May 12, 2008

Condo won't prune trees over MRT tracks

Branches deemed safety hazard, but condo won't foot bill

By Esther Tan

THE problem: About a dozen 12m-tall trees on the premises of a condominium in the east coast area, encroaching on the raised MRT tracks.

SMRT says the overgrown branches may be a safety hazard to train operations.

But the condominium, Stratford Court, has balked at spending over $2,000 to prune them.

It noted that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) guide classified the planting of trees with full-grown height extending above the railway barrier as a restricted activity.

However, the condominium's management committee (MC) added that the guide dated back to August 2000 - and those trees were planted in 1998.

The condominium was therefore not obliged to comply with the demands of the guide, said MC chairman Lionel De Souza.

SMRT could not provide 'legal justification' for the condominium to foot the tree-pruning bill, he said.

The face-off marks the first time a tree- pruning request by the MRT operator has been challenged.

An SMRT spokesman said the company had notified and made arrangements with various landowners and maintenance agents to prune overgrown trees or vegetation 64 times last year.

The Stratford Court matter first arose in late March, when SMRT first contacted its MC, asking it to prune the branches of its khaya trees near the tracks between the Simei and Tanah Merah MRT stations.

The condominium, which sits at the junction of Upper Changi Road East and Bedok Road, duly obtained quotations for the job.

Its regular landscaping contractor asked for $2,145.

Mr De Souza, 65, said of the quoted price: 'That is not a small amount, so I checked up on the matter myself. As chairman, I have a duty to protect the money in the condominium's fund. I must be very careful with how I spend this money.'

This was when he found out that the guide put out by the LTA - which owns the train viaducts - went back to 2000, and that Stratford Court's trees pre-dated that.

In its reply on April 4, SMRT agreed that, going by the LTA guide, the condominium was not obliged to engage a contractor to prune the trees and pay for it as well.

But it later cited the Parks and Trees Act, which gives the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation - the chief operating officer of the National Parks Board (NParks) - the right to issue an order for the condominium to prune its trees if they are obstructing MRT trains.

The cost of non-compliance: A fine of up to $20,000.

NParks said the Commissioner has never had to issue such an enforcement notice before - and he is not about to do so if the matter can be resolved in other ways.

The Stratford Court MC is standing its ground.

Mr De Souza said the MC had so far not received any notice from the Commissioner, and that until it did, it would not arrange to prune the trees.

SMRT has passed the matter to LTA.

When contacted, LTA said it was working with SMRT, NParks and the condominium to resolve the matter amicably.

[email protected]