Nature lovers push harder for Green Corridor

Grace Chua Straits Times 30 Jun 11;

NATURE and heritage groups have beefed up their original proposal to save the KTM railway land.

They point out that the land, comprising that on which the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station now sits and the north-to-south strip through which the rail tracks wind, links historic buildings and nature conservation areas. It could even become a Unesco World Heritage site, they add.

The KTM land reverts to Singapore tomorrow.

In their original proposal, green groups pushed for the 173.7ha strip of land on which rail tracks now run to be turned into a 'green corridor' for cycling, gardens and nature walks.

But corridor proponents now also call for calculations to be done on the true financial contribution which permanent green spaces make to property values.

The Straits Times understands that the proposal was discussed in a 1 1/2-hour closed-door meeting on Tuesday between nature groups and Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin.

Parties at the talks described the discussion as 'positive'.

Brigadier-General (NS) Tan, signalling his openness to the idea of a Green Corridor, had called the original proposal 'fascinating'.

He has personal memories of the pleasures of a walk along the railway near Mount Sinai while studying at the then Raffles Junior College there, and jogging along the track in Bukit Gombak, where the Ministry of Defence is located, he told The Straits Times in an e-mail two weeks ago.

The civic groups' strengthened proposal offered the following arguments for conserving the railway land:

Its natural heritage: The railway land links habitats ranging from mangroves to forests, and is home to rare birds, butterflies such as the Blue Glassy Tiger, and pangolins.

Its historic/cultural treasures: It connects heritage sites such as the old Ford factory and a World War II battle site near Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

Its commercial potential: Small structures such as rail crossings and tunnel crossings could be turned into rest areas, cafes and shops.

Responding to this suggestion, Dr Yeo Kang Shua, an assistant professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, commented that heritage trails and cafes may be great ideas, but policymakers will want to know whether they are sustainable in the long term.

The independent architectural conservator, who is involved in projects to save historic buildings, said: 'We may want to ask first, 'What's wrong with leaving it alone?'' He also questioned the heritage value of the railway tracks, since only the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station has been gazetted as a national monument.

Its re-use for recreational and commuter cyclists: A cyclist pedalling at 20kmh from Bukit Panjang would get to the Central Business District in less than an hour, opening up a new commuting option. But transport researcher Lee Der Horng of the National University of Singapore said cycling and pedestrian walkways on the railway land are unlikely to help transport congestion.

The green corridor would more likely be used by recreational cyclists on weekends, he said, suggesting instead that a bus service run through the corridor to ease congestion on MRT lines.

Its ability to boost property values: Consultant Matthew Guenther noted that the value of the corridor could be estimated by the value of the six land parcels Singapore offered to Malaysia last September in exchange for the railway land - roughly $3 billion.

He said, however, the value Singaporeans would place on the corridor and other green spaces was unknown, and so should be worked out.

Global Property Strategic Alliance's chief executive Jeffrey Hong said green spaces offer landed homes 'exclusivity and privacy' and raise their values.

A final version of the green groups' proposal will be sent to government agencies in the next few weeks, said Mr Leong Kwok Peng, vice-president of the Nature Society of Singapore.

But civic society groups are sticking to their guns on one thing - that the land be preserved as a continuous tract.

Mr Leong said: 'The essence, the beauty of it lies in an unbroken countryside view. If you don't keep it now, I don't think you'll have the chance to in future.'

Additional reporting by Yen Feng

Train of thought

LAST year, civic groups sent government agencies a proposal to keep the KTM railway land as a continuous stretch of green space, arguing that it links various natural habitats and is home to rare birds and animals.

Now, they are about to submit a second version of their proposal. Key suggestions include:

Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Timah railway stations have been gazetted as national monument and building to be conserved; turn them into transport museums

Preserve rail crossings and turn them into rest areas, shops, cafes and facilities for hikers and cyclists

Provide pedestrian lanes and two-way cycling lanes

Turn railway tracks into tram lines

Plant community gardens for recreation and food, near residential areas and schools in places such as Clementi, Commonwealth and Bukit Panjang

Conduct a study to find out what factors most affect home prices in Singapore, and how nearby green spaces affect home values


Correction as emailed to me by Dr Yeo Kang Shua on 1 Jul 11:

Dear Ria,

It would be most appreciated if you could post a comment to the ST article that was posted in your wildsingaporenews website.

The published quote below that is attributed to me is edited to a point where readers may misinterpret my intentions.

“… He also questioned the heritage value of the railway tracks, since only the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station has been gazetted as a national monument."

My original response to ST query is appended below:

"... Dr Yeo also raised questions about the heritage value of the Tanjong Pagar railway, since, only the building has been gazetted as a national monument. "What about the platform, the tracks? Without them, would the station be sufficiently representative of its past?"

I have emailed the ST for a correction.

Yeo Kang Shua