Development should not come at expense of heritage: Tan Chuan-Jin

Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin said that Singapore’s development should not and need not come at the expense of the country’s heritage, identity and sense of belonging.

But he pointed out that hard choices need to be made on how land is used.

Speaking during his ministry’s budget debate, Mr Tan was responding to MPs who had called for the conservation of Singapore’s heritage, which must not come at the expense of development.

Several MPs had questioned the government’s decision to redevelop part of Bukit Brown Cemetery into a road, and raised concerns that the country’s heritage was being erased.

Mr Tan said that while physical markers are important, it’s also important to document and share the Singapore stories.

He pointed out that the Urban Redevelopment Authority has been funding the documentation of around 5,000 graves (about five per cent of the graves at Bukit Brown) which may be potentially affected by the road.

Mr Tan said: “There is still actually very much more that we can do together. I am discussing this with some of you out there who care for this part of our history and with our various agencies on the next steps to take and to explore actively what else we can do to retain, what else we can do to capture and to promote this story that is Bukit Brown. It is part of a much larger story, which is about where we come from and who we are. This is not the end of the road.

“In similar fashion, we also formed a consultation group, comprising nature lovers, heritage buffs, cyclists and the like to discuss on how best to shape the future of our Rail Corridor. That is also another important part of our history, heritage and biodiversity landscape. We have envisioned together that indeed, a continuous green strip can co-exist and can complement developments along that corridor. Work goes on to define that space together.”

The proposed road will be part of an Outer Ring Road System that will enable motorists to bypass the city.

He noted that there is already a traffic jam at Lornie Road during peak hours, and the new road is urgently needed as more housing is built in the northeast and northern part of Singapore.

Mr Tan also stressed that the government considered other options, such as building a viaduct or tunnel, but said such alternatives will cause more damage.

He explained: “Our efforts to enhance public transport, and manage and optimise traffic flows will continue. However, the road, as I mentioned earlier, is required for the Outer Ring Road System so we are left with few options.

“We considered widening Lornie Road but that would have encroached into the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and it would also entail land acquisition, which we try to minimise and avoid. Viaducts was something that we also considered but it would have had similar impact. For example, road diversion would have been required during the process of building some of these viaducts.

“A tunnel would cause more damage to the cemetery as I realised that most of our tunnels if not all, are typically constructed by the cut and cover approach, meaning you cut this hole to form the tunnel and you cover over it. If you were to bore the tunnel and you don’t have a bore large enough to create this eight-lane road, you will then be required to create three separate tunnels to create that. It would have to go deep, but at the ends, you need the cut and cover method to provide for the exit points. That would again cause quite substantive damage so the proposed road was decided upon because it provided the least impact.”

He conceded that the public could have been consulted at an earlier stage, but said not all plans can be shared beforehand due to market sensitivity, such as land acquisition.

Mr Tan said that it is the government’s responsibility to make the final call on the trade-offs between competing land needs.

The southern part of the area near the Old Police Academy, for example, will be developed for public housing as an extension of Toa Payoh, said Mr Tan.

Mr Tan also quoted the late National Development Minister, Lim Kim San, who had responded to opposition to exhumations of Tiong Bahru with this statement: “Do you want me to look after our dead grandparents or do you want to look after your grandchildren?”

On Singapore’s heritage, Mr Tan said Singapore has been able to conserve and preserve much.

He cited that over 7,000 buildings have been conserved. Urban areas such as Kampong Glam, Little India, Chinatown and Boat Quay have also been earmarked for conservation.

If physical markers have to be removed, Mr Tan said it is just as important to document memories.

He said: “When we are unable to preserve certain aspects of our heritage, it does not mean that we do not care. It does not mean that we have no regard for who we are. We can and must conserve and celebrate it in the many different ways that are available to us.”

Source : Channel NewsAsia – 5 Mar 2012

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