Bukit Brown, development and possibilities for Singapore’s future

Recent events should give pause to the proposed construction of the dual four-lane carriageway across Bukit Brown.

From Chong Ja Ian

30 September, 2013

Recent events should give pause to the proposed construction of the dual four-lane carriageway across Bukit Brown.

Surveys for Our Singapore Conversation indicate that 62 per cent of Singaporeans prefer preserving green spaces over constructing roads and other infrastructure, while 53 per cent prefer heritage preservation over infrastructure building.

Staying road construction in Bukit Brown, before exhumations begin next month, would demonstrate responsiveness to public needs, giving Singaporeans a last opportunity to consider the consequences of altering an important part of our nation’s natural and cultural landscape.

Heavy rush-hour traffic on Lornie Road comes from vehicles filtering on and off a congested Pan-Island Expressway, an issue a road through Bukit Brown cannot solve. In fact, Singapore can probably never build enough roads.

What are the fundamentals behind congestion? Professor Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, has observed that the main challenge is sub-optimal public transport, which heightens car demand.

Recent steps to raise Electronic Road Pricing rates and introduce new Certificate of Entitlement restrictions underscore the fact that controlling vehicle population is key to addressing traffic concerns.

The Prime Minister’s National Day Rally speech should provide impetus for maintaining Bukit Brown in its current form, as new plans mean that “we don’t have to worry about running out of space or possibilities for Singapore”.

I hope this means space for a Bukit Brown heritage park in our future. As physical changes become more prevalent, tangible markers of our heritage grow in importance in ways that digitisation can never fully replicate.

Singapore is no longer in the 1960s, when infrastructure development was imperative. Constructing the road, and other developments, over Bukit Brown may even be counterproductive. Floods earlier this month serve as a reminder of the need for cautious development.

As the National Environment Agency noted, the significant factors that may explain the trend of “Changing weather patterns causing more flash floods” (Sept 13) are likely to be “rapid development and urbanisation, as well as global warming”.

The Expert Panel on Drainage Design and Flood Prevention Measures has likewise noted that urbanisation contributes “undoubtedly” to increased surface run-off and flooding. So, would building the road over Bukit Brown potentially create complications?

The authorities should suspend construction until there are more comprehensive and appropriate ways to address the environmental, heritage, traffic and development issues that intersect at Bukit Brown. Is the environmental impact assessment available?

At a minimum, a rigorous study should be made public, the first step towards a more sustainable approach. Halting construction comes with costs, but these may be lower than those from building the road. Singapore is worth the extra effort.