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Times 21 Oct 07
Ruffled Feathers: Nature Society versus Motorcycle Safety and Sports Club <
The Nature Society is crossing swords with the Motorcycle Safety and Sports Club over Lorong Halus, where a permanent motocross facility may be built
By Tan Yihui
IT IS shaping up to be a dirt-y fight over a plot of land in Lorong Halus in the north-east.
In one corner is the Motorcycle Safety and Sports Club (MSSC) which has plans to use the place for motocross, or dirt bike, training and competition.
In the other is the Nature Society of Singapore (NSS) which says the noise and pollution will shatter the oasis of calm there.
MSSC president Ong Kim Hua says the club has submitted a proposal to the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) but the latter has not responded.
This development has upset the NSS. As Dr Ho Hua Chew, chairman of its conservation committee, says bluntly: 'We are not happy.'
The NSS has made known its feelings to the SLA but it has not received a response.
Dr Ho, a retired lecturer, says the 60ha Lorong Halus area - a landfill there was closed in 1999 - is a hit with bird and nature lovers.
It is home to 36 per cent of the bird species in Singapore and is one of the few remaining pockets of wilderness.
But that sort of rugged terrain also appeals to adventure-seekers such as motocross riders.
The MSSC has held two events in Lorong Halus with the one on Jan 28 drawing about 60 riders and the second last month attracting 43 participants.
Mr Ong, who is a motorcycle importer, says the MSSC had sought permission from the National Environment Agency for these 'one-off' events. It did not get complaints from the NSS.
Currently, members of the 250-strong club train at a facility in Nusa Jaya in Johor.
Motocross was big in the 1970s and 1980s, when enthusiasts had access to a dedicated track in Loyang. However, when its daredevil appeal spawned illegal street racing and public complaints, the authorities took back the Loyang site in 1993.
Riders had to cross over to Johor to get their adrenaline fix.
The bikes - or scramblers - can cost from $3,000 for a used machine to over $10,000 for new ones. An estimated community of 40 hardcore riders head to Malaysia for races, says Mr Ong.
Recently, with events like the Lorong Halus races and the freestyle motocross showcase at this year's National Day Parade, the sport seems set to shift into a higher gear.
Mr Edward Soh, general secretary of the MSSC, says the club wants to promote motocross as a family and community pursuit.
And things are revving up nicely. In July, the SLA awarded a tender to construction firm Lam Chee Development to build a $300,000 motocross venue in Tuas.
Lam Chee is teaming up with the Singapore Motor Sports Association to manage the track which will be completed in December. The MSSC is not involved in this project.
Mr Soh hopes that tenders will not be called for the Lorong Halus site because the MSSC cannot afford to bid a high sum and still provide an affordable service to riders.
He says there is room in the club's plans for Lorong Halus for other outdoor activities like mountain biking.
The NSS is not impressed by such talk. Dr Ho says it is concerned about the noise and pollution generated if motocross becomes a fixture there.
Mr Ong says: 'We've attended a few meetings with the government agencies and we have made proposals on what we can do to minimise the impact on wildlife.'
He says that the club will merely 'cut paths' through the area for racers.
Mr Soh says: 'Contrary to public perception, motocross riders care about nature just as much as the next guy. We feel that motocross and nature can co-exist.'
On the issue of noise pollution, he notes that the bikes have to pass a noise test of below 96 decibels.
But Dr Ho is unconvinced. 'The noise of the motorbikes travels far. With the setting up of the motocross park, the activities will be ongoing and the racket will be terrible,' he says.
Lorong Halus is also designated to be a wetland park under a Public Utilities Board programme.
To complement such plans, Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean had raised the possibility in February of the site becoming an adventure ground for outdoor sports.
Dr Ho says the NSS is fine with less noisy activities like trekking and mountain biking.
The SLA confirms that it received a proposal from the MSSC in March.
'SLA and other relevant agencies are evaluating the proposal from the MSSC. We are aware of the concerns of the Nature Society and will take them into consideration,' its spokesman says.
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