Public Consulted on Library, Chinatown

Posted by Lim Huay Chih, PS 21 Office, Public Service Division, Prime Minister's Office under Features on 25 February 2000

MESSRS Simon Tay, Zulkifli Baharudin and Cherian George in their commentary, " Role of Civil Service in Civil Society " (ST, Feb 17), cited three examples of "civil service intransigence": The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)'s handling of the National Library issue, the Public Utilities Board (PUB)'s development of water-storage tanks in the nature reserves, and the Singapore Tourism Board's plans for Chinatown.

The National Library The Government has not refused to participate in public discussions concerning the National Library, nor deliberately declined to engage Mr Tay Kheng Soon.

The issue has been the subject of public consultation since 1988, when URA was formulating the Civic District Master Plan.

URA then held an exhibition of the draft Master Plan to obtain public feedback, and organised a dialogue session with professional bodies and members of the public, chaired by Mr S. Dhanabalan, then Minister for National Development.

Mr Tay Kheng Soon attended the dialogue. He supported URA's view that the vista of Fort Canning Hill was important, and agreed that the National Library Building should be removed as this would open up the view of Fort Canning Hill from the Bras Basah area.

Public interest in the issue picked up again last year, after the Singapore Management University (SMU) announced plans to build its campus in the Bras Basah area.

In March last year, URA participated in a public symposium organised by SMU, and explained the necessity to demolish the National Library Building. URA also briefed the media, which published the reasons, together with diagrams.

In January this year, SMU organised a technical workshop to obtain feedback from the architectural community on three alternative proposals by SMU's master planners.

Mr Tay Kheng Soon changed his earlier position, and now opposed demolishing the National Library. He also objected to erecting buildings on Bras Basah Park.

He subsequently called a press conference to present his own master plan for SMU.

The URA has not deliberately ignored Mr Tay's alternative proposal.

URA did not participate in Mr Tay's press conference because it had not been invited.

Mr Tay had merely mentioned his press conference in passing to a senior URA staff at a function.

Mr Tay has since submitted his proposal to the Prime Minister, who has referred it to the Ministry of National Development and URA to study.

It is thus totally unfounded to criticise URA for not making "a substantive response" to Mr Tay's plan, or for its "deafening silence" on the issue.

Development of Water-Storage Tanks in Nature Reserves Nor has the Government refused to engage in public discussion over its use of nature reserves to develop water-storage tanks.

When the matter became a public issue in 1998, PUB, URA and the National Parks Board explained the decision in the press.

In September 1998, NMP Simon Tay asked a parliamentary question, suggesting that the Government consider increasing the remaining nature reserves to compensate for the area used for the water-storage tanks. The Minister for National Development replied that this was not possible because this was an exceptional project, and the land taken had already been significantly minimised.

Moreover, in land-scarce Singapore, setting the size of the nature reserves involves balancing the value of the bio-diversity it contains against other competing uses for land.

The Government cannot commit to setting aside land to maintain the nature reserves at a fixed area, regardless of other development and economic needs.

Mr Tay could have raised further points or rebutted the minister's explanation in Parliament, the highest forum for discussing national issues.

Then the debate could have progressed further into any new arguments that Mr Tay might have raised.

But instead of joining issue with the Government, Mr Tay issued a press statement urging it to reconsider his proposal.

Redevelopment of Chinatown The plans for redeveloping Chinatown were drawn up in close consultation with stakeholders, including the Kreta Ayer Citizens' Consultative Committee, the Revitalisation of Chinatown Committee and the Chinatown Retailers' Pro-tem Committee.

They were then presented publicly at an exhibition in September 1998, to give Singaporeans an overall view of what was in store for Chinatown in the years ahead, and to solicit their feedback.

When the response was stronger and more emotional than anticipated, the Singapore Tourism Board immediately opened up more channels for interested groups and the public to give suggestions.

Their feedback has since been incorporated into the implementation plans.

The Chinatown Project has been a useful learning experience for STB.

In another project involving Orchard Road, the STB went beyond consulting businesses in the area, to organise a discussion session with industry professionals, and an open forum for the public.

Useful feedback has been obtained, which will be incorporated into the Orchard Road plan.

The Government remains committed to an open and inclusive approach to policy-making.

We will do our best to pursue consultations through public debate.

Participants should realise that at the end of the debate not every view expressed can be adopted as government policy.

That some views have not been accepted does not mean that the Government does not welcome public inputs, or that the public should not continue to participate in building a civil society in Singapore.

Public feedback was incorporated into Chinatown's redevelopment plans.

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