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Govt is considering all suggestions for use of Dover forest, extends feedback exercise

Desmond Lee said that the HDB continues to receive feedback and suggestions from nearby residents, members of the public and those interested in nature and environmental issues

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National Development Minister Desmond Lee has said that the Government is studying all public feedback in detail and welcomed more Singaporeans to give their views and input, after receiving several questions on the Government’s development plans for green spaces like the Clementi Forest and Dover Forest.

Six members of Parliament filed parliamentary questions, seeking answers on what the Government intends to do with these green spaces and whether it will heed the people’s call to preserve the forests.

Three Workers’ Party (WP) MPs asked pertinent questions about plans for the forests. Hougang MP Dennis Tan Lip Fong asked whether the Ministry will consider extending the public consultation period for the Environment Baseline Study for the Dover Forest.

He also asked whether the results and outcome of the consultation can be made public and whether an environment impact assessment will be conducted if active development of the Dover Forest zone is considered.

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Sengkang GRC’s Louis Chua Kheng Wee asked what is the current number of hectares of existing green spaces that are projected to be developed over the next 10 to 15 years and what percentage of these are forested areas.

He also asked how much of the projected increase of 1,000 hectares of green spaces over the same time period is reserved for wildlife compared to areas accessible to the general public.

Fellow Sengkang MP He Ting Ru asked what processes are in place to ensure that that public bodies respect the principles laid out in the 2015 Nature Conservation Masterplan when making any development decisions that affect our green spaces or biodiversity.

In relation to the Dover Forest, she asked what was the nature and frequency of consultation that the Ministry conducted with the Housing Development and Urban Redevelopment Authority about the development of the forest, as well as what steps are being proposed to address the loss of biodiversity and habitat of endangered and rare species caused by the envisaged deforestation of Dover Forest.

Three ruling party politicians also raised important queries in Parliament. Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Nadia Ahmad Samdin asked what are the considerations as to whether or not a green space can be protected as a nature reserve and whether these considerations were made for the Dover Forest.

Jurong GRC MP Tan Wu Meng similarly asked what are the criteria by which land parcels are scheduled for development and how are implications for wildlife, biodiversity and green corridor connectivity assessed when a green space is developed rather than redeveloping an existing urban space. He also asked whether and how any potential irreversibility of environmental impact is considered during such processes.

East Coast GRC MP Cheryl Chan Wei Ling asked for the new trends factored in the current review of the Concept Plan and whether there is a minimum percentage requirement of Singapore’s land space to be allocated for natural green space such as forests. She asked whether COVID-19 has affected the considerations of future land use in terms of natural and built environment, as well.

Mr Lee delivered a parliamentary speech addressing all of these questions on Monday (1 Feb). Mr Lee explained that Singapore’s needs differ from most other cities since it is a city-state that does not have large hinterlands and that the Government has always “taken a long-term view towards land use planning, with stewardship and sustainability as core, long-held principles.”

Pointing to Singapore’s small size, he said: “We have to constantly balance demands and trade-offs across a wide variety of needs, including housing, green spaces, infrastructure, community facilities, workplaces, amongst others. These tensions are inherent in land use planning everywhere, but felt more acutely in a small city-state like Singapore.”

Sharing that Singapore needs to recycle and reuse its limited land especially as land use needs continue to evolve to meet current priorities and future possibilities and challenges, Mr Lee said:

“To meet our growing and changing needs, we have been, and will continue to adopt a range of development options. This includes increasing the density of developments – building higher, and building more densely, while ensuring liveability, so there is a limit.”

The Government is also co-locating suitable uses and redeveloping brownfield sites such as golf courses, old school sites, or industrial areas, as leases expire. Mr Lee added: “We will continue to carry out land reclamation where appropriate, and see how we can also make use of underground spaces and deep cavern spaces for infrastructure, though the costs are high.”

When it comes to greenfield sites like vegetated sites, green and natural areas, the Government adopts a science-based approach to identify core biodiversity areas and surrounding buffers that it wants to retain for future generations.

Mr Lee said that the Government has retained a number of ecologically important sites as green spaces, although they had initially been designated for other uses, like the Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat, the Dairy Farm Nature Park and Rifle Range Nature Park.

Sharing that the authorities are looking out for more areas to help enhance ecological connectivity, Mr Lee said that the Government has safeguarded approximately 7,800 hectares of land for Nature Reserves, Nature Areas, Nature Parks and other green spaces, such as parks and park connectors, today, that comprise key representative ecosystems and habitats for Singapore’s native biodiversity.

He also promised to not only protect and enhance existing green spaces but also extend the network with an additional 1,000 hectares of green spaces over the next 10 to 15 years, and weave greenery more intensively into our urban areas.

Although the Government is committed to stewarding and protecting our green spaces, Mr Lee said that some greenfield sites might have to be developed to meet land use needs, given Singapore’s physical constraints and scarce land area. He assured:

“Any decision to proceed is made only after detailed study of the trade-offs and alternatives, including the assessment of ecological and biodiversity value. And where development cannot be entirely avoided, we proceed with care.

“Developments near to sites with significant biodiversity undergo an in-depth consultation with Technical Agencies and may be subject to an environmental study to assess the possible environmental impact of development plans, including ecological connectivity.

“We also engage stakeholders, such as those from the nature community, to take in feedback and strengthen the rigour of the studies.”

As for the specific Clementi and Dover forests, Mr Lee said that the HDB has received and continues to receive feedback and suggestions from nearby residents, members of the public and those interested in nature and environmental issues. Thanking those who provided feedback, he said:

“There has been a very wide range of views and we thank everyone for contributing them: Some have called to retain the site fully for greenery and recreation, and to designate it as a Nature Park. Some say keep it green, others say keep it green, but let’s intervene through restoration – so different levels of scientific understanding and interests.

“Some have gone further to say that we should not build any more flats, and halt all development. We can understand that sentiment too. Others have urged the Government to redevelop other sites instead, including vacant sites, acquiring older private or public housing, or taking existing school fields, running tracks, car parks in the vicinity.

“Several have suggested that new housing and nature should co-exist on the site, for example, develop parts that are less vegetated or with more non-native species. While there are diverse views, and what I’ve summarised is really just scratching the surface, many who have written in appreciate the tension between the need for development, and nature conservation, and actually all of them lie along a continuum of where that balance should lie.”

Mr Lee revealed that the authorities are studying the feedback in detail and welcomed more Singaporeans to give their views and inputs. He added that the HDB will extend the public consultation period for the EBS for another 4 weeks and urged members of the public to write in.

He promised: “We will carefully consider all the feedback received, and share our plans when ready.”

Sharing that his team is encouraged by the keen interest generated in their plans for Singapore and nature conservation, Mr Lee said:

“Mr Speaker sir, the Government resolves to continue to regularly review our plans in partnership with the community, to support the diverse aspirations and changing needs of our people, as consensus on the balance between environmental conservation and development evolves.

“Our goal is to steward a home and City in Nature that all Singaporeans, in this generation and future ones, love and cherish.”

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