Farms affected by Tengah expansion fret about moving

Koon Lee Nursery, which occupies a 2ha plot in Murai Farmway, is among the farms whose land will be acquired for the expansion of Tengah Air Base.The farms will be compensated based on market value for the land at the point of acquisition.
Koon Lee Nursery, which occupies a 2ha plot in Murai Farmway, is among the farms whose land will be acquired for the expansion of Tengah Air Base.The farms will be compensated based on market value for the land at the point of acquisition.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

For the past 30 years, Mr Mac Teo has lived and grown up on the site of his family's nursery in Lim Chu Kang.

"It is not just a business, but a home to me," said Mr Teo, 41, a project manager at Koon Lee Nursery, which takes up a 2ha plot of land in Murai Farmway.

Yesterday morning, he was told by government officers that the family business has to move in 18 months.

The authorities have acquired its land, along with that of three fish farms, for the expansion of Tengah Air Base. The handover will have to take place by January 2019. The four farms will be compensated based on market value.

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Another two farms - which produce vegetables and eggs - will not have their leases renewed once they expire.

Mr Bernard Goh, a supervisor at Sevenseas Fisheries at 17, Murai Farmway, said it was taken aback by the news. The farm, which supplies produce such as snakehead fish and frogs to wet markets, had about 10 years more on its lease.

 
 
 

"When the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) came for an inspection a few months ago, they even made recommendations for us to increase our productivity by upgrading the water filter and redesigning the ponds.

MORE THAN A BUSINESS

It is not just a business, but a home to me.

MR MAC TEO (above), project manager at his family's business Koon Lee Nursery, which has to move in 18 months.

"We had already started some works, but there is no use doing that now," said Mr Goh, 31.

He added that the company might have to wind up operations on the farm and focus on its seafood distribution business if it cannot find a good alternative site. "It is difficult to find a suitable plot of land with the right water quality," he said.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA), AVA and National Parks Board (NParks) said they will work closely with the affected owners and assist them in the process.

New farm plots for food fish farming will be available in October, while AVA and NParks will release details on tenders for spaces for ornamental fish farms and nurseries when they are available.

But some of the farmers wonder if they will have enough time to move and start anew at a new site. They have to stop operations at the current spots by January 2019.

Koon Lee Nursery's Mr Teo said: "If we manage to bid for a piece of land tomorrow, we will have enough time to move and set up our business elsewhere. But I am not confident that we will be able to get a new piece of land in time."

He said 18 months is too short a timeframe to find an alternative site because of the effort and labour needed to relocate and set up operations from scratch. "But (SLA) did say that it is willing to accommodate our requirements, such as the time required to move and set up if we go to a new place," he added.

Mr Teo's family had invested over $1 million in the business, including land costs and other facilities. It has about 10 years left on the lease.

The owner of an affected fish farm in his 60s, who declined to be named, also said he was shocked at the news that he has to move out of his plot in 18 months. "We were not mentally prepared for this," he said.

His 1.2ha tropical fish farm, which exports fish to Europe, has been around for over 20 years. It has over 10 years left on its lease.

He said: "We have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into this. Even if you tell us to move, where can we go to?"

He said that the farmers will be meeting the authorities in the coming weeks to discuss the issue, adding: "We only just got the news, so it is very uncertain and we are still not sure what we can do."

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Yee Chia Hsing, whose Nanyang ward includes the air base, said he has asked the authorities to compensate the farms fairly.

"Hopefully, the valuation will take into the account the money they have invested into the facilities and land. I have been assured they will try," he said.

• Additional reporting by Rachel Au-Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2017, with the headline 'Farms affected by Tengah expansion fret about moving'. Print Edition | Subscribe