The low-rise flats of the former Jalan Kayu Rural Centre are now undergoing demolition as the latest development of Sengkang New Town expands into the vicinity between Jalan Kayu and the newly built Sengkang West Road, which was opened last year and cuts through the network of the Seletar West Farmways.
Rural centres were part of a unique public housing development at Singapore’s rural regions between the seventies and eighties. There were formerly three rural centres built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) at Seletar West Farmway (known as Jalan Kayu Rural Centre), Punggol Road (Punggol Rural Centre) and Neo Tiew Road (Lim Chu Kang Rural Centre).
An early rural centre concept was carried out at Keat Hong Village in the early sixties, when it was redeveloped under the Master Plan of zoning from an agricultural sector to a settlement zone with a rural centre. Rural centres were also common in Malaysia, a term that was coined as early as the fifties, but they appeared to be more of training facilities that aimed to develop the rural areas and train the locals on agriculture such as padi planting and rubber tapping.
Most of Singapore’s agricultural areas, in the seventies and eighties, were concentrated at the country’s north-eastern and north-western parts. They were mostly vegetable, fruit, poultry and pig farms. The HDB-built rural centres were therefore meant to be “centralised” locations at the different agricultural areas to provide basic amenities, such as shops, markets, hawker centres, clinics and small residential units, to the populations living around the farms.
This would provide convenience to the residents and allowed them to be self-sustaining, reducing the need to travel frequently to the more urbanised parts of Singapore to buy the basic necessities. In many ways, rural centres were similar, only on a much smaller scale, to the town centres built in the early new towns at Ang Mo Kio, Bedok and Clementi.
The Lim Chu Kang Rural Centre was built on a former site, an area of 1.9-hectare, of a pig farm. Bounded by Lim Chu Kang Road and Neo Tiew Road, it was completed in 1979 at a cost of $4 million, and made up of several flats, shops and a market. HDB’s initial plan was to make the rural centre a bustling centre for the communities living at rural Lim Chu Kang, particularly the villages of Ama Keng, Thong Hoe and Nan Hoe.
It would comprise of two-storey blocks that housed six shops and an eating house. Serving the residents would be a hawker centre with 36 foodstalls and a wet market with 78 stalls selling fresh produce. There would also be two four-storey blocks; one with 46 three- and four-room units, and the other with 44 three- and four-room flats and an additional nine shops. Each of the four-storey blocks would have its own play area at the ground floor.
The Lim Chu Kang Rural Centre, later also known as Neo Tiew Estate, lasted until the late nineties, when it was en-bloc under the Selective En-Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS). By 2002, most of its residents, and the Ama Keng, Thong Hoe and Nan Hoe villagers, were resettled at Jurong and Choa Chu Kang. The vacated rural centre was later used by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) as their urban warfare training ground.
The rural centres at Jalan Kayu and Punggol were built in the late seventies and early eighties respectively. Both consisted of seven blocks of low-rise flats. The Punggol Rural Centre started with five blocks (Block 1-5), with two more added (Block 206 and 207, consisting of 222 residential units, 12 shops and two eating places) in the mid-eighties. Upon their completion, the Jalan Kayu Rural Centre and Punggol Rural Centre remained as Kangkar (later renamed Sengkang) and Punggol’s only public housing for almost 20 years until their development as new towns in the late nineties. The first flats would be completed at Sengkang’s Rivervale in 1997.
The Punggol Rural Centre was demolished in the mid-2000s; its adjacent Buangkok South Farmway 1 was expunged a decade earlier. The only thing unchanged today is the long Punggol Road that runs from Sungei Pinang to the Punggol end. The former site where the Punggol Rural Centre once existed is now part of Sengkang’s Compassvale, whereas the former Jalan Kayu Rural Centre, after being used as foreign workers’ dormitories in the past ten years, looks to be replaced by the extension of Fernvale neighbourhood. The demolition will spell the end of an era of Singapore’s rural centres, a unique feature in the local public housing’s history.
Published: 11 February 2016