Update of news and articles on Bukit Brown

March 2012

ST Forum
Mar 31, 2012

Let's live and let die, please...

THE question civil society groups must consider is: Who would want to visit the graves at Bukit Brown Cemetery ('Navigating a new terrain of engagement'; yesterday). How many would do so weekly, or even monthly?

The truth is that the area gives many Singaporeans the spooks; it is eerie, unlike MacRitchie Reservoir.

Young couples need homes, but a minority like the civil society groups want to stop the eventual development of Bukit Brown into a housing zone.

In fact, the Land Transport Authority should scrap the plan to build a bridge across Bukit Brown; taxpayers' money should be used for more critical needs.

The Government should not cave in to the minority simply because they are vocal. I am certain that if it comes to a referendum or vote, an overwhelming majority of citizens would prefer the Government's plan for the area.

The living should come first, not the dead.

Daniel Chia

ST Forum
Mar 31, 2012

Consider cheaper alternative to Bukit Brown road

I AGREE with Mr Lee Chiu San ('Cheaper way to solve congestion in Adam, Lornie roads'; Thursday) that widening existing peak-hour chokepoints along Adam and Lornie roads, rather than constructing a highway through Bukit Brown to the Pan-Island Expressway, is a cheaper and better alternative to solving congestion.

To conservationists, I say it is a matter of time before the dead have to give way to the living. Bishan is a good example.

Graves of historical value can be relocated when it is time to free up prime land.

Tan Peng Boon

ST Forum
Mar 31, 2012

Don't get carried away by biodiversity

I HOPE Dr Ho Hua Chew of the Nature Society (Singapore) was speaking for himself and his fellow members, and not the public at large ('Consider the impact on biodiversity, says Nature Society'; Thursday).

Even a nature-lover like me finds it hard to swallow Dr Ho's sentiments, crying out against the threat to Bukit Brown's biodiversity posed by plans to develop it.

We should not let romance with biodiversity cloud rational thinking about competing land use in Singapore, which has a total land area of only 778 sq km and a population of more than five million.

Transport and housing for the living should take precedence over conserving valuable flora and fauna - and even cherished cemeteries. For instance, the KK Women's and Children's Hospital now sits on what was once an old cemetery, because the sick and living deserve a place more than the dead.

My late mother was buried at Bidadari Cemetery in 1954, and when the HDB wanted the land, I was asked to remove her ashes to a little niche at the Choa Chu Kang Columbarium.

I knew her 'bungalow' at Bidadari had to make way for the living, and I willingly supported the HDB's decision despite the personal pain and my filial piety.

To prevent more pressure on land use for future generations, I have told my children to bury me at sea after I pass on.

People, like all animals, form cooperative groups to compete for limited resources. The natural tendency of any population is to surge, although this is kept in check by limited food supply.

The bottom line is that while we may cherish historic cemeteries and biodiversity, we should spare a thought for the burgeoning population competing fiercely for the limited land that we have been blessed with.

Heng Cho Choon

The OnlineCitizen
Mar 30, 2012

Saving Bukit Brown just makes sense

~ By C C Y ~

Central to the discussion surrounding the maintenance of Bukit Brown in its unspoilt state is the question of how to best use space in Singapore, particularly one that is not high-rise steel and concrete. Skeptics of maintaining Bukit Brown in its natural condition argue that the land can be put to better use. Such positions clearly underplay the fact that a green Bukit Brown benefits Singapore by retaining rainwater, lowering ambient temperature, and preserving biodiversity. Bukit Brown does so much better than the twenty-two golf courses that take up 2.2 percent of our land and 88 percent of all recreational space in Singapore ever can.

But leaving aside environmental issues for a moment, I believe that conserving Bukit Brown can serve to celebrate and promote Singapore to both Singaporeans and visitors alike. A Bukit Brown in its natural glory can connect Singaporeans to the spirit that shaped who we are as a nation and introduce visitors to a Singapore that is much more than simply steel-reinforced concrete, asphalt, and glass. Of course, many may wonder who in their right mind would visit a cemetery. Here, I would like to suggest that having a cemetery as a major site of historical — and potentially tourist — interest is very common internationally, even in cities that otherwise clamour for space.

Strong precedent to preserve cemeteries

Just north of the causeway, Malacca is proud of its Bukit Cina and Penang, its Jewish and Protestant cemeteries, just as Tokyo openly extols its Aoyama and Yanaka cemeteries. Few would think to destroy the catacombs in Rome or Paris, just as most would not consider constructing roads through and buildings over Pere-Lachaise, Montparnasse, Montmatre, Brompton, Highgate, or Kensal Green. Los Angeles has Hollywood Forever Cemetery, New Orleans has Lafayette and St. Louis, while New York City keeps Marble Cemetery, Trinity Church Cemetery, and the African Burial Ground National Monument on Manhattan. Even land-starved Hong Kong Island has its Happy Valley Cemetery and Stanley Military Cemetery. The list can go on and on.

Pere-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris

Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans

These spaces help define the urban and social landscape in which they belong, and help shape the character of their cities. Locals go to these cemeteries for walks and to physically connect with the past, children visit these places as part of school tours to learn about where their cities and even countries came from. Visitors from out of town make special effort to see these cemeteries because they are an indelible part of the experience of visiting these cities. From “Interview with a Vampire” to “Easy Rider” and “The Da Vinci Code”, many of these cemeteries have been immortalised on the silver screen. Aoyama Cemetery is even a traditional location for Japanese families to picnic and view the cherry blossoms each spring.

Aoyama Cemetery in Tokyo

Inside of Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris

Land price argument is flawed

If prices are an indicator of the relative scarcity of land, then many of the cities mentioned earlier have as much a concern for the availability of space as Singapore, if not more. According to the credit-/debt analysis firm Credit Sesame, land in Singapore cost an average of US$1,561 per square foot as of 2011.[2] This is less than the US$3,287 per square foot in Paris and the US$1,590 per square foot in London, but more than the US$1,090 in New York City for the same year. The same study lists a square foot in the middle income Taikoo Shing area in Hong Kong as going for US$1,118. In comparison, average land prices in Tokyo stood at US$2,080 per square foot in 2008, the year of the Global Financial Crisis.[3] In none of these other urban areas were there calls to pave over their historic cemeteries.

Offering a cheaper attraction

That Singapore is able to spend substantial funds on creating spaces for recreation strongly suggests that we can well afford Bukit Brown. Gardens-by-the-Bay cost S$800 million to construct, while Marina Bay Sands took S$8 billion to erect and Resorts World Singapore, S$6.59 billion.[4] The collection from the Belitung Shipwreck came at a price of US$32 million.[5] The purchase and exhibition of a dinosaur family from the United States by the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research has a tag of at least S$46 million.[6] Bukit Brown may prove no less an attraction for visitors than these other locations. It can even offer a more accommodating and affordable to place visit as an open, public space.

Has a unique selling point

Among Bukit Brown’s draws is the fact that it is one of the largest Chinese burial grounds in the world outside China. It is unique in featuring Overseas Chinese, including members of Sun Yat-sen’s Tongmenghui and prominent individuals in the modern history of Southeast Asia. The intricate tomb designs found at Bukit Brown are particular to this part of the world. Bukit Brown also includes the communal graves of many who perished during the Second World War and the Japanese Occupation, possibly including some killed during the Japanese Imperial Army’s brutal Operation Sook Ching. Compared against Singapore’s other expenditures on new recreational facilities, protecting Bukit Brown costs almost nothing. Its cultural and historical significance as well as natural beauty provides an extra texture to Singapore that buildings and artificial landscapes just cannot.

Saving Bukit Brown simply makes sense. Beyond its importance to the natural environment and biodiversity in Singapore, Bukit Brown may be a key to sustainable development on our increasingly urbanised nation. This comes together with its significance to Singapore history and heritage, which can help bind future generations to our shared past and root them in Singapore, supplementing longstanding efforts at national education and nation-building. Doing so with generic modern buildings and artificial landscaping tends to be much more difficult. In addition, a natural and protected Bukit Brown can prove inviting to visitors, giving them an experience that is different from what is available elsewhere on the island — it is truly and uniquely Singapore.

Conserving Bukit Brown is neither difficult nor expensive to accomplish. Do the right thing. Push to protect Bukit Brown.


Concept Plan Review, Focus Group Consultation, Final Report on Land Allocation – submitted to the Ministry of National Development on 22 December 2000

Colin Dobrin, “America’s Top Cities: Cheapest Real Estate in the World?” – 26 September 2011

“The World’s Most Expensive Housing Markets”, CNBC.com

Shibani Mahtani, “State-of-the-Art Gardening, Singapore-Style”, The Wall Street Journal, 10 March 2012
“Las Vegas Sands says Singapore casino opening delayed”, AsiaOne Travel, 08 July 2009
“Genting says integrated resorts bill could rise to S$6.59b”, Channel News Asia, 19 February 2009

“Sentosa Proceeds to Buy 9th Century Treasure: New Maritime Heritage Foundation Set Up”, Welcome to Sentosa, 08 April 2005

“Generous mystery donor makes $8 million dino deal possible”, AsiaOne, 07 September 2011

To find out more, you can visit SOS Bukit Brown (and its facebook page) and Bukit Brown Cemetery (and its facebook page). Information on weekend tours of Bukit Brown conducted by volunteers are available from All Things Bukit Brown (and its facebook page).

You can also join the petition to save Bukit Brown at the SOS Bukit Brown website and individually write to your MP asking to save Bukit Brown, or demand for the public release of details surrounding the LTA's road-building plans, hydrology studies, biodiversity impact assessment, and other related evaluations, none of which have been made fully available to the public.

ST News
Mar 30, 2012

When feedback led to Govt changing course


The issue: The Government had planned to reclaim the 100ha wetland on Pulau Ubin for military use, with works slated to begin in January 2002. Its rich biodiversity had remained unknown to most until nature lovers raised that fact at a public forum on land use in May 2001.

The process: News soon spread of Chek Jawa's fate, and its unique ecology. Numerous experts, Ubin residents and ordinary citizens wrote to the press and petitioned the Government, urging them to preserve Chek Jawa. In response to the vocal campaign fronted by nature enthusiasts, the authorities consulted academic experts and took in citizen submissions. Then National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan and officials visited Chek Jawa to assess the situation for themselves.

The outcome: A month before works were to begin, the authorities announced that plans to reclaim the wetland would be shelved for at least 10 years.


The issue: When certificates of entitlement (COEs) were first launched in May 1990, winning bidders could transfer their certificates to another party. Many blamed high COE prices on speculators seeking to make a quick buck by 'flipping' their COEs to genuine car buyers.

The process: In the months following the first COE auction, many, including the Automobile Association of Singapore, urged the authorities to make COEs non-transferable to eliminate speculation. The topic was also widely discussed at grassroots forums and in the press. The Government stuck to its guns initially, but the sustained chorus of opposition convinced it to reconsider. In June 1991, the Government Parliamentary Committee for Communications, after consulting interested parties, recommended a trial on non-transferable COEs for most cars.

The outcome: In September 1991, the Government approved plans for a year-long trial. When the trial ended, the authorities decided to keep COEs for most cars non-transferable, as the public expressed a clear preference for it despite it having no direct impact on COE prices. This policy remains in place today.


The issue: Hoping to improve members' returns, the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board unveiled proposals in January 2004 to give members the choice to divert their funds into privately managed pension plans (PPPs). It hoped to implement PPPs as early as 2005.

The process: The CPF Board published a consultation paper on its website and solicited feedback from financial industry players and the public. This online-based propose-consult-fine-tune model is used frequently by the Government for matters ranging from legislation to MRT station names. In this case, industry players expressed doubts about the PPPs' ability to attract a large enough pool of funds in order to keep fund management costs low. Many respondents also worried about the higher risks members had to bear.

The outcome: By November 2004, the CPF Board had put plans for PPPs on hold as it re-examined their viability. Plans were scrapped from March 2005.

ST News
Mar 30, 2012

Timeline of a grave saga

1872: Seh Ong (Hokkien) cemetery set up.

1922: Bukit Brown Municipal Cemetery officially opened on the site.

1973: Municipal cemetery is closed to burials.

1991-2001: In the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA's) Concept Plans 1991 and 2001, which guide development for the next 40 to 50 years, the site is zoned for residential use.

2003-2008: In the URA's Master Plans for 2003 and 2008, which set out plans for the next 10 to 15 years, it is marked as a cemetery.

March 2010: Heritage enthusiasts voice fears that the Circle Line will affect Bukit Brown Chinese Cemetery.

May 2011: The Straits Times reports that Bukit Brown will eventually make way for housing.

June 2011: The Singapore Heritage Society publishes its book Spaces Of The Dead: A Case From The Living, reviving public interest in Bukit Brown. Interest groups explore and give walking tours of the area.

Responding to Straits Times Forum writers, the URA says Bukit Brown is needed for future housing, and that many such 'difficult trade-off decisions' are made in land-scarce Singapore.

Sept 13: The Land Transport Authority (LTA) announces a new four-lane dual carriageway to be built by 2016 to ease congestion. Heritage groups ask for more time to document the graves. Some 5 per cent of the area's 100,000 graves to be affected.

Sept 21: Singapore Heritage Society protests that its only collaboration with the LTA and URA was to connect the agencies with documentation experts - after it was informed about the road. It asks the authorities to slow down the pace of development.

Sept 27: Following a spate of letters in The Straits Times, the LTA says the new road is needed to ease Lornie Road traffic and serve the area's future plans.

Oct 19: The Straits Times publishes a letter by descendants of famous pioneers, including Chew Boon Lay and Tan Tock Seng, who want Bukit Brown left alone.

Oct 21: Singapore Heritage Society issues a statement on how the group was not consulted over whether Bukit Brown should be developed.

Oct 24: Officials meet privately with heritage groups to explain the Government's reasons for developing a new road, and reaffirm plans to go ahead.

Oct 26: Heritage groups and the preservation project leader, appointed by the Government, raise concerns over insufficient time given to document the graves.

October 2011: Documentation of the graves begins.

Nov 6: Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin reiterates that Bukit Brown will not be spared the bulldozers, but the affected graves will be thoroughly documented.

Nov 19: Participants at a public heritage forum air concerns that activist groups have given up the fight to protect the graves wholesale.

Feb 3, 2012: Mr Tan's Facebook note says the carriageway will go ahead as planned.

Feb 4: Singapore Heritage Society expresses disappointment that there was no public consultation before the zoning decision and before the road was planned, and maintains the area should be protected as an historic site.

March 5: In Parliament, MPs make a last-ditch appeal to save Bukit Brown.

March 19: The LTA announces that part of the road through Bukit Brown will be a bridge over a depression, protecting some biodiversity. Exhumation is pushed back to early next year instead of late this year to give next-of-kin more time to register claims.

Mr Tan meets privately with civil society representatives, who are upset that the meeting was open only to select members. They call for a moratorium on housing and transport infrastructure, including the new road, while national discussions are still under way over housing, transportation and immigration.


ST News
Mar 30, 2012

Navigating a new terrain of engagement

A passionate attempt to save Bukit Brown Cemetery has not turned out as civil society groups hoped it would. What does the saga teach about engagement between the Government and citizens?

By Grace Chua , Li Xueying

Background story

Some say Bukit Brown marks a step backwards in the evolving relationship between state and citizen. Others feel that it was a useful episode as both sides learn to navigate the terrain.

IF DEAD men could talk, imagine the stories that those buried at Bukit Brown would tell their loved ones this Qing Ming.

Left peacefully alone for decades barring the annual spurts of visits during the grave-sweeping festival in early April, they have, over the past year, been witness to a sudden hubbub of conversation and activity at their resting place.

Government officials have trooped up and down the undulating terrain, overlaid with gnarled roots, to survey the tombs and plant stakes by the 3,746 that would make way for a eight-lane road - in turn, a precursor of the eventual development of the entire cemetery for housing.

Passionate debates over its fate have swirled around the elaborate tombstones, as anthropologists, filmmakers and heritage enthusiasts hauled cameras around to document those affected.

Politicians have paid visits too, most notably Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin.

The Government's point man for the issue, he made his way to the cemetery on Feb 3, spoke to the documentation team and tried his hand at chalking the faded inscriptions on tombstones.

He also met other lobbyists, did media interviews, and penned his thoughts on Facebook.

Government officials - including the chief executives of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and Land Transport Authority (LTA) - also held meetings with various groups on their concerns. Documentation shows that from July last year, about 15 such meetings have taken place.

In response to the vocal feedback, the Government said it would fund the documentation efforts, pushed back the date of exhumation, and realigned the road so that fewer graves - down from the original 5,000 - have to be exhumed for the road.

Most notably, one-third of it would be built in the form of an 'eco-bridge', a costlier option, so the cemetery's resident fauna such as monitor lizards can scamper under and plants, disperse.

But the controversial road remains, and so too the plans for the re-zoning of the 89-year-old cemetery for homes.

On March 19, the day the LTA announced the final details of the road, the dialogue ended on a sour note.

Duelling statements were issued by the civil society organisations (CSOs) hoping for a stay on the bulldozers, and Mr Tan.

The group of seven CSOs charged that a meeting with Mr Tan that evening gives 'a strong impression of the lack of good faith on the part of MND', referring to the Ministry of National Development.

They had thought it was an opportunity for them to offer and discuss alternatives to the road and development. 'The fact that this meeting is held after LTA's announcement of plans for the new highway demonstrates the old practice of presenting decisions as fait accompli to concerned groups instead of genuine engagement and discussion,' they said in a statement to the media.

Stung, Mr Tan fired back a salvo. At 4.30 the next morning, he posted a Facebook note.

The meeting was to announce the details and alignment of the road, he said.

In uncharacteristically terse language, he added: 'However, it was clear that it did not matter.

'Because we failed to conduct a session that was in line with what they wanted, for example, to have their own briefs, to invite others on their invite list, it was deemed to be an inadequate effort at genuine engagement.'

These are strong words from the fourth-generation leader who has made public engagement a personal commitment since entering politics last year; and from a government that stresses the importance of consultation and policy 'co-creation' in its governance today.

The Bukit Brown saga is thus a case study of how the Government and citizens are navigating their way through the terrain of public engagement in a new political environment - and the minefields that it holds.

Why it was such a tinderbox

THOSE caught off-guard by the sound and fury of the Bukit Brown saga would have remembered that controversial and hard-headed decisions are hardly new to this Government.

Take the razing of Bidadari Cemetery from 2001 to 2006, which housed many of Singapore's famous dead. There were cries of protest, but they faded into the background. Today, a new town is being built on the plot.

At the same time, the Government has also shown that it is amenable to staying its hand on development in response to public feedback.

A notable instance is Chek Jawa.

But the stakes for Bukit Brown are particularly high - for both sides. The cemetery occupies prime land that could one day house 15,000 flats for some 50,000 residents, or 40 per cent of Toa Payoh township.

At the same time, it is also a historic space, the heritage and ecological value of which is irreplaceable, counter the CSOs.

Today, such groups are also able to galvanise public opinion and get organised with greater speed than before, particularly with the rise of social media.

For instance, the groups SOS Bukit Brown and All Things Bukit Brown were started only in November last year after a public symposium on the issue, rapidly developing a presence online and on social networking site Facebook.

What's more, post-General Election 2011, there are higher expectations of the Government when it engages in public consultation.

Said governance expert Neo Boon Siong of Nanyang Technological University (NTU): 'I think the Government has progressed - Mr Tan Chuan-Jin has certainly gone further than previous ministers to engage civil society.'

He applauded the 'sincere attempts' in response to feedback: the documentation process and eco- bridge. 'But it could have done better.'

What went wrong?

THE harnessing of public ideas for how former railway land should be developed, a project spearheaded by Mr Tan too, is considered a public engagement success.

But it benefited from starting on a blank slate - with no plans yet for the narrow 26km stretch.

Not so for Bukit Brown.

Fundamentally, there was a mismatch of expectations between the Government and civil society groups on what the engagement process was to achieve.

From the former's point of view, the decision had been made two decades ago. Bukit Brown had been earmarked for housing since the 1991 URA Concept Plan, which guides development for the next 40 to 50 years. A spokesman reiterated in May 2011 that Bukit Brown and Bidadari were needed for housing.

But the CSOs were hopeful that there would be room for change.

Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum pointed out that the society raised concerns about Bukit Brown 20 years ago, in its Masterplan for the Conservation of Nature.

Nor are URA concept plans writ in stone, he said.

Media executive Jay Ng, a heritage volunteer, noted: 'You can't rest on what's said or done 20 years ago. Things change. Needs change.'

The CSOs thus prepared a stream of alternative proposals on where the proposed housing on Bukit Brown could be sited. Mr Liew Kai Khiun of the Heritage Society, for instance, argued that the choice should instead be between public housing and one of Singapore's 22 golf courses - including that of the Singapore Island Country Club off Lornie Road.

That in turn means there is no immediate need for the new road, they believe.

But the MND yesterday clarified to Insight that the need for the road is independent of the plans for Bukit Brown.

In September, LTA said that the road was necessary to deal with current and impending problems. Lornie Road is already congested. Between 6,000 and 7,000 vehicles per hour use it during peak time, and traffic is expected to increase 30 per cent by 2020, it said. The new road is also needed for planned housing estates in central and northern Singapore.

The MND said: 'Thus, irrespective of future development at Bukit Brown, the new road through Bukit Brown is needed to serve traffic needs in the immediate term and the near future.'

And so, to the Government, the engagement efforts were meant to take on board concerns and to adjust development work. A U-turn was not on the table.

Said Mr Tan, in an e-mail response to Insight yesterday: 'To build or not build the road, was not, from the onset, something we were consulting on.

'We sought to explain our considerations even as we took on board the range of concerns and feedback.'

But in an unfortunate case of communication failure, the message never gained traction.

Said Nominated MP Janice Koh: 'I feel that the Government could have been more clear and more honest from the outset, meaning that if the decision was moot and there was no room for a turnaround for whatever reason, that should have been communicated and reiterated.'

Mr Tan acknowledged that there were differing expectations.

'For some interest groups, it was to undo the road decision whereas we wanted to see how we could build a better road with minimal impact, and how to carry out the documentation better,' he said. There also needs to be better appreciation of the expectations on all sides to enable constructive dialogue.

The Government also needs to better communicate the constraints it faces in making certain decisions, Mr Tan added. 'For example, I have explained in Parliament the different alternative options explored, and constraints in terms of not affecting the Nature Reserve and avoiding acquisition. However, some still insist that we should widen Lornie Road.'

Heritage and nature groups are also frustrated at what they perceive to be lack of transparency on the Government's part.

The LTA, for example, refused to release in full its biodiversity impact assessment report. They also asked for but did not receive data on population growth projections.

Underlying all this seems to be a lack of trust.

While some of the CSOs such as the Nature Society have long-established relationships with the Government, others - such as the newer ones - have had little contact. So, for instance, Ms Olivia Choong of interest group Green Drinks said government agencies 'haven't gone out and tried all other alternatives'.

It did not help that prior to March 19, the newer CSOs have not had official meetings with the authorities.

'It's a bit difficult to talk about engagement when we haven't had any direct contact,' remarked Ms Erika Lim of SOS Bukit Brown.

Implications and lessons

SOME say Bukit Brown marks a step backwards in the evolving relationship between state and citizen. Others feel that it was a useful episode as both sides learn to navigate the terrain.

There are some who fear the episode gives ammunition to those who feel that public engagement is a waste of time.

Ms Koh, for instance, worries that 'in this case, we took a few steps back and you have to rebuild those bridges, because it's a long-term relationship'.

But Prof Neo disagrees, saying: 'The Prime Minister has made it quite clear that that is the political imperative.

'This is part of the learning process as Singapore becomes a more mature democracy.'

What is clear is that it holds lessons for both sides.

One for the Government is to get its communications right.

Another is that it would have to learn to manage an increasingly diverse society of groups with different agendas and methods.

Some, like SOS Bukit Brown, are militant about their mission. They won't stop till they protect Bukit Brown '100 per cent', said Ms Lim. Others are doing some soul-searching and strategising. 'This raises the question: How can we accurately gauge the sentiment of the general public on these things?' said the Nature Society's Dr Shawn Lum.

'What works for one cause may not necessarily work for the same cause 10 years hence, or for a different cause.'

Yet it shows that members of the public can spontaneously take the initiative to get organised and 'stand shoulder to shoulder with everybody else', he added.

Those on the ground, too, remarked that they appreciated Mr Tan's work, but there was a limit to how far his mandate stretches.

Mr Woon Tien Wei of SOS Bukit Brown commented: 'There's a big difference between Tan Chuan-Jin as an independent minister, and the whole machinery of Government. I don't believe that he made up his mind very early on. He's listening, but I know it's not up to him.'

Indeed, Mr Tan himself made it clear that he is not giving up on the process.

'I believe that it is important for Singaporeans to care enough to be involved,' he said.

'Being engaged is almost an end in itself because the process would enable not only better policy-making but would also allow conversations that will lead to greater collective understanding.

'This understanding would include knowing our differences and to be able to agree to disagree. And the process goes on.'



ST News
Mar 30, 2012

'No regrets' over Bukit Brown effort
But some things could have been done better, says Tan Chuan-Jin

By Li Xueying & Grace Chua

THE man at the centre of the Bukit Brown engagement effort, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, says he has no regrets about reaching out to interest groups on various policies, including on the controversial road slicing through the cemetery.

But the Minister of State for National Development acknowledged that there were things he could have done better, like in managing expectations on what the consultation process can achieve.

In his first interview since the authorities announced on March 19 changes to the road in response to feedback, Mr Tan noted that the eight-month-long engagement effort over Bukit Brown started with a mismatch in expectations.

'Everyone came in with their own expectations,' he said in an e-mail to The Straits Times.

The Government was engaging on how to build 'a better road with minimal impact' - not whether to do so - and how affected graves can be documented. But some interest groups thought they could work at undoing the road decision.

Thus, one takeaway is that 'there should be better appreciation of the expectations on all sides so that we can develop a dialogue that is constructive and which moves the issue forward'.

Another learning point, said Mr Tan, is that the Government needs to better communicate the constraints it faces and 'why we make certain decisions'. He had explained that one alternative option, the widening of Lornie Road, would affect the adjacent nature reserve and mean acquiring private property. But some still insisted on it, he added.

The Bukit Brown affair is likely to hold lessons for the Government, which has pledged to make public engagement a cornerstone of its policy-making. As Mr Tan noted: 'We would need to learn from our experiences and understand why the Bukit Brown engagement turned out the way it did.'

Just two days ago, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said engagement should start from the point of policy design and continue as policies are implemented. However, he had added, it should not lead to policy paralysis.

Mr Tan is known for his personal commitment to public engagement. He has led public discussions on policies such as the Rail Corridor on disused railway land, and foreign maid matters.

The latest is over the 89-year-old Bukit Brown cemetery, which the Government says must make way for a road now and housing in future. It made some concessions like building an eco-bridge.

But activists who hoped for a stay of the Government's hand accused the Ministry of National Development of 'lack of good faith'.

Though embattled, Mr Tan remains enthusiastic about engagement. This, despite sceptics wondering why he was spending so much time engaging groups that 'seemed to represent minority interests and pandering to their demands'.

Asked if he regretted embarking on the Bukit Brown exercise, he replied: 'I do not. I believe that we should endeavour to continue to try and do it better each time round.'

The Government remains committed to engaging stakeholders, so that together, they can come up with ideas 'to better serve the interests of the people'. Public engagement is almost an end in itself, as it spurs conversations that lead to 'greater collective understanding'.

But, he added, the Government 'is elected to do what is right for Singaporeans and for Singapore', taking into account immediate and long-term needs. 'When the time for decision comes, we will decide,' he said.



ST Forum
Mar 27, 2012

Remove Lornie Road traffic light to ease congestion

TO EASE congestion along Lornie Road, the Land Transport Authority has decided to build a road through Bukit Brown Cemetery and it is expected to be completed by 2016 ('Green path for new Bukit Brown road'; last Tuesday).

Meanwhile, motorists still have to put up with congestion along roads leading to Lornie Road, such as Adam Road, Farrer Road and as far back as Queensway during the evening peak hours.

One major reason for the congestion is the traffic light at the junction of Lornie Road and Sime Road, a private road leading to the Singapore Island Country Club.

Compounding the congestion is the narrowing of four-lane Adam Road to three lanes just before this junction.

The traffic light should be removed and if that is not possible, at least change the operating hours.

Currently, the traffic light does not operate during the morning peak hours from 6.45am to 9.30am, so as not to contribute to congestion. This non-operating period should be extended to the evening peak hours.

Edward Lim

ST News
Mar 25, 2012

Bukit Brown and the soul of Singapore
All that sound and fury was not a waste of time; as a people, we all gained something

By Ignatius Low

An experiment of sorts in Singapore in civil activism came to an end last week.

Despite a long and loud campaign by interest groups to change the Government's mind, a road will be built across the Bukit Brown cemetery to ease congestion for motorists.

On the same day this was announced, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) published the names of the 3,746 dead whose graves will be exhumed. Works for the project will start at the end of the year.

Seven groups that made a last-ditch attempt to stay the Government's hand formed an intriguing list.

Other than Singapore's Nature and Heritage societies, there was the Singapore Paranormal Investigators, a group that holds 'ghost tours' in various parts of the island.

The rest were the lesser-known All Things Bukit Brown, SOS Bukit Brown, Green Corridor and Green Drinks.

I found myself wondering what they were, and how each might be different from the other.

But I have also asked myself many times during this whole saga whether I was the sort of person who would bother to join one of these groups, attend meetings for hours on end and feel passionately enough to even lead the charge one day.

One answer to that question, of course, is that it depends on what the group is fighting for.

I am not a nature buff, and although I am quite sentimental about the places I grew up in, I felt no connection to Bukit Brown.

In fact, when the first stories were written about the controversy, I - like a lot of people - had to ask where this cemetery was.

I mean, of course I had always known about the burial plots in the Thomson area which would receive a steady stream of visitors during the Qing Ming festival, but I never knew the cemetery's name or knew that so many of the country's pioneers were laid to rest there.

I might have been more passionate about saving the Van Kleef Aquarium, one of my absolute favourite places to visit as a kid, which was demolished some time in 1998.

That is, however, quite beside the point.

The question is - assuming that there was one day a cause that I felt passionately about - would I step forward to try and lobby for a change?

My answer to that, post-Bukit Brown, is probably yes.

And this is why I disagree with people - both within Government and civil society - who might think that the protracted attempt to engage interest groups on the issue was ultimately a big waste of everyone's time.

It was not a waste of time for two reasons. The first has to do with the outcome and the other with the process.

In the disappointment that was expressed over the Government's decision to keep the road, a lot of people missed the fact that the noise and heat generated by interest groups did ultimately make a small difference to the outcome.

Instead of laying a road flat on the ground through the cemetery, the LTA decided to elevate a 600m stretch up to 10m off the ground.

This apparently costs up to three times as much to construct, but will allow animals and other wildlife access across the road, resulting in less disruption to their natural habitat. Some graves (although not many more) could also be saved.

Okay, it's true this outcome wasn't at all close to what the various interest groups hoped for.

But the takeaway for a more neutral observer like me was that the Government will budge - even if a little - if given a hard enough nudge by ordinary people.

The more important reason, however, as to the Bukit Brown saga wasn't a waste of time goes beyond any tangible outcome.

All my life growing up as a Singaporean, I have felt that, as a people, we excel in many areas but always lack the energy or ability to engage in civil activism.

Perhaps we were schooled by our politicians always to be realistic and pragmatic. For that reason, so many of us have only really been genuinely interested in our education, careers and the well-being of our families.

These days, the world is connected enough - and we are well-travelled enough - for us to feel real angst about this at least occasionally.

We are a smart, stable and efficient people, but do we have a soul? Bukit Brown showed me there is hope for us yet.

Through the months over which the debate unfolded, I was amazed by the number of people who came out to make a stand on the issue.

Many may have had little or no connection to the place, but they understood the dilemma between national development and conserving our heritage, and they came down firmly on the latter's side.

Some pored over policy papers and maps of the terrain to argue their case with the Government. Others volunteered time at the weekend to scrub the graves and document them for posterity.

There was also no shortage of creativity - 3-D mapmakers are using their craft to create virtual walk-throughs of Bukit Brown, high-tech RFID tags are ensuring that no grave in the wider cemetery goes unnoticed.

I don't know about you, but I was inspired by all of this. I discovered a new side to our people and it gave me a fresh sense of pride in belonging to this country.

I know now that if I were to step forward one day to argue for a cause that wasn't narrowly selfish, I wouldn't be taken for a crazy idealistic fool and there would actually be people standing side-by-side with me.

So, no, Bukit Brown wasn't at all a waste of time for anyone.

There were many things about the consultation that weren't perfect, of course.

The Government could have presented all the options upfront - including building a viaduct or acquiring adjacent private land - instead of deciding on the road and leaving little room for manoeuvre.

Activists could have more clearly demonstrated that they were actively weighing the national interest against their own narrower interests. They could also have given the Government more credit where it was due, particularly to the politicians and civil servants who went against the grain to engage them.

But we will do better next time. At least as a nation, now we know that we can.


ST Editorial
Mar 24, 2012

When the talking is done

COMMUNITY engagement, which became a buzzword after the last General Election, took a stumble from the Bukit Brown and Toh Yi controversies. These dialogues started as honest attempts by both sides to communicate with each other. But as they progressed, observers wondered if it would end satisfactorily and what could be the rules of engagement, so to speak, when it's not possible to bridge a yawning gulf.

The Bukit Brown Cemetery dialogue sessions came to a head with interest groups, including nature lovers, heritage advocates and paranormal investigators, calling for a moratorium on all works scheduled for a new road to meet growing traffic needs. The project had been delayed by several years already to study alternatives, and the Government recently made concessions, namely an elevated section to reduce ground impact, that could cost two to three times more than normal. But this did not entirely satisfy the activists.

Design concessions were also made by planners at Toh Yi where the site for studio flats for seniors had become a bone of contention. But residents living nearby did not want to lose a basketball court and jogging track on the site. They wanted to push the location of the flats to other parts of Toh Yi. And the residents there pushed back. This effectively meant that any decision that was taken would have upset one group or the other, unless the authorities decided to do nothing. Thankfully, in both cases, the authorities arrived at a point where consultations had to make way for a decision. Hence, a new road will be built at Bukit Brown, and the Housing Board will stick to the original site for the studio flats.

Some have wondered if these moves signal a return to the 'just do it' mindset of times past. Rather, the recent decisions acknowledge the need to serve the larger public interest ultimately, after taking into account all competing perspectives. Citizen involvement in planning can take many forms, from passive voting for en bloc redevelopment to active participation in shaping the plans for several new Destination Parks to be built. This is an evolving process and should be nurtured. The public should take up the Government's call and engage. Those who do should offer their views and make their case, but also accept that not every idea can be taken up and implemented. Nor can every competing interest be fully satisfied. Consultation should not lead to policy paralysis. To dismiss the engagement process simply because you disagree with the outcome would be callow. A worthy Singapore model of engagement would be one that can get all to join hands to finish the job after the talking is done.

Mar 24, 2012

What would S'pore be like if our grandparents had won?

Cemeteries now occupy less than 0.95% of land - do our grandchildren really need this?

"Do you want me to look after our dead grandparents or do you want me to look after your grandchildren?" asked then-Cabinet Minister Lim Kim San in the 1960s, and Minister of State Tan Chuan-Jin in 2012.

What would Singapore be like if our grandparents had won?

For one, we wouldn't have the clear, grassy slopes of Fort Canning Park for WOMAD and Ballet Under the Stars. No, in its place, we'd have a messy Fort Canning Cemetery crowded with 19th-century graves of governors, administrators, sailors, traders, teachers, many young women and children - some even buried two to a grave.

Instead of Bishan housing estate, home to 91,298 people at last count, the Cantonese Kwong Wai Siew Association might still have their Peck San Theng (Jade Hill Pavilion) built in 1870 - the largest cemetery in Singapore, with 75,234 graves eventually exhumed. Likewise parts of Tiong Bahru, Henderson, Redhill, Serangoon, Jalan Bukit Merah would still have cemeteries where public housing now stands.

A Jewish cemetery dating from 1838 or 1841 would stand in place of Dhoby Ghaut MRT station, its small plot housing 160 graves. And instead of the shops at Velocity, Novena Square, Phoenix Park, we might see Jewish tombs designed by the famous Italian sculptor Cavalieri Rodolfo Nolli in the Thomson Road Jewish Cemetery, in use from 1904 onwards.

Instead of KK Women's and Children's Hospital, on the land between Bukit Timah, Kampong Java, Halifax and Hooper Road, we'd have a flood-prone Bukit Timah Cemetery packed with Catholic and Protestant graves from 1865.

Neither would we have Ngee Ann City, Mandarin Hotel, Cathay Cineleisure and Wisma Atria. Instead, in the heart of Orchard Road would sit a 28-hectare burial ground Tai Shan Ting, managed by the Teochew Ngee Ann Kongsi.

And of course, we wouldn't have those clear, flat fields along Upper Serangoon Road, a space now emptying itself out in preparation for new condominiums and residential towns. In its place, we might still have the 10.5-hectare early 20th-century Bidadari Cemetary, with its delicate marble sculptures and tombstones etched with different languages in the Christian, Muslim and Hindu sections.

One might conclude that the 1960s generation did the right thing. They were self-sacrificial enough (or, were forced) to forgo their ancestors' graves so that their grandchildren could have the space for housing, shopping, infrastructure, all these modern amenities we now enjoy.

Especially for those of us living and working in Orchard, Novena, Tiong Bahru, Henderson, Redhill, Serangoon, Jalan Bukit Merah, this giving up of graveyard space for modern development seems good and necessary.

Burial grounds now occupy less than 0.95% of Singapore's land area

But the fact is, back in 1967, burial grounds only made up 1.1% (619 hectares) of land area on Singapore Island, and by 1982, after the clearing of Bukit Timah Cemetery, Peck San Theng (Bishan) etc, it was down to 534 hectares (approx 0.95% of Singapore's land area).

Furthermore, this 0.95% figure doesn't even include the Thomson Road Jewish Cemetery (cleared by 1985), 10.5 hectare Bidadari Cemetery (cleared by 2006), and 7-hectare Kwong Hou Sua in Woodlands (cleared by 2009).

Is it really necessary to wipe clean these remaining precious spaces that take up less than 0.95% of Singapore's land area?

And if Singapore desperately needs more land, why aren't we first using the land area currently occupied by Orchid Country Club, Raffles Country Club, Singapore Island Country Club, Warren Golf & Country Club, and the golf and country clubs in Changi, Jurong, Keppel, Marina Bay, Kranji, Selatar Base, Sembawang, Tanah Merah?

Perhaps in the past, it was deemed necessary for our grandparents to relinquish their burial grounds for public housing and the development of the shopping belt in Orchard and Novena.

But how much is enough, and what is the optimum point between preserving tangible heritage and history, and allowing the land to be taken over by even more modern amenities, condominiums and wider roads? This concerns all of us and future generations, and we need proper, genuine discussion before bulldozers irreversibly destroy these old spaces.

Minister of State Tan Chuan-Jin's argument hinges on Mr Lim Kim San's question, but asking Singaporeans to choose between our dead grandparents and our grandchildren is a severe misrepresentation of the issue.

I strongly suspect our grandchildren will not live in misery for want of that extra 0.95% of land. In fact, I hope our grandchildren will be more creative in their urban design, with efficient use of land and infrastructure, without resorting to the destruction of the few cemeteries left.

And if current public sentiment is anything to judge the future by, I suspect our grandchildren will enjoy walking in a protected, conserved Bukit Brown, seeing and touching history in tangible forms, and will one day ask, what would Singapore be like if our grandparents had won? That is, if we don't win today.

By Lisa Li

Lisa Li is a member of SOS Bukit Brown. The Community of Bukit Brown calls for a moratorium on all plans for Bukit Brown, until there is clarity over long-term plans for the area and discussions over alternatives have been exhausted.



Tan, K. YL, 'Introduction: The Death of Cemeteries in Singapore' from Spaces of the Dead: A Case from the Living, (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2011.

Tan, B.H. & Yeoh, B. SA, 'The Remains of the Dead: Spatial Politics of Nation-Building in Post-war Singapore' from Spaces of the Dead: A Case from the Living, (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2011).



Singapore has 22 golf courses on leases and 3 temporary golf course sites, which together occupy 88% of the 1,600 ha of land used for sports and recreation, or 2.2% of Singapore’s total land area.  (URA Land Allocation Focus Group Final Report 2000, page 46, point 4.7.)

We thank Ian Chong, from Heritage Singapore - Bukit Brown Cemetery Facebook group & SOS Bukit Brown - for this clarification.

ST News
Mar 23, 2012


Bridge will help, say some experts

It will minimise disruption of ecosystem but more thought must be put into its design

By Feng Zengkun

Some environment experts said more information on the exact species in the area needs to be gathered first in order to understand the impact of the bridge on them. -- ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SOME environment experts here believe a bridge that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will be building as part of a road through the 200ha Bukit Brown Cemetery will help minimise disruption to the flora and fauna.

Preserving the environment would be better but since the LTA is going ahead with the road plan, more thought needs to be put into the design of this bridge.

Earlier this week, the LTA announced that a third of the planned road across the cemetery would be a bridge, to allow animals to pass under the road and preserve streams in the area. A 670m stretch of the road will climb up to 10m above ground.

Among the animals believed to be found in Bukit Brown are the sunda pangolin and monitor lizard.

The change comes after months of protests by civic groups, which have called for the whole area to be preserved for its heritage and biodiversity.

They argued that a road would disrupt animal migration patterns and vegetation in the area. After the Bukit Timah Expressway was built in 1986, slicing a vast wilderness tract in half, animals died trying to cross the road to search for food and mates. As animals have a role in pollinating plants and dispersing seeds, plant variety in the forest was also reduced.

The groups have called for a moratorium on all plans until discussions on possible alternatives have been exhausted.

Professor Peter Ng, 52, who co-edited the first encyclopaedia on Singapore's biodiversity, published last year, said that while traffic noise from the bridge may scare some animals away, others would adapt to the new situation.

Assistant Professor David Bickford, 43, from the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore, added that in any case, many animals travel at dawn and dusk and in the night, when there is less traffic on the bridge.

But more information on the exact species in the area needs to be gathered first, they said, in order to understand the impact of the bridge on them.

The LTA had conducted a study on the road's environmental impact but declined to share the details of its report.

The Nature Society (Singapore) estimates that at least 91 bird species live in or frequent the area, including 14 species that are threatened.

'We need more data on the vegetation and other fauna such as mammals, reptiles and amphibians in the area,' said Dr Ho Hua Chew, the Nature Society's conservation committee vice-chairman.

But the bridge could cause other environmental problems in the area, said Dr Ho. The eight-lane bridge will cast a wide shadow, killing plants underneath, he said. 'The stretch will be bare and ugly over time, wiping out most of the species that are adapted to grassy or shrubby habitats,' he added.

Prof Bickford said if the linkway becomes barren, animals may not use it.

This could have further impact on the vegetation in the area. 'Some plants require animals to carry their seed,' said Dr Edward Webb at the NUS Department of Biological Sciences who specialises in plant ecology.

The experts suggested several measures to make sure the bridge serves its green purpose.

Thick vegetation on both sides of the bridge would insulate animals from the traffic noise and make the passageway more attractive to them, said Prof Ng, who is also with the NUS Department of Biological Sciences.

Prof Bickford suggested breaking up the expressway into two four-lane roads and making sure there is a sizeable gap between them.

'Let the gap be big enough to have substantial sunlight passing through. The light will hit different parts of the ground during the day and reduce the area that is in shadow all the time,' he said.

This would give vegetation a fighting chance and therefore make the linkway more attractive to animals, he explained.

The LTA said the road would have a gap but the exact blueprint has not been determined.


ST Forum
Mar 22, 2012

National goals must take priority

I WAS disappointed to read that, after a meeting lasting more than two hours, representatives of the interest groups lobbying against the Bukit Brown road project issued a statement criticising the way the session was handled ('Naysayers want all works halted'; Tuesday).

The fact that there are now fewer graves affected, with a section of the proposed road being elevated over Bukit Brown Cemetery, shows that the Government has taken the concerns of these groups seriously.

While these groups play a useful role in our society, the bottom line is that national goals take precedence over special interests of such lobby groups.

Rajasegaran Ramasamy

ST Forum
Mar 22, 2012

Bukit Brown bridge

'Taxpayers' funds could be used for more critical needs, like helping welfare homes that must make way for the expressway.'

MR DANIEL CHIA: 'I was sad to read that the Land Transport Authority wants to build a bridge across Bukit Brown to save some graves and wildlife, in a bid to assuage the small but vocal group of conservationists ('Green path for new Bukit Brown road'; Tuesday). Taxpayers' funds could be better used for more critical needs, like helping welfare homes that must make way for the upcoming North-South Expressway. The women and children of Marymount Centre must relocate to Toa Payoh Lorong 8 next year. The Orange Valley Nursing Home, Missionaries of Charity Gift of Love Home and Rose Villa will also have to move ('Marymount welfare home to shift to Toa Payoh'; Feb 10). The people in these welfare homes are more important than the graves of Bukit Brown.'

TODAY Voices
Mar 22, 2012

Curb car pollution for Singapore to be more sustainable in future

Letter from Mallika Naguran

WE ARE told that the new road in Bukit Brown will improve traffic flow, which is expected to increase by up to 30 per cent by 2020.

The question we should be asking is: What kind of sustainable Singapore do we want in 2020 and beyond? By building more roads, we continue to encourage private vehicle ownership.

Public transport has been improved, with interconnected Mass Rapid Transit lines and bus networks. So why is our transport system struggling to cope?

The answer is that our planners have a fragmented view of the social, economic, environmental and development aspects of Singapore. Visions and policies do not weave together across these as they should.

Staggered work hours and telecommuting could reduce the stress on public transport during peak hours. This approach was tested 20 years ago in one statutory board but nothing has materialised since.

Flexi-work could start with working from home weekly or monthly, or by changing office hours. The Civil Service, the nation's largest employer, could take the lead.

Buses could be more frequent, with more and varied express bus services to busy areas. Bicycle lanes could be drawn within the bus lanes; half a metre is all that is needed. Melbourne sets a brilliant example of this approach and it works.

Cars are highly polluting, during manufacture, delivery and use. Car ownership here should be given the same treatment as our housing policy. Families of three or more should be allowed to buy a car more easily than singles.

Pollution tax should be incorporated in the cost of cars (besides Electronic Road Pricing). Parking rates should be made uncomfortably high, as is the case in Hong Kong. It is time to wield the stick if we are serious about reducing congestion on roads.


TODAY Voices
Mar 22, 2012

New road will worsen traffic woes

Letter from Tan Wee Cheng

I AM a Thomson resident, and I expect traffic to worsen and noise pollution to intensify with the new road across Bukit Brown.

I notice that the traffic jam along Lornie Road is not so much due to southbound traffic but mostly because the Pan-Island Expressway traffic is too heavy, and traffic cannot filter onto the PIE. The Government should widen the PIE, not build a new road.

Studies done around the world have shown that whenever more roads are built in an area already with a dense road network, the traffic situation deteriorates.

It is better to find more ways to control car numbers and immigration which has fuelled the car population than to build more roads and destroy what little open, green space we have.


AsiaOne News
Mar 21, 2012

Involve us in future Bukit Brown plans, says group
Seven concerned groups have formally called for a moratorium on the building of a road that cuts through Bukit Brown.

Karen W Lim

Concerned groups in Singapore are calling on the government to hold back the finalised plans of building a road through the Bukit Brown area and want to be included in future discussions of the area.

In a statement to AsiaOne, seven groups have formally called for a moratorium on all plans "until there is clarity over long-term plans for the area and discussions over alternatives have been exhausted."

Although plans on developing the area into a housing estate are still far off, one of the groups said that they wish to be involved even if the issue is something which the next generation has to deal with.

A spokesperson from the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) said: "It has been mentioned before that the concept plan is a very long term plan and is subject to changing circumstances and consideration, so we would very much like to see an open conversation about the conept plan over the two decades."

SHS is one of the groups which have voiced their concerns over the finalised alignment of a dual four-lane, 2km-long road through the Bukit Brown cemetery and woodlands.

On Monday, authorities revealed that an eight-lane road will be built through the area. About one third of the new road, spanning 600m, will consist of a vehicular bridge to be built between 5m and 10m above ground. Construction will begin early next year and is expected to be completed by 2016.

Other groups that have voiced their concerns include Nature Society of Singapore (NSS), Asia Paranormal Investigators (API), All things Bukit Brown, SOS Bukit Brown, We Support the Green Corridor and Green Drinks Singapore.

NSS stated that although the planned expressway will service a future housing estate at the police academy area, it is still 20 to 30 years later and the immediate concern now is the building of the road.

Other groups whom AsiaOne spoke to expressed their disappointment over the matter and are now urging the government to hold the project back until it can be proven that other alternatives have been studied.

Dr Ho Hua Chew from NSS said that the society is not convinced that the eight-lane expressway is really necessary and that there should not be a rush to build it.

He highlighted some alternatives on how traffic could be eased on Lornie Road, such as introducing an ERP gantry, routing around the whole area using the PIE, Thomson Exit and Thomson Road as part of a one-way crcuit, or adding an additional lane to the seven-lanes on Lornie Road.

Not only will the road - even though it is planned to be built on a bridge - have an impact on the heritage of Singapore, due to the many graves and tombstones in the area, it will also have a profound impact on the area's environment and ecosystem, emphasised Dr Ho.

"The area where the road goes through is important to the bird life in Singapore. There are about 90 over species of birds that live there, and of which, 14 of these are endangered in the Singapore red data book.

"The massive width of the bridge will cast a shadow on the plants underneath the bridge due to lack of sunlight will wither and the stretch will be bare and ugly.

"The eight-lane expressway is planned to cut diagonally across a beautiful valley. It will damage this valley although the river flowing through will be saved.

"We cannot accept this decision and we do not believe that all alternatives have been exhausted," said Dr Ho.

Ms Erika Lim from SOS Bukit Brown said that they are not against the road being built through the area, but rather, they had wished to discuss alternatives before going ahead with the road.

The Ministry of National Development (MND) was criticised by all seven groups on Tuesday for not giving them time to present alternatives at a closed door meeting which was held on Monday.

The groups said that government agencies had postponed a Feb 20 meeting the groups had requested with 31 of their representatives, but only to have MND invite only a handful of the original group of representatives, and others.

Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin had stated yesterday on his Facebook account that the meeting "was never intended to be the type of dialogue desired and claimed by these groups. Nor was it a response to their earlier request".

Rather than an open discussion or consultation, the meeting turned out to be a "briefing" from the MND on the finalised plans which were made public, said a spokesperson from SHS.

Mr Tan had earlier stated the Government had explored many options, such as widening Lornie Road and constructing a viaduct, before making the "difficult decision" to build the proposed road.

He added that the plan had "the least impact" on the area, adding that it was the government's responsibility to "make the final call on the trade-offs between competing land needs".

 API told AsiaOne that they were disappointed with the recent announcement.

"As long as the bulldozers aren't here yet, we won't give up. We will continue to call for a moratorium," said Mr Raymond Goh from API.



ST News
Mar 21, 2012

Bukit Brown meeting 'not a consultation'
It was not in response to interest groups' request: Tan Chuan-Jin

By Goh Chin Lian & Royston Sim

WHEN government officials met nature and heritage groups over plans for a new road in Bukit Brown on Monday, they never meant it to be a consultation on whether the road would be built or not.

The session was also not called in response to those groups' earlier request to meet government agencies, said Minister of State (National Development and Manpower) Tan Chuan-Jin, who had chaired the meeting.

He was responding to criticisms by seven groups, including the Nature Society (Singapore) and the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS), that they were not given time to make their own presentations of alternatives at the meeting.

The groups also said government agencies had postponed a Feb 20 meeting the groups had requested with 31 of their representatives, only to have the Ministry of National Development (MND) invite only a few of the original 31 representatives, and others, to the Monday night meeting.

Together with the decision to limit the representation of groups to one person from each group, these moves 'give a strong impression of the lack of good faith on the part of MND', they said in a statement released at 10.25pm on Monday.

Barely six hours later, in a Facebook posting at about 4.30am yesterday, Mr Tan said: 'It is illuminating to read the statement issued by the various groups.'

He said the meeting 'was never intended to be the type of dialogue desired and claimed by these groups. Nor was it a response to their earlier request'.

'I had explained that our intent was simply to share with a range of stakeholders some of the background information and considerations we had previously shared with other groups and to also highlight the road plans which were being announced,' he said.

'It was not a consultation effort to debate whether the road would be built or not. That has already been stated in Parliament,' he said, referring to the debate on MND's budget on March 5.

He added that the meeting was to announce the details and alignment of the road. 'However, it was clear that it did not matter. Because we failed to conduct a session that was in line with what they wanted, for example, to have their own briefs, to invite others on their invite list, it was deemed to be an inadequate effort at genuine engagement.'

Participants of the meeting described the atmosphere as largely cordial and civil.

Last night, MND said Mr Tan initiated Monday's session as part of ongoing engagements with stakeholders to share the considerations in the road design.

'It was a separate meeting from the one where some of the interest groups had asked to meet the Land Transport Authority,' the MND said, referring to the Feb 20 meeting.

It added that Mr Tan had clarified this point with the participants during Monday's session.

Mr Tan's posting attracted 67 comments as of press time last night. Some said officials had done enough to engage interest groups. Others said that since the Government was already set on building the road before it consulted other parties, there was no genuine engagement.

Interviewed last night, the groups stuck to their criticisms of the Monday meeting. An SHS spokesman said it was disappointed that the authorities did not present sufficient data to show that every possible solution had been considered.

SOS Bukit Brown co-founder Erika Lim said Monday's meeting was the first time the groups' representatives were meeting the Government collectively.

She said: 'This was our first real chance to sit down as a group to talk about Bukit Brown. If we don't, what other chance is there?'

Nominated MP and Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan said both sides would learn valuable lessons on engaging each other through this episode.

Nature Society president Shawn Lum - who was not at the meeting - felt the episode boiled down to a difference in expectations.

While the Government has tried to retain much of the heritage in the affected area, the gap in expectations between the groups and the authorities could have widened somewhere along the line, he noted.

'How do you bridge those sets of expectations? Finding that bridge will be the way going forward.'



TODAY Voices
Mar 21, 2012

Bukit Brown trumps all popular parks here

Letter from Robin Bond

It is sad to read of the demise of Bukit Brown. The Minister of State (National Development) has foreclosed discussion of the issue, but given the criticism from several civil society groups, that would be unwise.

It is time to start real discussion, on a matter of long-term importance, way beyond the short-term pressures. Perhaps it is a matter for independent assessment, such as through a public enquiry.

Representations, to date, have concentrated on heritage reasons for Bukit Brown's preservation and have been well made. What has not been aired sufficiently is the character of the area as a natural park.

It retains its original topography, unmodified by bulldozers. There are real valleys and hills, which, even if some survive the development, would not be visible because of the eight-lane bridge and road.

It is quiet. Birdsong is the predominant sound. But that will not be so with eight lanes of traffic whizzing by.

It is parkland, not jungle. The land between the trees has been tended for at least a century and a half. The trees are enormous, spreading beauties and not straight, narrow trunks straining to reach light at the top of the canopy.

Singapore is developing parks for popular use, such as the newly reopened Bishan Park, but nice and popular as it is, it is not "natural".

Trees were felled, allotment gardens were abolished, and above all, a meandering, rock-strewn riverbed has no place in the natural world. It is man-made.

Bukit Brown is natural, beautiful and without equal in Singapore; we will be poorer from its destruction.

In a century's time, when car usage would have decreased due to unsustainability, it would be lamentable if Bukit Brown was no longer there.


Wall Street Journal
March 21, 2012

Singapore Seeks Public Input on Parks Makeover

Public parks have always been a microcosm of life in Singapore’s oldest government-housing estates; where the elderly would treat their feet to a barefoot walk on a “reflexology” pebble path, where couples would idly pass time and where children and their minders would play for hours on colorful, kitschy rocking horses or in sandboxes.

Even when the government Housing Development Board was first tasked to build affordable housing in the 1960s–when Singapore was still crowded with squatter settlements–the body was equally focused on creating little pockets of fun for the 80% or so of the population who lived in these government-planned estates.

In the fast-upgrading city-state, though, structures rarely remain permanent. Now, residents in some of the city’s oldest neighborhoods can expect jazzed up community parks – featuring canals turned into small, meandering rivers and possibly giant slides and climbing terrains. Three public parks across Singapore will be redesigned as “destination parks,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, speaking at the opening of the first of these newly revamped spaces, 24-year-old Bishan Park which now benefits from a river – complete with real fish – that runs through it.

Considering the soon-to-be opened Gardens by the Bay project, Singapore’s S$1 billion investment in a huge garden on prime real estate featuring plants from six continents, the planned “destination gardens” are nothing really new or surprising. The “city in a garden” vision – 40 years in the making, according to park authorities – was inspired by the modern Singapore’s founder and first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew. Mr. Lee came up with the concept that Singapore would be a “garden city,” with well-tended trees and bougainvilleas sprinkled liberally throughout the city-state to convey a sense of beauty – and order – for foreign visitors.

Three parks have been initially picked for redevelopment, with the possibility of more to come: Admiralty Park, East Coast Park and Jurong Lake Park, located in the island’s North, East and West. They will be developed within the next five to 10 years, and could include playgrounds integrated into restaurants, slopes built out of naturally hilly terrain and adventure playgrounds linked by little islands — all contingent on what residents actually want.

That, perhaps, is what makes this latest undertaking different. The “destination parks” will incorporate a level of public consultation that is rare in Singapore, and communities will have a hand in deciding what they want out of their public parks. Following a session with the public last August, the National Parks Board will be organizing more dedicated group sessions and outdoor road shows to get feedback from members of the public, allowing them to “co-create” the spaces. People can also share their suggestions via a website that  includes ideas like converting roofs of multistory car parks into gardens with jogging tracks.

“Our parks are havens where Singaporeans can all come together to play, celebrate, reflect and connect. We want to rejuvenate our key parks, and develop them into leisure destinations that attract visitors from all over the island,” said the National Parks board in a statement.

The announcement from Singapore’s most powerful voice in government, its prime minister, comes just as authorities are in a tussle with activists over a number of other green spaces around the island – notably, a historic cemetery known as Bukit Brown. The cemetery, dating as far back as the 1920s, has been the final resting place for many luminaries from Singapore’s colonial past and notable businessmen – but the government now plans to build a road across the cemetery, effectively splitting it into two.

On Tuesday, officials held a meeting with activists insisting that road works across the land be stopped, calling for a moratorium on all works at Bukit Brown. Seven nongovernmental organizations, including the Nature Society (Singapore) and the Singapore Heritage Society, released a statement that also criticized the way the consultation meeting was held, chaired by the Minister of State for National Development and Manpower. Activists have also set up a Facebook group, campaigning to “save” the cemetery.

The government, for its part, has committed to building an “eco-bridge” that will reduce the impact on nature and the graves at the site. According to a report from the Straits Times, 3, 746 graves will have to be exhumed from early next year – fewer than the 5, 000 estimated when the project was announced last year. The government has finalized plans for a “four-lane carriageway,” a road authorities say will minimize the impact on the existing terrain and environment.

While Bukit Brown is a rare historical treasure in Singapore, some say that the case for preserving it is different, since the space — infrequently visited, except when relatives pay their respects to their dead ancestors — probably does not do much to enhance the prices of property around it. In Singapore, where land is at a premium, some analysts say that spending millions on new parks and green developments – such as the “co-created” parks – may have a more pragmatic purpose, ensuring that an old estate stays competitive price-wise.

Citing Bishan estate, where the new park with a meandering river was just launched, property analysts say that its location near Bishan park, as well as the presence of transport links helped to push prices up compared to that of government housing in other nearby estates.

“Certainly if there are attractive amenities and facilities like that, it would probably raise the interest of prospective buyers of properties in the area,” said Chia Siew Chuin, director of research at Colliers International, with the caveat that it would depend on what is offered within that park.

– Chun Han Wong contributed to this article


The Online Citizen
Mar 20 2012

Bukit Brown – what we’ve really lost

~by: Joshua Chiang~

Towards the end of our hour-long tour at Bukit Brown cemetery (which culminated with a visit to the biggest tomb of the cemetery, that of businessman Ong Sam Leong) one of the participants, suddenly declared, “I have learnt one thing today, and that is, history has to be seen, and not just read about in textbooks.”
The person who made this statement wasn’t an academic, nor did he look like a history buff; rather he is a twenty-something ‘everyman’ whose interest in Bukit Brown Cemetery was piqued by the news that a highway would be built through it, effectively splitting the cemetery – the largest Chinese cemetery outside of China, with tombs dating as far back as the Qing Dynasty – into two.
By the time you’re reading this, the government has all but decided to go ahead with the ‘dual-four-lane road’ – which is of course just a nice way of describing a eight-lane highway. In fact the news of the finalized plan was released on Asiaone before Minister of State Tan Chuan Jin was to meet with various concerned NGOs who had been requesting for a meeting with the relevant authorities since February to discuss the issue and propose alternatives, only to have the meeting turned into one which the finalized plan was presented to them. (read the press release here to find out more)
But this isn’t about the government’s unique way of consulting and engaging civil society. It is about the government’s habit of removing our truly unique historical heritage for the sake of development, and then lamenting that Singaporeans have no sense of culture or belonging, without recognizing the irony of it all.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that the majority of Singaporeans care about Bukit Brown – in fact, if a national referendum on whether a road should be built across Bukit Brown, there is a likelihood that many will say “yes”. We’re a ‘pragmatic people’ after all. We’re probably so busy with moving ahead, planning for the next twenty, thirty years, that we’ve never stopped to ask where this pragmatism comes from. Some would say, we do not have choice, we’re a small nation, with limited resources we have to do what it takes to survive. Fair enough, if it were an issue of survival.
But it isn’t.
Let’s face it – much of our pragmatism nowadays has more to do with force of habit than anything else. We’re a young nation whose collective memories get shorter by the day, because so many of those things that will help us remember are no longer around. And because we no longer feel that sense of history, we don’t feel anything when we further sever our ties to the past. It’s a vicious cycle.
For so many of us, history is a bunch of text accompanied by black and white photos, a grotesque mannequin in period clothes in a sterile air-conditioned room accompanied by a detached voice in the headphones telling you just who the hell the mannequin is supposed to represent, and more recently, thanks to wonders of technology, a virtual 3D tour. No wonder we find history boring. No wonder we find it easy to give up history for a few minutes of convenience. History is always something outside us. Detached. How can we feel otherwise if the kind of history that ties past and present together is systematically wiped out, and if it isn’t, turned into yet another fancy wining and dining zone? (Maybe some folks believe that history can be best experienced when intoxicated)
There is something sublime about being at a historical site which no state-of-the-art museum can ever match. Standing at the grave of Lee Kuan Yew’s grandfather listening to the guide telling us how Mr Lee’s father used to bring him here when he was just a child, I suddenly experienced Lee Kuan Yew as a real person who once was a kid too, and not merely as a political icon.  And then there was the tiny grave of a baby girl who died at nine months old in the 1930s. It is impossible not to empathize with the anguish of the parents. Suddenly the past is no longer distant.
The authorities would like you to think that less than 5% of the 100,000 graves are affected. But you see, Bukit Brown isn’t ‘just any cemetery’. Relatively speaking, for a nation barely 200 years old, the historical significance of Bukit Brown to Singapore is what Angkor is to Cambodia. Now imagine a highway running through Angkor. That is what we’ve really lost. Not just for ourselves, but for future generations. 
If you're wondering why many people don't have a sense of rootedness, you don't have to look very far. 
There were people who commented on Tan Chuan Jin's Facebook page that until recently they've never heard of Bukit Brown, and it's not part of their shared memories, so not worth preserving. My response – that you've never heard of Bukit Brown or identified with it is not the fault of Bukit Brown. I bet you've probably never been to the Changi Chapel as well, nor visited it. Does it mean therefore that it should also give way to development should the time come?
Bukit Brown is seldom known because the people who decide on our historical narrative does not deem it important – but it doesn't make it any less important than say, Fort Canning Hill.
In fact historians have been searching for the tomb of Ong Sam Leong, the largest tomb in Bukit Brown for years before it was found at a knoll in the cemetery. The sheer architect of the tomb – one which I've never seen elsewhere in SG – is good enough reason to even gazetted Bukit Brown as a UNESCO site. That it isn't and in fact will make way for bland houses for people who have never heard of this part of our history is a crying shame.
And then there's another comment on TOC FB – "I'm sure our nation building pioneers would want Singapore to continue to progress. They strived to make Singapore a better place to live in, everyday day of their lives. Holding on to the romantic ideals for too long will come with a great price. Will we become backwaters one day if we do not renew and rejuvenate?"
What the commenter conveniently ignores is that many of these pioneers have a deep sense of the past and their roots, which explains the many elaborate tombs in Bukit Brown in the first place.
On a seperate note, I found out from one of the SOS Bukit Brown volunteers that Tan Tock Seng's grave on a knoll at Havelock Road would also have made way for a road because – get this – the people who planned the road had no idea that the grave belonged to him. It was only through the intervention of activists that the tomb was saved. This is what happens when we've lost our roots. We even believe our ancestors are as equally pragmatic as us.  


ST News
Mar 20, 2012

Naysayers want all works halted
They insist on not having a road across the cemetery

By Goh Chin Lian & Royston Sim

A statement by seven groups argues that plans to develop housing and transport infrastructure in the Bukit Brown area cannot be made while national discussions are under way over housing, transportation and immigration. -- ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

AFTER more than two hours of listening to officials last night, representatives of several environment and heritage groups emerged from the closed-door meeting unconvinced that a road had to be built across part of Bukit Brown Cemetery.

They released a statement at 10.25pm calling for a moratorium on all works at Bukit Brown.

They also criticised the way the meeting, chaired by Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin, was handled.

The statement was signed by seven groups: Nature Society (Singapore), Singapore Heritage Society, Asia Paranormal Investigators, All Things Bukit Brown, SOS Bukit Brown, Green Corridor and non-profit environmental group Green Drinks.

They argued that plans to develop housing and transport infrastructure in the Bukit Brown area cannot be made while national discussions were under way over housing, transportation and immigration, and before the public has had a chance to fully consider the details of the proposals.

This includes releasing detailed findings of studies of biodiversity and hydrology, as well as projections on housing and transport.

They said: 'This moratorium should be in place until there is clarity over long-term plans for the area and discussions over alternatives have been exhausted.'

In their eight-point statement, they also alleged that government agencies had postponed a Feb 20 meeting that the groups had requested with 31 of their representatives, only to have the Ministry of National Development (MND) invite only a few of the original 31 representatives, and others, to last night's meeting. It was held at the Urban Redevelopment Authority headquarters in Maxwell Road.

Together with the decision to limit the representation of groups to one person from each group, they said, these moves 'give a strong impression of the lack of good faith on the part of MND'.

They also objected to the meeting being held after the Land Transport Authority (LTA) had already announced its road plans to the media earlier yesterday morning, and alleged that they were told no time would be given at the meeting for them to make their own presentations of alternatives. 'We regret that this meeting has largely turned out to be a unilateral dissemination of information by particular agencies,' they said.

The LTA had embargoed the release of the road plans until 9pm.

Mr Tan acknowledged last night that the decision to go ahead with building the road disappointed those who wanted to conserve Bukit Brown. In a Facebook post at about 9.30pm after the meeting with the groups ended, he said the decision was not an easy one. 'While we have not been able to fully accommodate their wishes, we have taken many of their views into consideration,' he said.

This included a serious documentation of the affected graves, following advice from the Singapore Heritage Society. The road design also factored in feedback to minimise impact to the cemetery, hydrology and biodiversity, he said.

'Going forward, we need to continue with these conversations,' he said. 'We are now looking at working with interested stakeholders on public outreach to commemorate the history and heritage of Bukit Brown even as we continue with work on documentation.'

Preliminary documentation of affected graves was completed earlier this month, and a team of researchers and field workers will continue to document the family histories, stories and memories associated with the cemetery, as well as the rituals carried out during the Qing Ming festival and exhumation of graves, the LTA said.

Public exhumation of affected graves will begin from early next year to give the next of kin more time to register their claims, it added.

Members of Parliament like Ms Lee Bee Wah, Mr Seah Kian Peng and Mr Lim Biow Chuan, as well as political observers interviewed, felt that the latest plans reflect an effort to strike a balance among competing interests, and were the result of active consultation and engagement with various interest groups.

'Singapore is so small and needs land for redevelopment. We need to strike a balance,' said Ms Lee, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for National Development and the Environment.

Asked if the authorities had accomplished this in its latest decision, she said: 'It shows there is give and take. There are bound to be people who have differing views, but sometimes it's difficult to make everyone happy.'

Dr Hui Yew Foong, an anthropologist from the Institute of South-east Asian Studies, who heads the documentation efforts, declined to comment on the elevated road project when contacted, saying it made 'no difference' to his work.



ST News
Mar 20, 2012

Green path for new Bukit Brown road
Eco-bridge will be built to reduce impact on nature and graves

By Christopher Tan

IN WHAT some observers see as a concession to various interest groups, the Government yesterday announced that one-third of a controversial new road across Bukit Brown will be a bridge up to 10m off the ground.

This is expected to cost up to three times more than a surface road, but the option will benefit fauna in the wooded area, the site of an old cemetery.

The bridge will also mean slightly fewer graves will be affected by the road works, although the Land Transport Authority (LTA) cannot pinpoint the exact number of graves saved because of this.

All in, 3,746 graves will have to be exhumed from early next year. The LTA had initially estimated 5,000 would have to go when the road project was announced last year.

Giving its finalised plans for the dual four-lane carriageway that will bypass Lornie Road, the LTA said that it decided on something 'that minimises... impact to the existing terrain and surrounding environment'.

A 600m centre portion of the 2km road will be a bridge. The LTA explained that this was because of the undulating landscape consisting of 'several hillocks... and creeks'.

It said a bridge will maintain an 'eco-linkage' under the structure, and wildlife in the area can 'continue to traverse between both sides of the road'. Existing streams will also be preserved.

Experts said, however, that the most economical and efficient method to build a road in such an environment would be to use what is known as 'cut and fill', which is basically excavating soil from hilly terrain in the area to fill up lower ground so that the entire area is flat.

Mr Rajan Krishnan, senior vice-president (Asia) of infrastructural group Parsons Brinckerhoff, said building a bridge would cost 'at least 21/2 times' more than building a surface road as it would involve piling and added structures such as piers.

Mr Joshua Ong, vice-president of engineering consultancy Jurong Consultants, said: 'A cut-and-fill method would be the cheapest and most optimal solution. An elevated road will cost two to three times more.'

Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum told The Straits Times earlier yesterday that he was 'heartened' by the news. 'No road would have been best, but if there was going to be a road, an elevated road is the better option,' he said. The option will allow free movement of small reptiles and frogs. 'Even birds will benefit, because some don't like to fly over road,' he said.

Mr Cedric Foo, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said the decision to build an elevated road, although costlier, 'is the right direction'.

'In the early days of our development, we focused on economic development, and conservation was a luxury we could not afford. But when a country is richer, we can accommodate some of these things,' he said. 'We can't put a dollar value to natural habitat.'

The new road will alleviate current congestion along Lornie Road during peak hours and cater to expected traffic growth. It is expected to be ready by 2016. In the longer term, the area has been earmarked for housing.

After details were announced last September, various civic society groups called for the entire area - the site of some 100,000 old graves - to be spared, citing heritage and environment reasons.

Last night, after meeting Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin, seven groups including the Nature Society (Singapore) called for a moratorium on all works at Bukit Brown until discussions over alternatives to building a road have been exhausted. Nature Society's conservation committee vice-chairman Ho Hua Chew attended the meeting in place of Mr Lum.

The LTA yesterday said the new road is needed sooner, not later, citing a rise in traffic demand by up to 30 per cent by 2020. It added that internationally, few private graves are preserved by the state. But it acknowledged the heritage value of the place, and had together with the Urban Redevelopment Authority commissioned documentation of affected graves.


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