Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Land use planning: When MINDEF had to do "National Service"
In land scarce Singapore, even the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) performs "national service" when it gives up defence land that can be put to better uses.
One example is the yet-to-be-opened ITE College Central campus in Ang Mo Kio. It sits on real estate once protected by Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) sentries, high fences and barbed wire but is now an open campus whose sport facilities, NTUC Fairprice supermarket and restaurants have added much value to Ang Mo Kio residents just across the road.
More than just four walls and a ceiling, the air-conditioned Internet-enabled classrooms, well-equipped teaching facilities - you can find a Boeing 737 airliner inside, used as a teaching aid for aeronautical engineering students - matched with an open concept design that encourages residents to enliven the campus represents a new paradigm for school facilities that were once dormant after school hours, dead on weekends behind locked gates.
The decision to shape ITE College Central the way it is underlines more than just our government's commitment to, and support for, nurturing the next generation of industry professionals.
The very existence of the campus on former MINDEF land indicates that space can be reallocated for different national needs within our lifetime, provided we invest in good planning that ensures concurrent and competing demands for living space are weighed carefully.
The roughly 10.6 hectares of land taken from the SAF's Amoy Quee Camp to build the ITE has a colourful past.
The land formed part of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) launch site for Bloodhound Mark II surface-to-air missiles and was once part of Singapore's largest pineapple plantation - run by the SAF. Amoy Quee Camp is still here, just downsized after some defence land was allocated for education purposes.
The Bloodhound launch site in Ang Mo Kio, known as Missile Site Bravo, was one of three air force sites armed with missiles that could shoot down hostile aircraft up to 80 km away.
Missile Site Bravo was developed in 1972 when defence planners at the then Ministry of Interior and Defence (now MINDEF) recommended that Bloodhounds be deployed to two other launch sites apart from original Bloodhound base in Seletar.
Defence planners reasoned that Singapore should avoid putting all its eggs in one basket at Missile Site Alpha in Seletar, so land was set aside for Missile Sites Bravo in Ang Mo Kio and Charlie in Lim Chu Kang (next to Nanyang Technological University) for our air force to operate and launch some 60 Bloodhound missiles. Seletar was the place where Britain's Royal Air Force deployed all its Bloodhounds before British forces withdrew from Singapore.
Bloodhound missile launchers were surrounded by open land several hundred metres from the fenceline. The generous footprint around each missile site was there for a purpose. When launched, each 8.5 metre long Bloodhound was propelled into the air by a pair of ramjet motors and four powerful boost rocket motors which pushed it to twice the speed of sound.
The boosters were designed to break away from the missile once their job of getting the missile airborne was done. Vacant land ringed Bloodhound launch pads as you would not want missile boosters, each several metres long, falling onto populated areas.
Singapore has always been a small place and it did not take long for someone to suggest better use of that vacant land in the 1970s.
Enter Dr Goh Keng Swee, who as Minister of Defence in 1974, suggested that pineapples be grown in SAF camps. Dr Goh's plan was two-fold: the pineapples could be harvested to feed SAF soldiers and the prickly plants could also act as a barrier against intruders. Although Dr Goh is credited for many innovative ideas in post-independent Singapore's formative years, this wasn't one of them.
Some 6.5 hectares of Missile Site Bravo was transformed into Singapore's largest pineapple plantation with more than 102,000 Emas Merah and Sarawak pineapple suckers grown there by citizen soldiers who doubled as farmers. Ang Mo Kio continued to be pineapple country till 1981 when manpower difficulties saw the project phased out.
Bloodhound missiles served Singapore for 20 years till they were phased out on 1 April 1990. Thanks to astute planning two decades back, the landscape in this corner of Ang Mo Kio has been transformed beyond recognition with Nanyang Polytechnic and now ITE College Central built on part of the RSAF missile base.
This year, as more than 10,000 ITE students and more than 1,000 staff move into their advanced learning venue at ITE College Central, few may realise how the campus may not have reached fruition if government departments clung onto historical land use parameters.
The seed for the growth of ITE teaching facilities was planted 20 years ago when government planners set their eyes on the future, which is our today.
Posted by David Boey at 9:47 PM