From pungent pig farms to hot new eco-town

RETIRED air force officer Y.C. Teo still remembers the days when his house used to stink.

The 78-year-old has lived in a bungalow just off Old Punggol Road since the 1970s, when the area was populated by pig, chicken and fish farms.

"It was a horrible place," he said. "On rainy days, there would be a great stench. Nobody wanted to take a second look at the place."

These days, the farms are gone and Punggol is Singapore's hottest new estate. High-rise buildings have taken over the land that used to house the farms and their neighbouring attap- and zinc-roofed shophouses.

Phase two of plans to transform Punggol into a waterfront town was unveiled by the Housing Board on Tuesday. Public consultation began yesterday at the HDB Hub and will end on Oct 28.

As part of the plans, a 1.5km stretch of Old Punggol Road will be closed to traffic and converted to a heritage trail for pedestrians.

It is a road on which the history of Punggol has been written. It leads to the old Punggol Point, where long-time residents fondly recall tucking into seafood dishes amid the exhaust from buses turning around at the end of the road. Three seafood restaurants used to do thriving business there, said residents.

"Eating there was not just a treat, it was an experience," said naval architect Jerome Lim, 48, who was a regular visitor to the area as a child.

"It was alfresco dining," he added. "Tables would be laid out with plastic basins of hot water with tea cups and utensils inside."

Water sports centres and fishing villages also used to dot the shoreline.

Madam Alice Chu, a 56-year- old housewife who has lived in Punggol for nearly three decades, recalled how her husband used to take a speedboat he owned with some friends out fishing at night.

His catch often ended on the dinner table as dishes such as steamed crabs with belachan (shrimp paste).

They would also go out for rides to Marina Bay, where Marina Bay Sands now stands.

The demographic at the old Punggol Point has changed, said Madam Chu.

Crowds of rowdy seafood lovers have given way to young parents and their children in strollers, making their way around the Punggol Point Park.

The park boasts lotus ponds, a playground, kite-flying spots, boardwalks and a rustic park connector.

Amid the structural changes, Madam Chu laments the loss of the kampung spirit. Her daughter would, as a child, cycle around the estate, enter their neighbours' houses and open the refrigerator to grab a drink. No one would bat an eyelid because everyone knewone another, she said.

Mr Lim also hoped that further plans would keep some things the same.

"Change always happens, but it's nice if Punggol can retain some of its old charm and bring back the eateries and sea sports centres," he said.

He recalled seeing chickens running around with their heads chopped off at a farm and hearing the squeal of pigs in the evenings before they were fed.

He said: "I was raised an urban kid. Punggol was somewhere I didn't like visiting.

"But I'm glad now that I got to be in an environment that doesn't exist here any more."

mellinjm@sph.com.sg