by Kong, Yen Lin
Located in the northwestern part of Singapore, Bukit Panjang is considered a planning area under the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Master Plan 2014. It comprises seven subzones: Senja, Saujana, Fajar, Bangkit, Jelebu, Dairy Farm and Nature Reserve.1 The area is also known as Bukit Panjang New Town, a residential district bounded by Kranji Expressway (KJE) to the north, Dairy Farm Road to the south, Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE) to the east, and Upper Bukit Timah and Woodlands roads to the west.2 Over the decades, Bukit Panjang has developed from a largely agricultural and industrial area to a highly urbanised and self-contained town. Despite these changes, much of the area’s terrain and greenery have been preserved to form a unique blend of urban and rural space. The area retains its strong connection to nature through the neighbouring Bukit Timah Nature Reserve to the south and the Central Water Catchment area to the east, both of which contain rainforests.3
“Bukit Panjang”, which means “long hill” in Malay, refers to the range of low hills in the area that stretches south to Bukit Timah. In its initial stages of development, the town was known as Zhenghua due to the government policy of using Mandarin instead of dialect names for places.4 In 1987, however, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) decided to rename the town Bukit Panjang as this name was more familiar to members of the public and gave a better indication of the town’s locality.5 The name Zhenghua is preserved in a flyover between Bukit Panjang Road and the BKE, Zhenghua Park as well as Zhenghua Secondary and Primary schools.6
Prior to urban development, Bukit Panjang consisted of rural settlements that had developed along Bukit Timah Road in the early 1900s. The area was also home to industrial enterprises such as granite quarries, the Lam Soon Canning and Rubber Factory and the Nanyang Shoe Factory.7
In addition, land in the area was used for agricultural purposes, with one notable example being the Cold Storage Dairy Farm. Opened around 1930, the farm manufactured locally produced fresh milk and ice-cream. It ceased operations in the 1970s after the land was acquired by the government.8
In 1950, the Bukit Panjang Infant Welfare Centre was established in the area. It was the first rural health clinic to be built in Singapore using funds contributed by the locals. The centre provided free milk, vaccinations and innoculations along with birth delivery services, for which residents only had to pay the cost of transporting nurses to and from the confinement areas. A Straits Times article published in 1951 reported that the centre served between 150 and 200 mothers of various ethnic groups, making it one of Singapore’s busiest rural infant welfare centres at the time.9
In 1983, Lee Yiok Seng, then the member of Parliament (MP) for Bukit Panjang constituency, announced development plans by the HDB to build Zhenghua New Town (before it was renamed Bukit Panjang New Town) to accommodate 30,000 families.10 By 1986, the town’s first batch of residents had started moving into the 2,000 completed flats.11
According to the 1990 population census of the area, there were 56,989 residents living in 17,514 housing units, about 86 percent of which were high-rise flats.12 By 2015, the number of residents had increased to 139,030, 120,000 of whom lived in HDB flats. The majority of HDB dwellings in the area were four- and five-room flats.13
HDB architects designed flats with special architectural features to give Bukit Panjang New Town a unique identity that would distinguish it from other towns. These features include H-shaped 25-storey blocks, two of which serve as gateways for motorists entering the town from the BKE.14
Another special feature of the Bukit Panjang neighbourhood is HDB blocks with varying heights. “Stepped” every four to six floors, the design of these blocks resembles the terraces of padi fields in Bali. Some of these blocks can be found at Saujana Road along Pang Sua Pond (formerly known as Bukit Panjang Stormwater Pond) and Bukit Panjang Ring Road.15 Other blocks at Jelapang Road feature bright blue fire escape railings to emphasise the terrace look. According to Chong Fook Loong, one of the HDB executive architects who coordinated the design of HDB blocks in the estate, the terrace design was inspired by the area’s hilly and undulating terrain.16
Bukit Panjang Plaza
Located at 1 Jelebu Road, Bukit Panjang Plaza was completed in 1998.17 The 247,545-square-foot, four-storey suburban mall sits between the Bukit Panjang and Senja LRT stations and will be next to the Bukit Panjang Integrated Transport Hub (ITH), which is scheduled to open in 2017.18 The mall serves residents from the nearby estates of Bukit Panjang, Cashew Park, Chestnut Drive and Hillview as well as those from the Teck Whye, Choa Chu Kang and Upper Bukit Timah precincts.19 In late 2014, a two-storey food-and-beverage block was added to Bukit Panjang Plaza. The new block featured eight new food options including an artisanal yogurt and dessert bar and a Japanese buffet restaurant. In early 2016, the CapitaLand-owned mall underwent the second phase of its S$32.7-million renovation to upgrade its main entrance and third level as well as to relocate the roof garden to level four to make way for a new childcare centre. The Bukit Panjang Public Library situated in the mall was also expanded as part of the makeover.20
Hillion Mall and Residences
Hillion Residences, a 99-year leasehold condominium, will be constructed on top of Hillion Mall and connected to Bukit Panjang MRT station and bus interchange via air-conditioned underpasses as part of the Bukit Panjang ITH. The property is expected to receive its temporary occupation permit in September 2018. According to developer Sim Lian Group, the name draws inspiration from what “Bukit Panjang” refers to – “long hill”.21
Dairy Farm Nature Park
The 63-hectare Dairy Farm Nature Park was developed in 2009 by the National Parks Board (NParks) as an alternative recreational venue to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.22 Aside from multiple hiking and biking trails, the two main highlights of the park are the Wallace Education Centre – Singapore’s first educational hub showcasing the natural heritage of Dairy Farm and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve; and the Singapore Quarry, a disused granite quarry that has been converted into a wetland habitat.23
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
The 163-hectare Bukit Timah Nature Reserve occupies 46 percent of the Bukit Panjang planning area.24 Officially opened in 1992, it is Singapore’s only hill dipterocarp forest and houses 40 percent of the nation’s flora and fauna. It also contains Singapore’s tallest hill, Bukit Timah Hill, which stands at 163 m.25 In 2011, the reserve was officially endorsed as an ASEAN Heritage Park and thus became part of a network of 30 protected areas in Southeast Asia deemed to be of high importance to nature conservation efforts.26
Completed in 2002, the 13.5-hectare Zhenghua Park stretches for about 2.5 km along the BKE. Park amenities include a multipurpose event lawn, children’s play area, exercise station, pavilion, as well as jogging and cycling tracks.27 The park serves as a green buffer for the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and also acts as an important ecological link between the nature reserves and forested sites which enables the safe movement of wildlife across these green spaces.28 In 2015, the park was extended by 3.8 ha as part of NParks’ efforts to provide more facilities to park users, improve the range of biodiversity and expand the green buffer around the nature reserves.29
Park Connector Network
Two park connectors that are part of the Western Adventure Loop lie within Bukit Panjang. The 1.4-kilometre Bukit Panjang Park Connector and a portion of the six-kilometre Pang Sua Park Connector run through Bukit Panjang, connecting Bukit Panjang Park and Zhenghua Park via two different routes.30
Over the years, Bukit Panjang has earned a reputation for being an energy-efficient estate. Since 2000, the area’s town council has been introducing environmentally friendly technologies to the estate such as energy-saving lights, which have replaced normal fluorescent ones in 87 housing blocks.31 In 2004, a trial for an intelligent lighting and control monitoring system (LMS) was conducted at two blocks in Clementi and was subsequently implemented in 15 blocks in Bukit Panjang. The system optimises energy use by means such as the customisable lighting intensities in areas with older residents who are likely to have poorer vision as well as through the automatic detection of faulty lamps.32
The Bukit Panjang planning area is home to seven primary schools: Beacon Primary School, Bukit Panjang Primary School, CHIJ Our Lady Queen of Peace, Greenridge Primary School, West Spring Primary School, West View Primary School and Zhenghua Primary School. There are also six secondary schools in the area: Assumption English School, Assumption Pathway School, Fajar Secondary School, Greenridge Secondary School, West Spring Secondary School and Zhenghua Secondary School.33
In parallel with housing and infrastructural developments around the Bukit Panjang area, the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system was launched on 6 November 1999 to extend the reach and accessibility of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) network to residents. Operated by SMRT, the 7.8-kilometre-long line was the first LRT line to be introduced in Singapore.34 The network is a loop comprising 14 stations, with Choa Chu Kang station connecting commuters to the MRT’s North-South Line, and Bukit Panjang station doubling up as a Downtown Line interchange from late 2015 onwards.35
A unique feature of the Bukit Panjang LRT (BPLRT) trains is the use of liquid crystal films in its window glass panels that turn opaque as the train travels near HDB flats. This helps to protect the privacy of residents living close to the train track.36 In addition, the BPLRT is one of the last two light rail metro systems in the world that still uses the Bombardier CX-100 driverless train-cars, the other being the Metromover system in Miami, United States.37
The BPLRT line has been plagued by a series of accidents and delays since its opening. On 19 November 2000, three people were injured after a moving LRT train crashed into a stationary one at Phoenix station.38 On 21 October 2002, train services were disrupted for five days due to a dislodged train wheel, which landed SMRT a S$10,000 fine.39 A technician was hit by an oncoming train on 17 October 2010 while conducting maintenance works on the tracks of the Ten Mile Junction LRT station.40 Forty passengers had to walk from a stalled train to the nearby Phoenix station due to a power trip that disrupted services for more than an hour on 2 April 2013.41 SMRT was dealt a S$60,000 fine for a human error on 4 July 2013 that resulted in a stalled train delaying the train service.42 On 24 February 2015, a power trip led to an hour-long delay after a train’s power and signal collecting assembly was dislodged.43
SMRT attributed most of the train delays to either the ageing signalling system or power-related factors. In 2016, the transport operator announced that it was working with authorities to explore future alternatives to the BPLRT system as it was nearing the end of its design life.44
Ten Mile Junction
At the time of its official launch on 6 November 1999, Ten Mile Junction was the only fully air-conditioned LRT station that was integrated with a shopping mall with the same name.45 The station’s name was a reference to the travelling distance from the station to the former General Post Office Building (today’s Fullerton Hotel) via Bukit Timah. The two-storey complex also served as a depot for the BPLRT system and the headquarters for SMRT Light Rail.46 The station was temporarily closed in December 2010 due to the redevelopment of the Ten Mile Junction mall. The station reopened in December 2011 along with the revamped shopping centre, which has since been renamed Junction 10.47
Downtown Line (DTL)
On 27 December 2015, along with nine others, three stations within the Bukit Panjang town area – Bukit Panjang, Cashew and Hillview – opened as part of DTL2. The new MRT line enhanced connectivity from the northwestern regions of Singapore to the Central Business District and the Marina Bay area. A free preview of the 12 stations was held ahead of the commencement of passenger service on 5 December 2015. The preview consisted of a lineup of activities at the various stations, including the Education Wonders Trail at the Bukit Panjang station.48 The 16.6-kilometre route starts from Bukit Panjang and passes through Bukit Timah Road before connecting to DTL1 at Bugis. The new route was estimated to shorten the commute time between Bukit Panjang and Bugis from 50 to 30 minutes.49 To help commuters familiarise themselves with the stations, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) offered free travel from 27 December 2015 to 1 January 2016 to commuters who started and ended their journeys on both DTL1 and 2.50
Integrated transport hub (ITH)
In 2012, LTA announced plans to construct a new ITH at Bukit Panjang to enhance seamless transfers between bus and rail networks and offer a more convenient travel experience for commuters. The ITH will have a new, fully air-conditioned bus interchange integrated with the existing BPLRT station and the new Bukit Panjang MRT station that is part of the DTL. In addition, the site will have retail, food and beverage, and residential developments. The new interchange will be equipped with barrier-free features such as dedicated boarding points and lower counters at the passenger service office to cater to commuters with mobility challenges. Originally slated to open in 2015, the Bukit Panjang ITH’s opening has been delayed to 2017 due to diversion works of a canal in the area.51
Improvements in bus services
As part of the Bus Service Enhancement Programme (BSEP), 68 buses had been added by 2015 to the existing 17 services serving Bukit Panjang.52 In addition, LTA also worked with SMRT Buses to convert single-deck buses to high-capacity buses on popular services to provide commuters with more comfortable travel journeys. Since July 2014, a total of 43 single-deck buses plying eight popular service routes in Bukit Panjang have been converted to double-deckers.53
In the 1959 legislative assembly general election, Lee Khoon Choy from the People’s Action Party (PAP) won the seat for the Bukit Panjang single-member constituency (SMC) by garnering 58 percent of the votes in a four-cornered fight.54 Lee, who subsequently served as a parliamentary secretary, lost the seat to Ong Lian Teng of the Barisan Socialis by a margin of six percent of votes in the 1963 parliamentary general election.55 The 1968 general election brought the PAP back to power in Bukit Panjang when the party’s representative Selvadurai Pathmanaban won with a walkover.56 The PAP retained its hold on Bukit Panjang in the 1976 general election, with the party’s candidate Lee Yiok Seng winning 67 percent of the votes against the Workers’ Party candidate Ho Juan Thai.57 Lee defended his seat in four successive general elections, during which time the Bukit Panjang SMC was dissolved and regrouped as a ward in the Sembawang Group Representation Constituency (GRC) in 1991. In 1997, fellow PAP member Teo Ho Pin was elected as the MP for the Bukit Panjang ward in 1997. He continued to serve as the ward’s MP after it came under the Holland-Bukit Panjang GRC from 2001 to 2006, before taking charge of the Bukit Panjang SMC when it was formed in 2006.58 Teo successfully defended his seat in the 2015 general election, defeating Singapore Democratic Party candidate Khung Wai Yeen by winning 68 percent of the votes.59
The constituency is currently under the administration of the Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council.60
Kong Yen Lin
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54. Elections Department Singapore. (2015, November 2). 1959 parliamentary election results. Retrieved 2016, July 13 from Elections Department Singapore website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_parliamentary1959.html
55. Elections Department Singapore. (2015, November 2). 1963 parliamentary election results. Retrieved 2016, July 13 from Elections Department Singapore website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_parliamentary1963.html
56. Elections Department Singapore. (2015, July 22). 1968 parliamentary election results. Retrieved 2016, July 13 from Elections Department Singapore website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_parliamentary1968.html
57. Elections Department Singapore. (2015, November 2). 1976 parliamentary election results. Retrieved 2016, July 13 from Elections Department Singapore website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_parliamentary1976.html
58. Who’s standing where. (2015, September 2). The Straits Times. Retrieved 2016 July 4 from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
59. Elections Department Singapore. (2016, April 27). 2015 parliamentary election results. Retrieved 2016, July 13 from Elections Department Singapore website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_parliamentary2015.html
60. Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council. (2015). About our town council. Retrieved 2016, July 7 from Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council website: http://www.hbptc.org.sg/about-us.html
The information in this article is valid as at 21 July 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.