Wanted: More modern facilities for Ubin

Wanted: More modern facilities for Ubin
One of the remaining houses on Pulau Ubin (left) and the boardwalk at the Chek Jawa wetlands (right). While half of the 500 people surveyed said they wanted more modern conveniences on the island, heritage experts and nature enthusiasts want to preserve its untouched charm.

AT LEAST half of 500 people surveyed say they want the rustic island of Pulau Ubin to take on some features of modern, mainland Singapore.

They said they would like to see more public facilities, including shelters, footpaths and toilets; attractions such as cycling trails and boardwalks; and the restoration of the island's kampung houses for overnight stays.

Their opinions were captured in an ongoing online survey, launched on Sept 8 by the Ministry of National Development (MND). This is part of efforts to gather ideas on how to preserve the rustic charm and heritage of Ubin, while enhancing public access sensitively.

The poll aside, some of Ubin's 38 residents have also told MND what they wished to see on the island. The wishlist included improved mobile network coverage; more street lights, a better waste disposal system and wider roads. Some had also asked for ATM machines, said an MND spokesman.

Mr Patrick Chan, 27, a commercial executive who did the survey, agreed with some suggestions. He said: "More signs and route markers will also be helpful to us 'mainlanders' who aren't as familiar with these 'country' roads."

But the suggestions worry heritage experts and nature enthusiasts, who said these have lost sight of the goal of retaining Ubin's laidback character.

Purists such as heritage blogger and naval architect Jerome Lim, who prefers leaving most of the island untouched, said: "Ubin should not be turned into yet another built-up and man-made place like Changi Village, packed with the modern conveniences of everyday life. We shouldn't be changing the destination into a kampung theme park to cater to hordes of people who may overrun the place."

Both Dr Chua Ai Lin, president of the Singapore Heritage Society, and Ms Ria Tan, who runs a popular wildlife site, said Ubin is already brimming with things to do.

For instance, Ms Tan said many are not aware of the "good spectrum of built trails, natural trails and untouched nature" across the island.

Meanwhile, Dr Chua said better communication is needed so that Singaporeans know what is already available there.

For instance, information on the island's heritage needs to be integrated into visitor information websites and collaterals provided by MND and NParks - the island's manager.

She pointed out that the National Heritage Board also has detailed write-ups on its website about the 10.2 sq km island, including stories about its early inhabitants and granite mining days.

An Ubin resident, Madam Kamariah Abdullah, 54, who owns a century-old Malay kampung home there, hopes that electricity can run through the island so she can keep food in her refrigerator fresh. Islanders currently rely on solar and biodiesel energy.

But she called the rest of the suggestions "ridiculous".

Said Madam Kamariah: "Singapore has enough big roads and ATM machines. It shouldn't be about residents' convenience alone but about preserving the natural environment for the long term.

"There is no fun at all if Ubin becomes as perfect as Singapore is. Bigger, flatter paths would take away the challenge of the bumpy and wild terrain. We must experience it like our ancestors did."

What's wanted

- More public facilities such as toilets, footpaths and shelters

- Restoration of kampung houses to be used for overnight stays

- Better mobile coverage LMore street lights

- Better waste disposal

- Wider roads

- Automated teller machines

- melodyz@sph.com.sg

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