Golf courses, not history, should make way

Today Online 25 Oct 11;

 The Land Transport Authority's plan to open a major road through Bukit Brown Cemetery, which is of eco-heritage value, has raised debates between conservationists and developmentalists.

 One sees the more intangible but longer term cultivation of a collective sense of identity and belonging; the other, the short-term but lucrative demands for growth and prosperity, particularly for this land near expensive residences along Bukit Timah Road.

 As the population expands, the contestations for land use will become more pressing, and this debate is crucial in determining the liveability of Singapore for future generations.

 While I am heartened by the Government's commitment to "a city within a garden", I am unsure how this can be realised in practice. The approach to Bukit Brown Cemetery seems instead to be turning the country into gardens within the city.

 Perhaps, we need a radical rethink of land use in light of the current limitations, and I suggest that Singapore does away completely with golf courses.

 According to the Urban Redevelopment Authority, 22 golf courses and three temporary golf sites occupied 88 per cent of the 1,600 hectares of land used for sports and recreation in 2000, or 2.2 per cent of total land area.

 To underline the exclusive nature of golfing here, the premium Singapore Island Country Club has four 18-hole courses, a nine-hole course and two driving ranges that stretch from Adam Road to the boundaries of Peirce Reservoir.

 All these facilities and land, enjoyed by about 18,000 members.

 Although golf courses are located in constrained areas near water catchment zones, military training grounds or flight paths, not only do they occupy huge tracts of land, they are economically unproductive, socially exclusive and environmentally damaging.

 If Singapore's policies are based on pragmatism and inclusiveness, golfing should not be considered a practical activity here. Golfers should go to neighbouring countries for their sport.

 Given the increasing congestion in public parks like MacRitchie Reservoir and East Coast Park, it is unacceptable that a privileged few have exclusive access to large plots of land in a tiny country with a burgeoning population.

 In 1991, plans to convert parts of Peirce Reservoir into an 18-hole golf course were shelved after the Nature Society convinced the authorities of the rich wildlife in the vicinity.

 This scenic area has remained a public space and diverse natural habitat that all can enjoy. On similar grounds, if there must be redevelopment in the Lornie Road area, one of SICC's golf courses, rather than the cemetery, should make way.

 The recent parliamentary debates put greater priority on cultivating Singapore's soul and on developing a more active citizenry interacting with a more open Government in an inclusive society, as the Prime Minister spelt out when he assumed premiership in 2004.

 Singaporeans should ask themselves to choose between saving an exclusive golf course or a culturally, ecologically and historically rich site like Bukit Brown Cemetery, if they are keen on nurturing this Singapore Soul. This is not a difficult choice, even for the wealthy, if we are thinking of wealth and happiness for all Singaporeans for generations.

Liew Kai Khiun

The writer is an assistant professor at a local university.