PULAU Ubin, a popular weekend getaway for Singaporeans and home to families who have lived there for decades, will be kept in its current state for as long as possible.
There are currently no development plans for the island, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Mohamad Maliki Osman reassured the House.
"Our intention is to keep Pulau Ubin in its rustic state for as long as possible, and as an outdoor playground for Singaporeans," he said in his reply to Ms Irene Ng (Tampines GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam.
They had tabled questions after a scare in April, when 22 households on the north-eastern island received what they thought was an eviction notice.
Dr Maliki, an MP for East Coast GRC, which Pulau Ubin falls under, admitted that communication to households on the island could have been better.
The notice, which was issued in March, caused much worry because its subject topic read "Clearance Scheme: Clearance of Structures Previously Acquired for Development of Adventure Park on Pulau Ubin".
The families thought their homes were slated for "clearance".
But, Dr Maliki said, it was to inform residents of a census survey to determine how much resettlement benefits they are entitled to and the amount of rent they need to pay.
This is because the land that their houses occupy had been acquired by the Government in 1987 and 1993.
To continue living where they are, residents will in the near future have to pay for a Temporary Occupation Licence, which is the equivalent of rent.
Most households will pay less than $20 a month in the first year. This will go up to less than $120 a month in the sixth year.
Several MPs voiced concern over the misunderstanding. Nominated MP Faizah Jamal asked that in future such information be given to the residents in a language or dialect that they understand.
"Some of them have never been to school. This letter was in English and naturally they were concerned," she said.
Agreeing, Ms Ng asked how such a misleading notice could have been sent out in the first place. "Is there a process and system in place to vet important notices that go out to residents, especially those which are potentially sensitive and distressing?"
Replying, Dr Maliki said processes have been rectified to prevent similar incidents.
While the MPs welcomed the assurance that Pulau Ubin's rustic character would be maintained, they also put forward ideas to better preserve the cultural heritage of the 1,020ha island.
Ms Penny Low (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said it might be "worthy" to gazette the place as a cultural heritage site. She suggested the Government help residents upkeep their old kampung houses.
Ms Faizah cited a resident who had put in effort to maintain her kampung house, which is open to visitors keen to learn more about village life there.
Madam Kamariah Abdullah, 54, had previously told The Straits Times she was worried she could not afford the rent. Dr Maliki replied he was open to further discussion on how to help her.
He, however, would prefer not to turn the island into a tourist attraction. "I don't like to see it as a tourist destination but as a destination for Singaporeans to experience what rustic life is about."