Town council to remove trees at Marsiling

But some Marsiling Rise residents say the garden is source of community pride
Esther Ng, Today Online 2 Dec 09;

SINGAPORE - For 10 years, the trees - an assortment of mango, jackfruit, drumstick, soursop and neem - have been carefully tended by a group of residents from Blocks 116 and 117 at Marsiling Rise.

Now, the trees look likely to be cut down, giving rise to the question of whether town councils should follow the letter of the law in disallowing the planting of trees and plants in common areas - or if they can show some discretion when residents take ownership of their surroundings.

Sembawang Town Council is planning to remove the "unauthorised planting" in the turf area between two residential blocks.

Dismayed about the decision conveyed in a notice last month, 31 residents sent the town council a petition on Nov 5.

"Political leaders have exhorted us to develop a sense of pride in our community, and we have taken this to heart and have spent money tending to our garden," wrote retired doctor Praema Raghavan, who has spotted Golden Orioles, Munias, Koels, Bulbuls among the trees.

But the plea failed to persuade the town council.

On Monday, the group spotted contractors surveying the area, two weeks after the last correspondence from the town council explaining why it could not accede to their request.

In an email to Dr Praema, senior property manager Terence Chan said: "While it has been our town council's policy to allow planting by residents, the plants should be kept in pots neatly arranged in front of their flat units.

"For residents who wish to carry out in-ground planting, we have also worked with the Residents' Committee to provide a community garden at Blk 116 for such activity.

"We believe this is a more balanced approach in catering to the hobby and community bonding of residents as well as maintaining the aesthetics of the estate."

According to Dr Praema, the plot of land where the trees are located had been saved once before.

This time, though, Member of Parliament Hawazi Daipi said he learnt of the situation only when contacted by MediaCorp.

Efforts by housing board residents to take ownership of their community have been in the news recently, for example, when the HDB set up a new community relations department.

And at a ministerial walkabout in October, Minister Lim Hwee Hua praised a petition by another group of residents, who were trying to convince the National Parks Board to allow them access to tend their herb garden at Bishan Park while the latter was undergoing upgrading.

"This is a very good reflection of a sense of ownership," Mrs Lim had said.

Dr Praema is still hoping that Marsiling Rise residents' efforts will similarly not go to waste.

"The garden has educational value. Kindergarten teachers bring their kids here for excursions," she told MediaCorp.