Newly elected MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC Halimah Yacob has pledged to clean up Woodlands Town Garden, a heartland park that has grown infamous for its nightly vice activities.
Residents told The Sunday Times that they avoid the park and forbid their children from going there. Similar concerns were shared with her during the recent election campaign, said Madam Halimah, when asked about the issue.
She revealed that she would be approaching the National Parks Board (NParks) to ask the agency to develop and upgrade the park, to "eliminate its attraction to those committing vice".
"This is something that NParks should seriously consider," she said, highlighting how 2,000 new Housing Board residential units will be coming up in that area in a couple of years. The new residents, too, "should not be inconvenienced by such activities", she added.
She also urged police to step up patrols and conduct raids at the park more regularly.
Tucked away in a corner of Marsiling close to the Causeway and housing blocks, the park was built in 1983, with seven Chinese pavilions and six Malay huts on stilts - a design which won it the SIA Architectural Design Award in 1986.
But over the last decade, it has developed a seedy reputation. The 11ha park is largely deserted in the day. At night, transvestite prostitutes solicit for business at its carpark - always full with vans and lorries parked overnight, and at a bus stop next to it.
The sex trade gets busier over the weekends, when as many as seven prostitutes ply their trade. Services are offered for as low as $30. Customers are often foreign workers, although Singapore-registered cars can also be seen pulling into the carpark. A check of a gay online forum also shows that the park is sometimes where strangers meet up for a tryst.
Former Marsiling MP Hawazi Daipi, who had headed the ward since 1997 when it became part of Sembawang GRC, said he had highlighted the issue to the authorities. The ward now forms part of the new Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC. "That place is old and there is a plan to redevelop the area, so I think it will be much better in future," he added.
The 35-year-old Woodlands Town Centre - just across the road from the park - is slated for redevelopment by the HDB next year.
A police spokesman said they do "conduct regular joint patrols at Woodlands Town Garden with our community partners" and use closed-circuit television cameras to deter and detect illegal activities.
But Madam Halimah believes this may not be enough. "As (the police) can't be there every day, what happens is a cat-and-mouse game that these perpetrators play, where they will disperse when the police patrol the area and then reconvene when they are gone," she said.
When asked, an NParks spokesman said the agency, too, has taken steps to increase safety, including pruning dense vegetation, improving lighting and removing shelters to prevent groups of people from congregating there.
The spokesman added that there are "plans to upgrade the park and put in more measures, including additional lighting", but details are not available at this stage.
Residents told The Sunday Times that they hope things can change for the better soon.
"I work the night shift... sometimes, you see people walking or going to the park. I know they go there for some hanky-panky," said liaison officer Sukwinder Singh, 25. "Obviously, I am a little disgusted."
Factory worker Liu Qing Qing, 26, said: "I have always avoided the area because it does not feel safe."
Madam Lim Guat Thoe, who has lived in the area since 1963, remembers when the park's lake was a popular spot for outings. "But now, it is dirty and very unsightly," said the 53-year-old cleaner.
Other residents complained that, at night, labourers could be seen sleeping in the underpass leading to the park.
"It is dark there at night and, with all the people in the area, I tell my children they are not allowed to go there," said resident Ishak Abdul Rahman, 52, who has been living in the area for 15 years.