery.

'LTA has not confirmed where exactly the road will cut through and which graves are to be exhumed,' she said.

She pointed out that the graves of more prominent personalities are located on higher hillside.

These include the remains of the 19th-century tycoon Ong Sam Leong.

'What we feel should have been done was to give us more lead time in documenting these graves,' she said, noting that construction work for the road begins in 2013.

The society is in the midst of organising a team of experts to document the more than 100,000 graves.

She added, however, that the LTA seemed open and flexible to the suggestions of the society on preserving some of the more important graves.

Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum said it may be possible for the building of the road to be done in a particular way to minimise the impact on nature.

'As the road will divide Bukit Brown into two segments, LTA should look into building a connecter to allow wildlife to move between the two areas,' he said.

He added that the likelihood of roadkill should be minimised with fencing or other means to discourage animals from crossing the road.

The impact of noise on the animals in the area should also be looked into, he said.

The LTA said it was working with the various agencies to preserve, identify and document the key heritage elements of the cemetery.


SHS Statement on Bukit Brown Cemetery: Proposed Dual 4-Lane Road Project

by Singapore Heritage Society on Monday, September 12, 2011


The Singapore Heritage Society believes that thorough historical surveys are needed in order to make wise urban planning decisions that take into consideration the intangible aspects of nation-building. It is regretful this has not been done for Bukit Brown Cemetery. Documentation and research must start immediately as the cemetery is a vast and rich source of primary historical data that is unique to Singapore. 

The Singapore Heritage Society understands the pressures on land use in Singapore but believes that:

a) Public consultation and a thorough consideration of all the issues is important before major decisions are made.

b) Thorough historical and archaeological surveys should be carried out before any redevelopment decisions are made, in order to provide policy-makers and developers with the knowledge to make informed and sensitive decisions.

c) New, creative and visionary solutions to housing and transportation needs should also be actively sought and looked into, just as cutting-edge research into water treatment technologies has helped Singapore deal with the recent ending of the 1961 water pact with Johor.

d) The social and cultural history encompassed in Bukit Brown is unique to Singapore and must be appropriately valued.

The richness of Bukit Brown's historical significance has thus far not been commonly understood and much more research remains to be done. Hence a proper evaluation of the opportunity cost of redeveloping the cemetery has not been factored into urban planning decision-making.

The preservation of Bukit Brown Cemetery is important as a physical reminder of Singapore's rich history, which stretches back well before 1965, to the early 19th century. The paucity of historical awareness in Singapore is partly due to the fact that each successive generation loses the physical structures that anchor the memories passed down from their forefathers.

With a new awareness of the importance of maintaining these memories being encouraged by the Prime Minister, the value of Bukit Brown must be carefully considered. Once removed, there is no way to restore this historical landscape.

This opportunity cost of losing Bukit Brown is difficult to measure in purely monetary or statistical terms. In Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally Speech, he highlighted a major new initiatives by the National Library Board, iRememberSg, to collect Singaporeans' memories in order "to weave the tapestry of the nation".

The memories of our community go back far beyond living memory to include the hundreds of thousands of our ancestors buried in Bukit Brown (an estimated 100,000 graves), including many significant historical personalities, such as Tan Kim Ching, Cheang Hong Lim, Lim Chong Pang, Gan Eng Seng, Chew Boon Lay, ONg Sam Leong, Tan Kheam Hock, Chew Joo Chiat, Tan Ean Kiam and Teh Ho Swee.

At the very least, a thorough historical documentation of Bukit Brown Cemetery must be carried out before any redevelopment work begins. This documentation should include the following aspects:
1) Tomb inscriptions -- names, genealogy, place of origin, couplets, dates
2) Cultural features -- eg. feng shui features surrounding the tomb, carvings, monuments of identity, epigraphic materials
3) Spatial mapping using GIS to understand the positioning of graves relative to each other and the topography
4) Historical research into the significant personalities buried there.
5) Personal and social memories -- the family rituals around death, burial and paying respects to ancestors.
6) If exhumation is to be done, an archaeological survey can also be carried out.

The first three provide a vast amount of data for future historians to analyse and are rich materials for detailed studies of the local community. The last aspect documents practices still carried on today that have changed over time and are likely to change or disappear altogether in future.

Each Chinese dialect group has unique practices regarding all the above, and which are likely to exhibit local variations that differ to practices of Chinese on the mainland as well as other overseas Chinese communities. This historical data is unique to Singapore and contributes to both local history as well as the understanding of the broader field of Chinese diaspora studies.

Straits Times Sep 12, 2011

New dual 4-lane road to be built in Bukit Brown to ease congestion
 By Leonard Lim

A dual four-lane road in Bukit Brown will be built from early 2013 to alleviate congestion along Lornie Road and the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) during peak hours.  

A dual four-lane road in Bukit Brown will be built from early 2013 to alleviate congestion along Lornie Road and the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) during peak hours.

In a statement, the Land Transport Authority added that the new road, to be completed by 2016, will also cater to expected growth in future traffic demand.

The road will link motorists travelling between Thomson Road, Adam Road and the PIE, and is part of the road network that will support future developments in Bukit Brown.

With future developments in the central and northern parts of Singapore, traffic demand along Lornie Road is expected to increase between 20 per cent and 30 per cent by 2020 and well beyond what the current Lornie Road will be able to handle, the LTA noted.

Also, the Bukit Brown area will be developed for housing in the future.

Once the new road is finished, Lornie Road will be converted to a dual two-lane road, and the space freed up will be used for park connectors alongside the existing nature reserve.

But the new road will cut through parts of the Bukit Brown Cemetery. It is estimated that it will affect about 5 per cent of the more than 100,000 graves there.

The LTA will conduct a grave identification exercise to confirm the actual number of graves affected. After the affected graves are identified, the authority will publish details of the affected graves and invite the next-of-kin of the deceased buried in them to register their claims of their ancestors’ remains. The LTA will work closely with the next-of-kin to undertake the exhumation of the affected graves, which is expected to take place late next year.

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