$5.5m 'lost' to save durian tree

That's the cost of a bungalow which developer must forgo to retain tree in present spot

By Desmond Ng

July 22, 2008

Mr Peter Ng in front of the durian tree at Ban Guan Park estate which his company is saving. -- TNP Picture: ADELINE ONG

THIS is one premium durian tree.

Not because it produces fruit that is of top-grade variety, but because it is sitting on a prime piece of real estate off Holland Road.

And the developer, instead of chopping it down like any profit-driven company, is spending more money to conserve it and include it in its redevelopment plans.

The opportunity cost of keeping the tree?

About $5.5 million - which is the estimated selling price of a new cluster bungalow unit there.

In saving the tree, the company has had to cut down the redevelopment by one unit.

The Link Group's business development manager, Mr Peter Ng, said: 'We want to save it because this is possibly the only durian tree in this area. It's our way of conserving the environment too.

'We think it's environmentally friendly and it will be part of our green features and efforts.'

The tree, which is six storeys tall, occupies a land area just under 700 sq ft, about the size of a three-room Housing Board flat.

It is right smack in the middle of Ban Guan Park estate, which was bought en bloc for $31 million last year. The total area of the parcel of land is about 32,910 sq ft.

The estate now comprises two rows of shophouses, and the tree is situated right in the middle.

With the durian season in full swing, between six and nine durians drop from the tree daily, Mr Ng said. They are usually given to workers in the estate.

The developer has plans to build not more than 20 units of cluster bungalows for the new project. Each unit will have a built-up area of at least 4,500 sq ft.

This yet-to-be-named boutique project is expected to be launched later this year, with each bungalow priced at about $5.5 million.

Mr Ng estimates that, apart from the opportunity cost, his company will have to spend at least $200,000 to build a retaining wall to protect the tree's roots as part of its conservation.

There are plans for safety measures to ensure that future residents will be protected during the durian season, when the fruits start to drop.

Other environmentally-friendly measures they are exploring include solar-powered technology for water heaters and lighting, and ways to recycle rainwater for watering plants.

The developer is also planning to invite all the previous owners back to Ban Guan Park for a farewell celebration and to have a durian party.

Ms Tan Mee Leng, who used to live in the estate, remembered playing under that tree during her primary school days.

That was back in the 1970s.

Ms Tan, 39, and her family used to own a beauty saloon in that estate.

She remembered that the tree was planted by a provision shop owner back in the 1960s.

She said: 'It is good that the developer is keeping the tree. It is something by which residents can remember the estate. I used to play catching around the tree. I've many memories of the estate and that tree'

Knight Frank's research director Mr Nicholas Mak said that, typically, developers will chop down such trees unless required by law to conserve the mature tree.

He said: 'The easiest thing is to destroy it and put in a swimming pool instead. But I guess they can differentiate their project from another in that it has a durian tree as a centrepiece.

'It will tie in with their environmental pitch.'