Monday, 11 June 2012

URA amends plans for Dairy Farm site

Height restriction among moves to limit damage to environment from new development, following concerns raised by residents
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 10 Jun 2012

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) yesterday announced several changes to the building plans for a controversial site sale in the Upper Bukit Timah area.

In response to residents nearby who want the sale stopped to preserve the forest on it, the URA said it would limit the property development's damage to the environment.

Its measures include removing a planned road that would have cut into a canal-side jogging trail popular with residents.

The housing blocks on the site will be limited to 15 storeys, and a proposed commercial property next to the site will also be relocated elsewhere, it said.

The announcements were made yesterday at a dialogue with about 200 residents, held at the Senja-Cashew Community Centre.

The Member of Parliament for the area, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, attended the dialogue. Also present was was a representative from the Land Transport Authority.

The 1.86ha site along Dairy Farm Road, about the size of four football fields, borders the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and is slated for residential development.

Residents said that besides the environmental harm, towering condominiums on the site would change the atmosphere of the mostly low-rise neighbourhood.

Two nearby plots of land on the reserve's fringe already have 24-storey condominium blocks being built.

The dialogue lasted two and a half hours and drew many impassioned pleas from the residents for the Government to reconsider the sale of the site, which will be put on the market later this month.

They also asked the Government to consider building the homes elsewhere on cleared land, for example on disused industrial estates.

If this could not be done, the residents also presented an alternate plan for the area drawn up by well-known architect Tay Kheng Soon, who designed the low-rise Dairy Farm Estate next to the site.

His plan included five- and 10-storey housing blocks with generous gardens, surrounded by green borders.

'The concrete wall of the nearby canal should also be removed and the canal developed into a water park, like in Bishan Park,' he said in his plan.

In his closing remarks at the session, Dr Balakrishnan said the Government had struck a balance between preserving the country's natural heritage and advancing its progress.

He added that plans for the site development had been in place for decades.

Asked after the session whether the Government was concerned the saga would cause residents elsewhere to speak up against development plans, Dr Balakrishnan said he viewed it as a positive example for the way forward.

'Plans are shared in advance, views are heard, and constructive suggestions are made and incorporated into the plans,' he said. 'You can't get everything you want, but you can make it better. Conversation is beneficial.'

The minister later said on his Facebook page: 'We will form a local group to continue generating ideas to guide the developments in this precious area in the years ahead.'

MPs tapping views of 'silent majority'
They go door to door to find out how most residents feel about local issues
By Cheryl Ong, The Straits Times, 11 Jun 2012

THE so-called 'silent majority' appear to be tired of taking a back seat.

Earlier this month, a group of 500 Mountbatten residents - made up mostly of the elderly - drew up a counter-petition asking the Government to stick to plans for a rehabilitation centre in a void deck. Their petition was a response to neighbours who had protested against having the facility built in their backyard.

These residents belong to what their Members of Parliament and grassroots groups consider the silent majority, who chose not to take part in petitions and protests, but either do not mind, or support, having the facility in their backyard.

And the Mountbatten experience shows they may exist in other not-in-my-backyard or Nimby hot spots of recent months.

To get the silent crowd talking, MPs and their grassroots leaders say they go on door-to-door visits and conduct polls to speak with residents when new facilities are to be introduced in the estate.

In February, residents in Woodlands Street 83 protested against an eldercare centre being built in their void decks, but Sembawang GRC MP Ellen Lee believes the majority were less upset about the issue.

'It's actually quite prevalent that the silent majority are supportive of the new facilities, but they're not the type to make known their consensus,' she said.

She has met many supportive residents during her house visits and said some have come to the residents' committee offices to voice their support.

'It's a matter of making sure the information is filtered down to everybody affected. If they know that the facilities mean well, they may come out to support. By providing them with more information, we can give them a better idea of what is at stake.'

Last month, about 40 residents in Bishan Street 13 made a petition against a nursing home being built on a football field facing three blocks of flats.

Mr Roland Ang, vice-chairman of the Bishan East Citizens Consultative Committee, said residents both in support of and against the nursing home made their views heard when a dialogue was held last month.

'We definitely see more residents voicing their opinions,' he said. 'The Ministry of Health is the authority responsible for the nursing home, but what we can do is gather feedback from the residents and let the authorities consider them.'

Last September, when people living in Bukit Batok and Bukit Gombak protested over Ren Ci's plans to relocate a nursing home from Jalan Tan Tock Seng, MP Low Yen Ling met residents at her Meet-the-People Sessions and at coffee shops.

'I think the majority of Bukit Gombak residents understand the need for more nursing homes and eldercare facilities as Singapore's population matures,' she said.

Ms Low also sees the activism as signs of a strong 'kampung spirit' in the neighbourhood.

'Some residents from the blocks in the vicinity are now part of the committee that looks into the developments of the nursing home, with the view of how it can be smoothly implemented and integrated into the Bukit Gombak community.'

Jurong GRC MP David Ong said it is important for everyone concerned to speak up so the authorities can find a way to compromise.

'Silence doesn't mean consent, so it's very good that the elderly people are making their voices heard in the Mountbatten petition but I think it would be better if younger ones can also get involved,' he said.

Bishan Street 13 resident Joey Ang, 40, did not get involved in signing the petition his neighbours had compiled, but has been following the developments closely since news broke.

'It's good that such petitions are offered,' he said. 'I think most residents are actually not too bothered, but it's good that everyone is concerned about his home and wants to be part of the decision-making process.'

Malaise of squabbles over spaces
Editorial, The Straits Times, 9 Jun 2012

ONE must believe that the majority of Singaporeans aspire towards a sense of community based on the acceptance of diversity, and the integration of all, including the weaker members of society. If not, a dystopic vision of fractious groups squabbling over precious space and the presence of 'undesirables' in the neighbourhood is already upon society. A casual visitor might well think this is a common trait after observing a troubling series of not-in-my-backyard protests, the latest being a petition by certain Bishan residents to resite a proposed nursing home for the elderly. Earlier, there was resistance to an eldercare centre at Woodlands and to studio apartments for the elderly on Toh Yi Drive. The old are not the only ones being shunned. In Serangoon Gardens, the uproar was over a foreign workers' dormitory and in Jalan Batu, the target was a rehabilitation centre.

If such dissent spawns equally intemperate objections to land use elsewhere, planners will simply run out of viable choices in land-scarce Singapore, and the larger public good will get short shrift.

The big worry is over changing attitudes towards the elderly, once regarded as a blessing, not a burden, to families and the community. Even the Japanese, held up as paragons of filial devotion, are seeing some erosion of long-held values. As a New York Times commentator observed, 'a considerable share of the elderly in East Asia are growing old apart from their children, and the resulting loneliness and guilt and resentments cast a long shadow on family life across the region'.

It would be worse, of course, if the elderly are also shunted to some remote corner of the island, so the young can be spared the prospect of having 'the old folk groaning right into my home', as one Bishanite callously put it.

Reminding such people that their turn will come, as Father Time spares no one, is not always productive if attitudes towards land use are essentially tribal and self-serving. More can be gained if Singaporeans are encouraged to place as much value on differences in society as on common characteristics that are fondly considered Singaporean. Differences in age, culture, country of origin, religion, income, family background, physical and mental abilities, gender and physical appearance can all add colour and depth to society. One way to counter stereotypes, which arise when differences abound, is to set right inaccurate information that may be in currency.

Just as importantly, there must be a broader appreciation of long-term goals beneficial to all, and the willingness to embrace social necessities as a virtue. Community-based eldercare is one such need that deserves the full support of everyone. To do otherwise would be folly.

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