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ST report on Bukit Brown “concessions” erroneous: SHS

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The following is from the Singapore Heritage Society's Facebook page:

On 12 May 2014, Straits Times Assistant Political Editor Leonard Lim wrote that civil society groups “extracted concessions on Bukit Brown cemetery” in his opinion piece “Can Civil Society Influence Politics?”. Read SHS and atBB's full and unedited response to Lim below.

(An edited version was published in ST's Forum Page on 15 May 2014:http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/forum-letters/story/bukit-brown-no-consultation-extract-concessions-20140515).

Dear Editor,

We refer to the article by Assistant Political Editor Leonard Lim claiming that civil society groups “extracted concessions on Bukit Brown cemetery” in his opinion piece, “Can Civil Society Influence Politics?” (ST, May 12, 2014).

As key players of the civil movement trying to protect and preserve Bukit Brown, we are unclear as to what “concessions” Mr. Lim is referring. It is now a well-established narrative that officially in 2012 when the road was announced, the decision to build a highway through Bukit Brown had already been made. We state for the record we were present at a briefing by the Ministry of National Development but that there was no consultation or protracted engagement thereafter to extract any concessions. We issued a call for a moratorium and moved on.

Mr. Lim references a subsequent decrease in the number of graves planned for exhumation for the 8-lane road across Bukit Brown from an estimated 5,000 as part of a compromise reached with civil society. This is not the case.

There are two points to clarify to prevent this misstatement of facts from being (repeatedly) perpetuated. One, the number of graves finally affected was reduced not to 3,764 as stated in Lim’s article, but to 4,153. The error occurred because Mr. Lim quoted from a Land Transport Authority (LTA) announcement in a March 19, 2012 statement on the realignment of the road. It was in an August 5, 2013 statement by Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and LTA to announce the award of the contract for the road that the final tally of affected graves was issued. Two, both statements clearly attributed the realignment of road to an engineering decision, and the drop in the number of graves affected had nothing to do with consultations with civil society.

On the second point, we draw attention to the LTA statement that announced that the road design includes a bridge over several creeks in Bukit Brown rather than a design that will see a filling up of these natural drainage networks with soil. There was no consultation on the original design or its changes. It is not clear if the adjustment was a result of a yet-undisclosed, but limited-scope Biodiversity Impact Assessment that the LTA conducted in early 2012. Regardless of the reason, that this change in design has been reported several times in your newspaper to be a result of a “compromise” with civil society is erroneous and needs to be corrected so as not to be repeated.

To date, there is likewise no consultation about the zoning of the greater Bukit Brown area in its entirety for residential use in the 2013 Draft Land Use Master Plan released by the URA. This area includes the larger cemetery complex comprising Bukit Brown, Seh Ong, Lau Sua, and Kopi Sua.

Now that we have clarified the events of 2012 and the decisions announced thereafter on official record, we would like to focus on the present and note that we have been meeting with the National Heritage Board since mid-2013 and hope to make more progress in protecting Bukit Brown. We write to clear the air so discussions are based on facts, not misrepresentations, and the public is not misled.

Yours faithfully

Dr Chua Ai Lin - President, Singapore Heritage Society
Ms Claire Leow - Co-founder, All Things Bukit Brown