Bukit Brown Espionage
It was reported in the The Strait Times (Friday, 30 March 2012) that LTA will go ahead with its road expansion plans to build a road that passes through the Bukit Brown cemetery, amidst controversies that activists assumed the plans would be scrapped. Minister for State for National Development, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin says that careful consideration have been put in placed to minimize the potential land take and impact on the cemetery – some 3,764 of 100,000 graves will be affected. He however regrets that some things could have been done better to manage the expectations of the public.
“The Government was engaging on how to build “a better road with minimal impact” – not whether to do so – and how affected graves can be documented. But some interest groups thought they could work at undoing the road decisions” – http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_783399.html
Meanwhile, activists and several members of the public have been outraged by the decision citing it as “a backwards in evolving relationship between state and citizen” – (The Straits Times 30 March 2012). While others are willing to view this entire espionage as a valuable learning lesson for the future – communicating and matching government’s and civil societies’ expectation.
The following timeline depicts Bukit Brown Cemetery’s saga (replicated from “Navigating a new terrain of engagement- The Straits Times” by Grace Chua, 30 March 2012):
- 1872: Seh Ong (Hokkien) cemetery set up.
- 1922: Bukit Brown Municipal Cemetery officially opened on the site
- 1973: Municipal cemetery is closed to burials
- 1991-2001: In the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA’s) Concept Plan for 1991 and 2001, which guides development for the next 40 to 50 years, the site is zoned for residential use.
- 2003-2008: In the URA’s Master Plans for 2003 and 2008, which set out plans for the next 10 to 15 years, it is marked as a cemetery.
- March 2011: The Straits Times reports that Bukit Brown will eventually make way for housing.
- June 2011: The Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) publishes its book “Spaces Of The Dead: A Case From The Living”, reviving public interest in Bukit Brown. Interest groups explore and give walking tours of the area. Responding to the Straits Times Forum writers, the URA says Bukit Brown is needed for future housing, and that many such “difficult trade-off decisions” are made in land scarce Singapore.
- Sept 13: The Land Transport Authority (LTA) announces a new four-lane dial carriageway to be built by 2016 to ease congestion. Heritage groups ask for more time to graves. Some 5 per cent of the area’s 100,000 graves to be affected.
- Sept 27: Following a spat of letters in The Strait Times, the LTA says the new road is needed to ease Lornie Road traffic and serve the area’s future plans.
- Oct 19: The Straits Times publishes a letter by descendants of famous pioneers, including Chew Boon Lay and Tan Tock Seng, who want Bukit Brown left alone.
- Oct 21: Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) issues a statement on how the group was not consulted over whether Bukit Brown should be developed.
- Oct 24: Officials meet privately with, heritage groups to explain the Government’s reason fir developing a new road, and reaffirm plans to go ahead.
- Oct 26: Heritage groups and preservation project leader, appointed by the Government, raise concerns over insufficient time given to document the graves.
- October 2011: Documentation of graves begin.
- Nov 6: Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin reiterates that Bukit Brown will not be spared the bulldozers, but the affected graves will be thoroughly documented.
- Nov 19: Participants at a public heritage forum air concerns that activist groups have given up the fight to protect the graves wholesale.
- Feb 3, 2012: Mr Tan Chuan-Jin’s Facebook note says the carriageway will go ahead as planned.
- Feb 4: Singapore Heritage Society expresses disappointment that there was no public consultation before the zoning decision and before the road was planned, and maintains the area should be protected as a historical site.
- March 5: In Parliament, MPs make a last-ditch appeal to save Bukit Brown.
- March 19: The LTA announces that part of the road through Bukit Brown will be a bridge over a depression, protecting some biodiversity. Exhumation is pushed back to early next year instead of late this year to give next-of-kin more time to register claims.Mr Tan Chuan-Jin meets privately with civil society representatives, who are upset that the meeting was open only to select members. They call for a moratorium on housing and transport infrastructure, including the new road, while national discussions are still under way over housing, transportation and immigration.