Tanglin Halt makeshift garden set to be cleared

Residents said the overhang of a large bamboo tree that they often rest under, near Block 76, Commonwealth Drive, some sugarcane plants, as well as banana, papaya and mango trees that they cultivated, some in the 1990s, were severely pruned back last Friday by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA).

State Lands Encroachment advisories were placed across the site on April 9 and May 21, stating that it is "an offence to unlawfully trespass" on state land by depositing items including refuse there.

An SLA spokesman said an April 23 deadline for residents to remove their personal items, such as furniture, from the site came and went, so the authority proceeded last Friday to clear the items, which it said posed as potential mosquito breeding sites.

A second deadline, looming on June 4, requires them to remove personally cultivated plants from the site.

Retired car repairman Tan Nam Siong, 72, one of about five "regulars" who are there nearly every day, said he was sad to lose the hangout.

"We come here to get out of the house and have some fresh air. It is our idea of happy hour," he said in Mandarin.

Residents said the space started out as an informal rest stop for drivers of heavy-duty vehicles who parked at the open-space carpark next to the block. It also drew taxi drivers on a break.

Over time, a tree shrine housing several deities sprang up.

That block and six others around it have gradually been vacated since 2013 under the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme. Tanglin Halt as a whole will eventually be redeveloped under the scheme.

A group of five artists, including photographer Joseph Nair, 29, and visual artist Lucy Davis, 45, came together after the first notice was posted last month, in the hope of preventing the site's destruction.

They started a Facebook community page, Tree Shrine Sessions at Tanglin Halt, and made plans to clean up the site and propose it as an attraction and rest stop along the Rail Corridor, which runs close to it.

Ms Davis, who is a Tanglin Halt resident, said: "The garden is part of the area's heritage, culture and character and we were hoping to develop it into an inter-generational shared space, where the young can interact with the old."

The group has arranged to meet Dr Chia Shi-Lu, an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, on June 4.

The SLA spokesman said the authority had received Ms Davis' request for the space to be "regenerated" into an informal hangout and will work with Dr Chia "to look into her feedback and to explore a suitable arrangement for the community to continue using the site".

This article was first published on May 26, 2015.
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