Bukit Brown: Heritage group 'not consulted'

ST News
Oct 21, 2011

Bukit Brown: Heritage group 'not consulted'

Society says it linked LTA, URA to experts only after being told of decision to build road there

By Royston Sim

THE Singapore Heritage Society made clear yesterday that it was informed - but not consulted - about a decision by the authorities to build a 2km road in Bukit Brown.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) last month revealed plans for a dual four-lane road in the area. About 5 per cent of the more than 100,000 graves in Bukit Brown Cemetery will have to be exhumed.

In a statement, the society clarified that its only collaboration with the LTA and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) was to connect the agencies with experts on Chinese cemetery documentation - after it was informed about the road.

The LTA and URA had previously said they would work with the society and relevant stakeholders to identify and document key heritage elements of the cemetery.

'There hasn't been an opportunity for any kind of consultation process,' said Assistant Professor Chua Ai Lin, an executive member of the society.

She noted, however, that the society will meet the URA next Monday.

In a joint statement yesterday, the URA and LTA said the cemetery was zoned for residential use under Concept Plan 1991 and it had been public knowledge since that the long-term plan was to use the area to meet housing needs. The statement added that to support that plan, basic infrastructure such as roads will need to be built. The new road, which will help relieve jams in Lornie Road, will also serve future housing developments in the area.

Noting that the authorities are aware of the site's rich heritage, the statement said they started 'engaging stakeholders such as the Singapore Heritage Society, the Hokkien Huay Kuan and scholars' this year to find ways to capture the history and memories of the cemetery.

Construction of the road will begin in 2013.

The society has asked the authorities to slow down the pace of redevelopment so that more stakeholders can be consulted. One such party, it noted, is the Singapore Polo Club, which uses Bukit Brown to exercise its horses. The society noted that completing basic data recording will be a challenge, given the large number of graves and the 'impossibly short time frame'.

The LTA has set next March as the deadline for affected graves to be registered, with exhumation taking place in the fourth quarter of next year.

The society added that more time is also needed for historical research.

In a letter to The Straits Times on Wednesday, Ms Chew I-Jin called for the preservation of Bukit Brown graves.

'The erasure of these grounds will deal a substantial blow to the cultural history of Singapore,' wrote Ms Chew, a descendant of Singaporean pioneer and businessman Chew Boon Lay.

Prof Chua said much new information about Bukit Brown has been discovered since LTA's announcement. Graves of important pioneers have been found, people whom Singaporeans may not be aware of.

'So much information can be gleaned,' she said. 'If the graves have to be exhumed, at least give us more time to experience (the area) before it goes.'

The society is co-organising a public forum on Bukit Brown with National University of Singapore Professor Irving Chan Johnson on Nov 19. It is also seeking expert views on how to balance conservation and development of the area.