Coming Sembawang Hot Spring redevelopment draws mixed response

Some look forward to the area being spruced up, while others are concerned about its impact on the environment and residents' sense of heritage and belonging.
Rachel Phua Channel NewsAsia 23 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE: For Aster Lee, going to the Sembawang Hot Spring was relief of more than one kind.

Ms Lee made her first visit to the hot spring along Gambas Avenue in April together with a group of brisk walkers. It was a place that she had been keen to visit for quite a while, she said.

The 62-year-old retiree said she had also been having knee aches since spraining it last December, but felt some of the pain ease after soaking her legs in the hot water.

At the hot spring, water continuously flows out from the taps, providing visitors with an ample supply of hot water for various uses. When Channel NewsAsia visited the site in April, Ms Lee’s brisk walking group was boiling a basket of eggs in a pail of water.

People were also spotted using the water to do their laundry.

“It was a really good experience. I enjoyed the hot spring water,” Ms Lee said.

Come end-2018, trips to this northern part of Singapore might be a tad different The National Parks Board (NParks) announced that the Sembawang Hot Spring area will soon be turned into a one-hectare park. Development of the park will start at the end of this year and is expected to be completed a year later.

Not that it could not do with a little sprucing up.

“At first, the place looked a little unsightly,” Ms Lee said, adding that she hopes more drainage facilities, toilets and trash bins will be installed during the redevelopment as this could help keep some of the mosquitoes and ants at bay. A drink stall could be also be set up.

Said Ms Lee: "The water can be used to make hard-boiled eggs, (while we enjoy) a kaya toast”.

Another member of her group agreed and gave some creative suggestions of his own.

“They could build a drain, just for your feet to soak in (as you) sit along an embankment,” 57-year-old Yeow Kok Hoong said.

Others Channel NewsAsia spoke to, however, wished the site could remain in its current state.

Mr Teo Lye Hock, 67, another member of the brisk walking group, hopes the place remains free of charge after the revamp, calling it a “poor man’s spa”.

Another visitor, 59-year-old Mdm Pan Hiew Lian said in Mandarin: “I’ve already been coming here for more than 20 years. I don’t want it to be redeveloped because I think it brings a sense of nostalgia. Redevelopment might make it better, but it’ll lose its charm.”

Mdm Pan added that she used to visit the hot spring once a week when she was living close by and though she lives at Bukit Gombak with her husband now, they still visit it twice a month.

Ms Lee and Mr Yeow also said that despite looking forward to the upgrades, the site should still keep its “rustic setting”.

CONCERNS OVER ENVIRONMENT, HERITAGE

Dr Grahame John Henderson Oliver, a senior lecturer at the Nanyang Technological University's Asian School of the Environment, said that the redevelopment is timely as the area is currently very bare, but that feedback should be gathered among residents first.

“I think if you’re going to do any development in Singapore now, you do an environment impact assessment report and publish it."

"People can review that and presumably there’ll be townhall type meetings where people with different vested interests - the local people, the development people - can all discuss and reach an agreement on how it could be,” he said.

However, one historian said modifying the hot spring’s present form could also mean losing a part of Singapore’s heritage. Mr Alex Tan Tiong Hee, the honorary secretary of the Singapore Heritage Society, said the hot spring is one of the few remaining places of interest outside of the city region that serves to highlight Singapore's heritage.

"It’s something that doesn't just cater to the folks living around Yishun or Sembawang, (but it's also a place to show) tourists, our friends, that outside the urban areas we still have landmarks," he said.

Mr Tan added that landmarks such as the hot spring help create, among residents, a sense of belonging to their neighbourhood. Without it, that sense of attachment is reduced.

NParks said that it will appoint a team of consultants to help with the design and implementation of the park. The consultants will also have to give a “comprehensive report on the hydrogeological study of the site”.

HOW THE HOT SPRING WAS FORMED

According to Dr Olivier, the hot spring’s formation is linked to Bukit Timah Hill.

At 165 metres, the hill is the highest point in Singapore and when rain falls, the rainwater seeps through the granite within the hill.

The rainwater then sinks to about 4.8 kilometres underground, where it gets heated up by the surrounding rocks and mantle to about 160 degrees Celsius and 190 degrees Celsius, he explained.

As more rain falls, the water underground is pushed out through the faults and cracks that connect the ground under Bukit Timah Hill and the Sembawang Hot Spring, he said. The water then cools to 70 degrees Celsius as it reaches the surface.

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