AS A parks planner at the National Parks Board (NParks), Mr Henry Hee gets a regular dose of exercise and sunshine on the job.

He is also in close contact with Singapore’s greenery and natural landscape.

After all, Mr Hee’s job requires him to check suitable land parcels to add to the existing park connector network in Singapore.

When he is working on a project, there will invariably be plenty of walking and cycling involved on site visits.

Says Mr Hee: “I look out for things like nice scenery, accessibility — whether the space will offer people a good recreational experience.”

He adds: “A great perk of the job is that I usually lose some weight and get a great tan after all that outdoor work.”

Mr Hee is currently working on the Round Island Route. When completed in 2020, the 150km-long corridor will link park connector loops, the rail corridor and intra-town cycling networks.

More than three times the length of Singapore, this network will connect 3.5 million residents.

Explorers and nature lovers will envy Mr Hee. In the course of his work, he often stumbles on sights not commonly spotted in urban Singapore. Mudflats, forested areas and old kampung structures are just a few of these rare sights.

“My job exposes me to the natural assets and landscapes of Singapore which I may not have noticed or appreciated previously,” says Mr Hee, who has been with NParks for the past eight years. He worked previously at RSP Architects, Planners & Engineers.

“I often take pictures and show them to my friends, some of whom didn’t know such places exist in Singapore,” adds Mr Hee.

Once on a site visit, he even had the rare opportunity to ride in a mobile crane that took him 15m above a forest canopy.

Recalled Mr Hee: “The view was exhilarating. Viewing the forest from the top down was surreal.”

Finding suitable routes

The job is not without its challenges. First, Mr Hee has to find routes that are suitable for outdoor recreation, and provide a seamless connection between parks.

Then there is the issue of the ownership of the land.

When a potential parcel of land has been identified, Mr Hee and his team have to check on its ownership, where it falls in the land use zoning map and its future development.

Says Mr Hee: “These routes often cut through land that belongs to other agencies, be it government or commercial ones. There are even routes that may have to cut through privately owned land.”

Taking over the land involves negotiations with agencies such as the Housing and Development Board, Singapore Land Authority and Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Says Mr Hee: “There is a fair bit of persuasion, compromise and understanding the people involved. It’s fascinating if you are interested in behavioural psychology.”

Implementing a park connector network project also involves detailed planning. This is where Mr Hee’s scrutinising eye and organising skills come into play.

The creative challenge is also what has kept Mr Hee at his job this long. Conceptualising the extension of the existing park connector network forces him to think out of the box.

Past projects that he has been involved in include the Western Adventure Loop, the Northern Explorer Loop and the North Eastern Riverine Loop.

He is particularly proud of being involved in the construction of the cycling bridge over the Ayer Rajah Expressway, next to the InternationalBusinessPark. Completed last year, the bridge is the first elevated park connector cycling bridge in Singapore.

“We have received positive feedback about it, not just from cyclists but also from runners who find running up and down the gentle gradient more comfortable than climbing stairs,” says Mr Hee.

In good shape

Although he took on the job at 65, he has the advantage of always being physically active. Maintaining his physical fitness remains a top priority for him today.

“Fitness-wise, I don’t really have a problem. I run almost every day and keep myself in shape,” he says.

For those interested in the job of a parks planner, Mr Hee points out that an eye for detail, an analytical mind and excellent organising and communication skills work to one’s advantage.

Adds Mr Hee: “Not least, you must enjoy the great outdoors.”