Century-old heritage road in way of Tengah air base expansion

But portions of Lim Chu Kang road could yet survive if ways are found to retain them
Toh Wen Li Straits Times 20 Jul 17;

Parts of a century-old road may have to be sacrificed to make way for the Tengah Air Base expansion.

However, portions of the Lim Chu Kang heritage road could yet survive, with The Straits Times understanding that the authorities are looking at how they can be retained.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of National Development (MND) said that Lim Chu Kang Road will be realigned to make way for a bigger air base.

It told The Straits Times yesterday that construction of the new road is expected to begin by next year. When the 9km road is completed, the existing Lim Chu Kang Road will be closed and traffic will be diverted to the new one.

Lim Chu Kang Road is home to one of Singapore's five heritage roads, stretching 1.8km from the Sungei Gedong Road junction to the junction of Ama Keng Road.

It will be the first heritage road to have trees removed or transplanted as a result of urban developments. These roads were gazetted in 2006 and are characterised by their tall, mature walls of vegetation and overarching tree canopies.

Lim Chu Kang Road at the junction of Sungei Gedong Road and Ama Keng Road

The Lim Chu Kang heritage road, now lined with some 330 trees, was built in the 1800s to serve the gambier, pepper and rubber plantations in the north-western countryside. As the population in the area grew, it served as a link between the villages and the city-bound roads of Choa Chu Kang and Bukit Timah.

Today, the heritage road's green buffer, spanning 10m on both sides, is dominated by Broad-leafed Mahogany (Swietenia macophylla), a common roadside tree, and self-sown exotic tree species such as the Albizia and African Tulip.

A spokesman for MND and National Parks Board (NParks) said mitigation strategies could include transplanting affected trees to the new road where possible.

Dr Shawn Lum, president of the Nature Society (Singapore), said of the realignment: "At face value, we are looking at aesthetic loss, and some limited localised biodiversity impact if we do lose habitat."

But "anywhere where wildlife can make a home has value".

The fast-growing Albizia, for instance, is often a home for woodpeckers, parrots and eagles.

Dr Lum said a survey should be done to assess what sorts of wildlife are in the area - and if these include endangered species such as pangolins and leopard cats, both found in nearby Jalan Bahar.

The imminent realignment of Lim Chu Kang Road is part of an ongoing trade-off between nature and development in Singapore.

In March, The Straits Times reported that 10,000 to 13,000 trees could be removed over the next 15 years to make way for transport and housing projects.

NParks stressed that all the affected trees would be replaced at least one-for-one.

Dollah Kassim’s grave among those slated for exhumation
KELLY NG Today Online 20 Jul 17;

SINGAPORE — The graves of a local football icon and a former politician known for his anti-drug advocacy work are among those slated for exhumation at Choa Chu Kang cemetery to make way for the expansion of Tengah Air Base.

Abdullah Mohamed Kassim, who died in October 2010, rests in a tomb adorned with a bunch of red flowers and a miniature football pitch formed out of grey and white stones on top of the structure.

Better known as Dollah Kassim, he represented Singapore between 1968 and 1981, playing centre-forward, and was nicknamed “gelek king” for his graceful and deceptive dribbling.

Dollah, a respected legend in the region and one of the Republic’s star strikers in the 1970s, suffered a heart attack in October 2009, while playing in a veterans’ exhibition match. He died at 61, after spending a year in a coma.

Like Dollah, Harun A. Ghani, a former Member of Parliament and political secretary to the Home Affairs Ministry, was laid to rest at one of the 30,000 Muslim graves that will be exhumed at a later date, after they reach the 15-year burial limit.

Harun, who died aged 66 in August 2005, was known for leading the charge in the war against drugs in the Malay community.

He pioneered “meet-the-family” sessions, which have become a key component in rehabilitating former drug addicts and other ex-offenders.

He was often spotted at coffee shops counselling former abusers and their family members.

In 2005, an education fund dedicated to assisting families struggling with consequences of drug addiction was set up in Harun’s memory.

A total of 80,500 Chinese and Muslim graves, dated between 1955 and 2000, will be exhumed progressively to make way for the air base’s expansion. The first to go will be 5,000 Muslim graves across two blocks in the fourth quarter of next year.

TODAY understands that some families have already sought clarifications from the National Environment Agency and Islamic Religious Council of Singapore regarding the exhumation of their ancestors’ graves.

Heritage enthusiast Raymond Goh said many of the Republic’s founding fathers who died between 1946 and 1978 would have had their graves exhumed in earlier phases.

Mr Goh — who has embarked on an extensive documentation of graves at the Bukit Brown cemetery with his brother Charles — urged the authorities to work with the claimants to document the graves before they are exhumed.

“There is a lot you can uncover about the person’s genealogy and ancestry from the inscriptions on the graves,” said the 53-year-old pharmacist.

Prior to exhumation of graves at the Bukit Brown cemetery to make way for road developments, the Government worked with key stakeholders.

These included Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, The Peranakan Association of Singapore, Singapore Heritage Society, academics and grave experts, to document the graves, as well as memories and rituals associated with the cemetery.

Kranji farmers optimistic about alternative routes to countryside
NG SIQI KELLY Today Online 20 Jul 17;

SINGAPORE — Any realignment of Lim Chu Kang Road for the expansion of Tengah Air Base could mean more hassle getting to the Kranji Countryside, but farms and businesses there are not fretting just yet.

After Tuesday’s announcement by the authorities that more than 80,000 graves, three fish farms and a nursery will make way for the airbase’s expansion, property analysts wondered whether any partial closure of Lim Chu Kang Road would mean a big detour for visitors heading to Kranji Countryside.

The road, which is mostly straight, connects Jalan Bahar in western Singapore to the northwestern reaches, where farms and the Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve are located.

“If the works require such a main road to be closed, surely the Government will build an alternative road,” said Ms Ivy Singh-Lim, who owns organic farm Bollywood Veggies.

Stakeholders will want to be consulted on an appropriate alternative, said the 68-year-old.

The authorities said agencies are still “studying the exact impact on the road and possible mitigation strategies”.

Mr Kenny Eng, president of the Kranji Countryside Association, said it was difficult to evaluate the impact on businesses without further details of the realignment plans.

“Unless the entire road is going to be closed, there should not be too large an impact on traffic flow to Kranji. Also, we have customers coming in through the Bukit Timah Expressway and Seletar Expressway, so it’s not a one-way access,” he said.

“From what we see now, the developments seem to be to the left and the right of the road, but we don’t know how the road itself will be changed.” Mr Eric Ng, chief executive of Apollo Aquaculture Group, was concerned that a partial closure of Lim Chu Kang Road would add to the congestion at Neo Tiew Road, which features a single lane in each direction.

“It may be that people will have to go onto Kranji Way, pass through the Kranji dam and onto Neo Tiew Road to access Lim Chu Kang Road ... If there is an accident, everything comes to a standstill,” said Mr Ng, 44. “That is a disaster because we have only one route to enter and exit this area with more than 80 farm plots.”

Changes to Lim Chu Kang Road may present a chance to improve the road network in the area, said other farmers.

“How our business may be affected … depends on whether there are alternative routes. Right now, the road is also not optimal,” said Mr Desmond Khoo, chief executive of Eden Garden Farm. “This can be an opportunity to optimise the network.”

Kranji farmers have, in the past, lamented the lack of public bus services to the area, which draws birdwatchers, visitors seeking respite from the urban jungle and groups going for staycations at the farm resorts.

The affected nursery and three fish farms are located at Murai Farmway, off Lim Chu Kang Road. Some were caught off-guard by Tuesday’s announcement. The owners of Koon Lee Nursery and Fisco Aquarium have at least 10 years before their leases expire, and said they needed time to plan their next steps.

When TODAY visited Rigoh Fishery yesterday, a worker at the farm said its manager was overseas.

Ms Goh Swee Hoon, who owns the fish farm at No. 17 Murai Farmway, off Lim Chu Kang Road, did not respond to queries. Kelly Ng

Tengah Air Base expansion could end ‘road runway’ drills in Lim Chu Kang
KELLY NG Today Online 29 Jul 17;

SINGAPORE — The realignment of Lim Chu Kang Road for the expansion of Tengah Air Base could likely mean that it is no longer used as an alternate runway, a defence expert said.

It could also add to parking woes during the annual Qing Ming “tomb-sweeping” festival, according to the cemetery caretakers and visitors.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) has been practising launch and recovery operations on the alternate runway since April 1986.

The latest — Exercise Torrent — took place last November after an eight-year hiatus.

On Tuesday, the Defence Ministry (Mindef) said that a new runway will be built at the expanded air base to meet the RSAF’s operational needs.

Asked if there would be any changes to the existing alternate runway at Lim Chu Kang Road, Mindef would only say yesterday that it “constantly evaluates” training and exercise requirements and when necessary, adjustments would be made.

Nevertheless, Mr David Boey, a member of the Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence, noted the importance of having public roads that can be converted into alternate runways.

“Having more runways would frustrate attempts at crippling our air force as there would be a larger number of runways to deal with,” he said.

Mr Leon Hay, 38, business director of local goat farm Hay Dairies, said that he was “surprised” Lim Chu Kang Road could be altered, given that it is sometimes used as a makeshift runway as part of RSAF exercises.

If the authorities are looking to replicate the exercises elsewhere, there is a stretch along the East Coast Parkway next to Bedok Camp that could be “reconfigured as an alternate runway within 24 hours should the need arise”, Mr Boey suggested.

However, the locations of new alternate runways in the future will be “constrained by increasing urbanisation”, he said, because clear flight paths to and from the road are necessary for such exercises. “Some roads in Tuas used to be suitable as alternate runways before the area was built up,” he pointed out.

The air force’s drone squadrons are based at Murai Camp, which is in the vicinity and has a runway on its premises, Mr Boey said. The camp may also have to make way as part of the expansion of Tengah Air Base, although Mindef has said the actual boundaries of the expanded air base are still being worked out.

If Lim Chu Kang Road is realigned, cemetery caretaker Huang Ya Jiu, who is in his 70s, believes that it could cause inconvenience to visitors.

Many cars are parked along the six-lane road during the annual Qing Ming festival when people visit and tidy up the tombs of their relatives or ancestors.

Mr Huang said that the traffic congestion is “especially serious” around the columbarium “where the car park is smaller”.

Some 80,500 graves at the Choa Chu Kang Cemetery in the area will have to make way as part of the development plans.

The congestion situation could worsen when the cremated remains from the exhumed graves are transferred there.

Mr Hong Qing Fu, 63, who was visiting his father’s grave when approached by TODAY, said that parking is a challenge during the Qing Ming period.

He and his family were therefore there in the pre-dawn hours to “avoid the Qing Ming crowd”, he said.

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