More visitors likely but 'numbers will be managed'

More visitors likely but 'numbers will be managed'

Seafood restaurant owner Tan Chee Kiang, 67, expects his business to be buoyed by the new plans for Pulau Ubin in the next few years.

But even as the Ubin native looks forward to larger crowds, he said this should not come at the expense of the island.

"If they come here to experience our lifestyle, our kampung life, it's okay. But they cannot come here and ask for all the comforts they have on the mainland," he said. "They cannot change the island, they cannot be selfish."

For the 30-odd remaining residents like Mr Tan and the 2,000 to 3,000 visitors to Ubin every weekend, the island's charm lies in its laid-back lifestyle. Fleets of bicycles ply the sandy roads, and its haphazard smattering of squat buildings is a glimpse into Singapore's past.

The opinions of residents like him were not forgotten under the Ubin Project, where government officials reached out to civil society and the public for ideas on shaping Ubin's future while preserving its past, some of which were unveiled on Ubin Day yesterday.

Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee told reporters yesterday that islanders have been part of the engagement process, with several of them in the Friends of Ubin Network (FUN). It brings together naturalists, heritage experts, sports enthusiasts, researchers and students.

Mr Lee acknowledged that the new initiatives to sustain Ubin's rustic charms will draw more visitors, but said the authorities will "manage the numbers".

They may, for instance, restrict numbers to areas whose biodiversity may be sensitive to overwhelming crowds, either through guided tours, or allowing only researchers to frequent these spots.

Ubin resident Ahmad Kassim, 79, said the new efforts will let more people learn about Ubin life.

"More people coming to the island means we islanders won't feel lonely," he added.

One of the new programmes announced yesterday was a monthly kampung-themed tour of Ubin.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority and the National Heritage Board will also come up with a set of guidelines to restore buildings while retaining their charm.

Students can also build bat boxes or otter dens for breeding, while educators will help develop the curriculum for a new centre for field studies and education.

Volunteers will also play a key role in these efforts. One of them is 17-year-old Choo Yi Feng, a FUN member and National Parks Board volunteer, who started helping out in primary school. The youth said the new efforts strike a balance between development and conservation.

"In Ubin, there are some natural processes that will happen to cause the infrastructure or the architecture to collapse," he said. "It's good that there are some plans for restoration and repair."

This article was first published on December 1, 2014.
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