The joy of an unmanicured space

21 01 2014

Living in the overcrowded and highly built-up environment that the land scarce and overpopulated island-state of Singapore has become, there is no better joy than that immersing oneself in green and untamed surroundings brings. Although less common in a country obsessed with creating planned and overly manicured urban spaces, there thankfully are still seemingly wild public spaces, although man-made, that does provide that much-needed respite from the madness of the urban world.

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One such space, as is seen in the accompanying photographs, is UpperPeirceReservoirPark, on the fringes of the Central Catchment Reserve. One of the less accessible parks found by the cluster impounding reservoirs in central Singapore, the park with the body of water it has been set-up next to, is where one can discover a tranquillity absent in the overcrowded public spaces we seem to have too many of.

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Having opened when I was living in not so far away Ang Mo Kio, the park to which I would often ride a bicycle, has long served as an escape for me. Complementing the beautiful body of water that is the Upper Peirce Reservoir, the park is where one can sit in the shade of the now mature trees and hear the rustle of dried leaves below one’s feet.

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Created through the construction of a 30 metre high and 350 wide dam and four smaller dams upstream from the Lower Peirce dam over a period of two years from May 1972 to May 1974, the reservoir was officially opened by Singapore’s then Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew in February 1977. With a storage capacity of some 27.8 million cubic metres and a surface area of 304 ha, the reservoir is in fact Singapore’s largest impounding reservoir, stretching from the main dam that also separates it from Lower Peirce Reservoir some 3.5 kilometres westwards as the crow flies, close to the Bukit Timah Expressway. The park, which is accesible via a 1.7 kilometre road in from Old Upper Thomson Road, was opened in May 1979.

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New journeys on the Rail Corridor

23 12 2013

It has been over two years since we saw the last train make its journey through the 26 kilometres of the Rail Corridor from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands. While we do know that the corridor will be preserved as a continuous and green corridor in its entirety, detailed plans have not as yet been developed on its future usage. Much of the corridor is today opened up as a space for the public to enjoy leisure and recreational activities and it is nice to see the corridor being used for events such as mass participation runs along stretches of it. One further use it will see in the interim is as an art space – the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in partnership with the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and the National Arts Council (NAC) has announced that an interim art space will be made available underneath the Commonwealth Avenue viaduct structure along the Rail Corridor from Jan to Dec 2014.

The (former) rail corridor embarks on a different journey.

The (former) rail corridor embarks on a different journey.

The sheltered space – two walls beneath the viaduct structure, is to be transformed into a canvas that will provide an opportunity for street artists to develop their skills in producing artwork and perhaps bring life to a part of the Rail Corridor. RSCLS, an urban art collective and a recipient of the NAC Seed Grant, has been engaged by the NAC to curate the art work at space from February 2014 onwards and we can look forward to Street Art jams that will provide opportunities for first-hand experiences with street art. 


More on the Rail Corridor, it as a Green Corridor and the public effort to preserve it:






The silence of a world forgotten

10 12 2012

I recently had a look in and around the former Bukit Timah Railway Station, lying quiet and abandoned while plans have not been made for its future use. The station, the last on the old Malayan Railway (known in more recent times as Keretapi Tanah Melayu or KTM), where the old key token exchange system was employed, was vacated on 1 July 2011 when the southern terminal of the railway was moved to Woodlands, and is now a conserved building.

A bridge that's now too far.

A bridge that’s now too far.

Bukit Timah Railway Station is now world that almost seems forgotten.

A world that almost seems forgotten.

The station is one that was built as part of the 1932 railway deviation. The deviation raised the line (hence the four bridges south of Bukit Panjang – one of which, a grider bridge over Hillview Road, has since been removed), as well as turned it towards Holland Road and the docks at Tanjong Pagar. Bukit Timah Railway Station in more recent times prior to its closure operated almost forgotten, seen mainly by passengers on passing trains, operated only in a signalling role. It was only as the closure of the railway line through Singapore loomed that more took notice of the station and the archaic practice of exchanging key tokens.

A window into the forgotten world.

A window into the forgotten world.

The ghost of station masters past?

The ghost of station masters past?

Together with the nearby truss bridge, one of two longer span railway bridges over the Bukit Timah area, which in some respects gives the area some of its character, the station lies today somewhat forgotten. The frenzy that accompanied the last days of the railway and the days that followed prior to the removal of the tracks has since died down – the post track removal turfing work intended to level the terrain and prevent collection of rain water has probably served to do the opposite and rendered the ground too soft and mushy to have a pleasant walk on).

The tracks along much of the rail corridor has since been removed with only short sections such as this one at the truss bridge at close to Bukit Timah Railway Station left behind.

The tracks along much of the rail corridor has since been removed with only short sections such as this one at the truss bridge at close to Bukit Timah Railway Station left behind.

The last half dozen or more than 30 levers that were once found in the signalling room of the station.

Through broken panes, the last half dozen of more than 30 levers that were once found in the signalling room of the station is seen.

While interest in the rail corridor seems to have faded with the passage of time, there may yet be motivation to pay a visit to it in the next month or so. A recent announcement (see Removal of structures along Rail Corridor dated 23 Nov 2012) made by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) points to the removal of unsound structures. These unsound structures include two of the signal huts at the former level crossings, one of which does have a memorial of sorts to the last day of railway operations and the last train. Besides the huts, some buildings that served as lodgings including the ones at Blackmore Drive, will also be demolished. Work on removal of the structures, based on the announcement, are to be completed by the end of January 2013 and this December probably offers the last opportunity to see the affected areas of the rail corridor as it might once have been.

A Brahminy Kite flies over the formaer railway station.

A Brahminy Kite flies over the formaer railway station.

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Bananas may be allowed to grow on State Land after all

15 05 2012

Back in March this year, several illegal occupants of plots of former KTM land along the old Jurong Line along Sungei Ulu Pandan (just north of the Clementi Avenue 4) received notices of eviction from the Singapore Land Authority’s (SLA) (see Let the bananas grow on State Land). SLA had on acting on complaints made by residents in the area on the nuisance and potential fire hazard caused by the burning of branches and leaves by the occupants, found that the occupants had fenced up plots of State Land for private use, as well as erected make-shift structures that included an outdoor toilet. Stagnant water collected on the plots of land also raise a concern of mosquito breeding. All this made it necessary to evict the illegal occupants.

The farms that received eviction orders are along a stretch of the former Jurong Rail Corridor which has been disused since the 1990s and returned to the State by the railway operator KTM.

While the reasons cited by SLA were not in dispute, several of the individuals occupying the land did express hope that they would be allowed to continue, seeking the help of the Member of Parliament representing the area Ms Sim Ann, who also happens to be the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Law the SLA is under. A positive development that seemed to come out of this was that while in the past very limited discussion would have been possible, discussions conducted with the SLA through Ms Sim Ann seemed to be encouraging with several options explored to allow the use of the land for regulated farming that would benefit the wider community which would involve the granting of Temporary Occupancy Licenses.

Possible location of a 50 x 25 metre plot of land which will be divided to smaller plots which occupants will pay a nominal fee annually for use (click to enlarge).

Based on news that has filtered through this afternoon, it does seem that a somewhat positive outcome has emerged out of the discussion. While it does not seem to be entirely what the occupants had hoped for, it appears that a certain level of farming activities will be tolerated in the area on a 50 by 25 metre plot of land (see map) that will be divided into 30 parcels each measuring 8 by 4 metres for which a nominal annual fee for usage will be charged. The parcels would also be provided with potable water for their use. This would mean that the occupants of the farms in the area would be required to vacate the plots they occupy and move into the designated area – which I understand the majority are in support of as it would allow them to continue with their gardening activities.





Let the bananas grow on State Land

14 03 2012

There has been a fair bit of news on the Singapore Land Authority’s (SLA) eviction of farmers occupying land along Sungei Ulu Pandan just north of the Clementi Avenue 4 area. The issue first came to light when an impassioned letter, written by the son of one of the farmers was sent to SLA on 7 March to appeal the eviction, which was followed by a Straits Time report “Group told to clear out ‘farm’ on state land” published on 10 Mar 2012. The SLA has since clarified their position, stating the reasons behind the eviction of the farmers who have for several years illegally occupied what is State Land.

Vegetable plots along a former rail corridor. An eviction notice has been posted on each of the farms occupying what is State Land along Sungei Ulu Pandan.

The land in question lies along the Jurong Rail Corridor. The rail corridor was built in the mid 1960s to serve Jurong Industrial Estate and has been disused since the mid 1990s – after which the land was returned to the State by Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM). The writer of the letter, had written of what the farm had meant to his 71-year-old father who tended to it, which provided “much joy, personal well-being and an avenue for physical activity”. He also added that the space had also allowed his children an education beyond what the classrooms are able to provide.

The farms being evicted are along a stretch of the former Jurong Rail Corridor which has been disused since the 1990s and returned to the State by the railway operator KTM.

The SLA in exercising its right to evict the farmers – not least for the illegal occupation of State land, also cited several reasons beyond illegal occupation. These include the fencing up of the parcels of land involved, the erection of make-shift sheds and an outdoor toilet, as well as the collection of stagnant water which had a potential for mosquito breeding. It does appear that the SLA has acted on complaints made by residents in the area on the nuisance caused by the burning of branches and leaves which has affected the air quality in the area – as well as the act being a potential fire hazard. SLA position has also drawn support from some members of the public – one, Mr Tony Lee, in a letter to the Straits Times Forum published today, brought up an important consideration that “if such squatters are tolerated, more and more will occupy state land illegally”.

Banana trees on State land - some of the younger generation have never seen bananas growing on trees.

There isn’t any doubt about the validity of the concerns raised over the illegal use of land, or on the need to carry out the necessary enforcement on the SLA’s part. This episode does however, open a window of opportunity for the Authorities to look beyond the enforcement of the law (which is there for good reason) and take a step towards a gentler and more inclusive society that has very much been talked about of late. The signs are certainly encouraging based on a news report in today’s edition of the Straits Times (“Let’s talk, SLA tells farmers”, Grace Chua, The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2012). The report does indicate that the SLA has changed its tact slightly and has now opened a channel for discussion with farmers who willing to come forward by 20 March.

A makeshift scarecrow at one of the farms?

While in all probability the discussion would be on a possible extension to the deadline of 20 March imposed by the SLA for the clearance of illegally occupied State Land, I do hope that it goes far beyond that. While that the farms have been illegally set-up and fenced up and that there are public safety and health concerns associated with them is never in question, there is some scope to look into maintaining what is already there and extending access to them to the wider community in the interim (the SLA does note that there are no immediate plans for the use of the particular stretch of land). An idea mooted by a guide during one of the walks organised by the good people behind “We Support the Green Corridor” I attended a while ago, Ms Margie Hall of the Nature Society of Singapore, was that the Authorities grant temporary occupation licences to the farmers. This would not only allow the farmers – mostly retirees, a useful pursuit in their advanced years, it will also permit the use of land to be regulated. This will also allow concerns of residents and the Authorities to be managed and eliminated and its use opened up to the community. It is the community that would stand to gain most from this – allowing both young and old a space in their neighbourhood to which they would be able to escape the urban Singapore we have become to a calmer, gentler and greener Singapore – a Singapore from which we have all emerged from and a Singapore we have long forgotten of.


SLA’s reply to Straits Times article “Group told to clear out ‘farm’ on state land” published on 10 Mar 2012:

SLA makes available vacant State land, pending their development, for interim use by the community for recreational activities. Over the years, SLA has upgraded vacant State land for such uses. There are today 270 community use sites in various parts of Singapore for the community to use and enjoy.

However, State land is a precious resource and must be maintained and managed responsibly. An important principle that we uphold without exception is that individuals or groups of them are not allowed to encroach and lay claim on State land for their private use. Where State land is allowed for community use, it is important that it does not cause disamenities for the neighbourhood, and does not adversely affect the land and the environment, such as causing ground contamination or mosquito breeding.

In this case, some individuals have not only encroached on State land for their private purposes but several of them have also fenced up parcels of land as their “own” and padlocked them for their exclusive use. There are also illegally erected make-shift sheds and even an outdoor toilet (photos attached). During our inspection, we found several ponds with stagnant water which are potential mosquito breeding grounds if left unchecked. We have also received feedback of the burning of branches and leaves which affects the air quality for the residents nearby and are a potential fire hazard.

In the interest of all residents living in the vicinity, SLA’s immediate priority is to stop the burning of leaves and commence vector control measures. We will also give those responsible for the encroachment a reasonable period of time to dismantle and remove the enclosed areas and illegally erected structures, failing which we will have to take action to remove them.

The land is zoned as “Reserve” under the Master Plan 2008 and there are no immediate plans for the site at this point in time. In the interim, SLA will seek and consider the views of the grassroots organisations whether the land can be put to some form of community use for the enjoyment of the residents in the vicinity. However, any such use is interim and will have to cease when the land is required for future development.






A gradual reopening of the Rail Corridor

2 09 2011

Members of the media and the Rail Corridor working group were provided with an update on the track removal works and plans to reopen parts of the Rail Corridor as work is being completed early this morning during a walkabout in the vicinity of Bukit Timah Railway Station with Minister of Law, Mr. K Shanmungam, the Minister of State (National Development) BG Tan Chuan-Jin, the Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education & Ministry of Law, Ms Sim Ann, and officers from the SLA, MND, URA and Nparks.

Minister of Law, Mr Shanmugam briefed members of the media and the Rail Corridor Consultation Group on the progress of SLA's track removal work and the reopening of the Rail Corridor for use by the community.

Mr Shanmugam being briefed by a SLA officer near the truss bridge.

The Minister also responded to concerns raised by members of the public about damage to existing vegetation during track removal works in the vicinity of the station and explained that the SLA had been “aware of the need to preserve vegetation and no trees were removed”. He also stated that turfing works over the area of the removed tracks, which is now quite evident, was necessary to ensure that there was little risk of water ponding. The tracks, all ancilliary structures such as signal posts, kilometre markers and the ballast are being removed and returned as part of the agreement with Malaysia, with the exception of a stretches in way of the platforms of the two conserved stations and the three bridges that will be retained.

Turfing work south of Bukit Timah Railway Station.

A section of the tracks in way of the Bukit Timah Railway Station platform is being retained.

Another view of Bukit Timah Railway Station. Besides the tracks, one sign and several other structures are being kept.

A map at the station showing SLA's removal plans which identify the bridges that will be retained.

The truss bridge at Bukit Timah / Dunearn Roads with trufing work and the portion of tracks to be retained very much in evidence.

The SLA also announced the reopening of a 1.4 kilometre stretch of the Rail Corridor where track removal and turfing work is being completed from the 16th of September. The stretch is from the steel truss bridge over Bukit Timah / Dunearn Road southwards. This will allow members of the public to enjoy walks along the stretch. Work to remove the tracks is scheduled to be completed by 31st December this year and portions of the former railway land will be progressively opened to the public as the removal works are being completed.

Rather than the green SLA signs we are used to, signs welcoming the public are being put up along the stretches of the Rail Corridor that are bing reopened.

The portion of the track being retained at the truss bridge at Bukit Timah / Dunearn Roads. a 1.4 km stretch from the bridge southwards is being opened up to the public from 16th September.

Mr Shanmugam being interviewed by members of the media at Bukit Timah Railway Station.

Mr Shanmugam speaking to Mr Leong Kwok Peng of the Nature Society (Singapore).

The public will also have access to the former Bukit Timah Railway Station building. Members of the public are advised refrain from acts vandalism, which the bridges and the tracks have been subject to. The station as we see today, has been stripped of items belonging to the railway, including signalling equipment and signal levers (except for six that remain). The station sign on the north end has also been returned to Malaysia, with Singapore retaining the one on the south end. The longer term plans for Bukit Timah Railway Station will be part of the URA’s comprehensive review of development plans for the former railway land and their surrounding areas and as part of its review, the URA will study the possibility of marrying development and greenery, such as applying innovative strategies to maintain a continuous green link along the rail corridor without affecting the development potential of the lands.

The Station Master's room at Bukit Timah Station, stripped of the safe which sat on the yellow support structure next to the door.

Another view of the room where the key token signal equipment had once been placed.

All that are left are six signal levers.

Another view of the six signal levers.


Photographs proivided by SLA explaining the track removal process:









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