Campaign for a green corridor

Seven Singaporeans look back on 2011 to select and reflect on what they consider to be the political event of the year

Teo Wan Gek and Toh Yong Chuan Straits Times 30 Dec 11;

ALARM bells rang in Nature Society (Singapore) vice-president Leong Kwok Peng's head when he read a front-page report in The Straits Times announcing the relocation of Tanjong Pagar railway station to Woodlands.

That was on May 25 last year.

Mr Leong, 55, says the Nature Society had for years hoped to preserve the nature belt along the railway tracks.

With the railway land reverting to Singapore, future developments might encroach into the pockets of nature or break up the continuous stretch of greenery.

Mr Leong got to work. He wrote to The Straits Times Forum to propose a green corridor be preserved, and ended up spearheading the Nature Society's campaign on the matter.

He says with a laugh: 'That is how volunteers work. When you open your mouth, you volunteer yourself.'

A formal proposal to the Government followed in October last year. But they did not receive a response for eight months.

In June this year, Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan- Jin reached out to the society through Facebook.

'We were pleasantly surprised when the minister contacted us personally,' Mr Leong says.

Things moved swiftly thereafter.

He met Mr Tan, who entered politics in May this year, for the first time on July 9. Together, they walked the whole 23km-length of the railway tracks.

He recalls the junior minister was 'willing to listen, positive and enthusiastic'. That first encounter set the tone for future meetings between government officials and the Nature Society.

Mr Leong sees the green corridor preservation as the political event that made the most impact on non-governmental organisations this year, because it 'signals the Government's readiness to collaborate and engage civil society groups at a deeper level, with ministers personally involved'.

He adds: 'It also shows that the Government is willing to balance preservation of nature with physical development.'

Even though the dust has barely settled, the former chemical engineer, who now runs an outdoor education adventure training company with his brother, has his sights set on something new.

Pointing to a map, he wonders aloud: 'The green corridor is now separated from Sungei Buloh. If only they can be connected through the Mandai mangroves into a continuous stretch of nature reserve.'