Green light for road through Bt Brown

ST News
Feb 4, 2012

Green light for road through Bt Brown
But path will take into account findings of documentation project

By Grace Chua

THE Government will proceed as planned with the building of a road through Bukit Brown Cemetery, Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin said in a Facebook post yesterday.

But the road, which will result in 5 per cent of the cemetery's 100,000 or so graves being exhumed, will be adjusted to take in the findings of a massive documentation exercise currently ongoing to capture the history of the place, he added.

'As for the rest of the cemetery, where 95 per cent of the graves are, we are happy to look into how the area can be enjoyed in the interim,' he said, implying that it could eventually make way for other development projects.

'I have stated that we can and should bring in more Singaporeans to appreciate the heritage, culture and biodiversity of Bukit Brown.

'Let's see how we can develop Bukit Brown in the interim, to make it more accessible to visitors, even as we maintain its rustic charm,' said Mr Tan, who is also Minister of State for Manpower.

The dual four-lane carriageway, plans for which were announced last September, is meant to ease congestion on Lornie Road. Construction will begin next year.

The Bukit Brown site as a whole is zoned for residential use under the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Concept Plan 2001, which sets out plans for the next 40 to 50 years.

In his post, Mr Tan noted that it can potentially house 15,000 homes for around 50,000 residents, or 40 per cent of the homes in Toa Payoh town.

'These are homes for many, many Singaporeans,' he said. 'This is not meant to trivialise the heritage value of Bukit Brown Cemetery, which I truly appreciate, but to put on the table the choices we have to make.

'Other plots of land around the island continue to be developed for homes. We will take back land for some uses, more land will be reclaimed and we will continually explore how to innovatively create space. And, yes, we will also seek to preserve our environment as well as our heritage.'

Mr Tan wrote that he dropped in yesterday morning on an exercise to document some 5,000 graves in Bukit Brown that could be affected by the new road.

That effort, led by anthropologist Hui Yew-Foong of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, is almost complete, he said, adding: 'LTA (the Land Transport Authority) will also use the findings from the documentation exercise to fine-tune the road alignment so as to reduce the impact on the graves.'

His comments prompted disappointment, but not surprise, from heritage and environment interest groups pushing for the preservation of the cemetery, one of Singapore's last historical burial sites after the Kwong Hou Sua and Bidadari cemeteries were exhumed in the last decade.

The groups said Bukit Brown is the resting place of prominent early immigrants like businessmen Tan Kheam Hock and Cheang Hong Lim. It also acts as a green lung, and slows stormwater run-off into the Kallang catchment area.

Bukit Brown is also home to rare species of birds and plants, they added.

Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum pointed out that the environment group, in a position paper last year, had urged that alternative sites be looked into to meet housing needs.

The Nature Society's position paper advocated that all 233ha of Bukit Brown be turned into a heritage park, and called for an environmental impact assessment for the proposed road and township.

Members of the SOS Bukit Brown group, an informal collection of citizens petitioning for the whole site to be preserved, said in an e-mail: 'We are sorry to hear that Mr Tan still prioritises construction and the ultimate destruction of Bukit Brown.'

But they added: 'We are happy that Mr Tan has been open about his views. We believe it is now necessary for a fundamental review and open dialogue with all Singaporeans about the future of Singapore.'