Public consultation on Dover Forest extended by four weeks: Desmond Lee

(PHOTO: Screengrab from YouTube channel)
(PHOTO: Screengrab from YouTube channel)

SINGAPORE — Given the keen public interest in nature conservation and Singapore’s plans for development, the public consultation period over the fate of Dover Forest will be extended another four weeks, said National Development Minister Desmond Lee in Parliament on Monday (1 February).

The public consultation is part of an environmental baseline survey (EBS) for Dover Forest, which is being carried out by an external consultant engaged by the Housing Development Board (HDB). The EBS is to guide HDB's development plans and identify the native flora and fauna and their habitats.

Since the online publication of the EBS report, which incorporated input from nature groups, HDB has continued to receive “feedback and suggestions from nearby residents, members of the public and those interested in nature and environmental issues,” explained Lee.

“Many who have written in appreciate the tension between the need for development, and nature conservation We are encouraged by the keen interest generated in our plans for Singapore and nature conservation,” said the minister.

Lee was responding to questions from Members of Parliament (MPs) about the fate of Dover Forest and Clementi Forest, as well as the considerations taken into account when developing or conserving an area. He explained to the House that both areas had been zoned for residential development since 2003 and 1998 respectively, but there are no immediate plans to develop them.

The West Coast GRC MP has pledged not to “rush into a decision” on the development of Dover Forest, following calls by nature groups to preserve the area.

On Thursday, Lee visited the forest with members of the local nature community. He later posted on Facebook that the Singapore government will “proceed with care” for development near areas of significant biodiversity.

The 33 ha forest within the Ulu Pandan area has come under scrutiny in recent weeks following numerous social media posts urging the authorities to preserve it. Ulu Pandan is one of several areas where HDB plans to offer 17,000 Build-to-Order flats this year.

Earlier this month, the Nature Society of Singapore’s Conservation Committee called for the forest to be designated a public-cum-nature park based on its biodiversity data: there are 120 plant species and 158 animals that call it home, including critically endangered ones.

Christopher De Souza, MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC’s Ulu Pandan ward, also filed an adjournment motion in Parliament in a bid to preserve Dover Forest in his constituency.

‘Layers of history’

Lee acknowledged that there are “layers of history, layers of heritage” underlying all of Singapore. “Let me assure members that we are committed to stewarding and protecting our green spaces. But given our physical constraints and scarce land area, there will be some greenfield sites that we might have to develop to meet our land use needs.”

Greenfield sites are undeveloped land in a city or rural area that is typically used for agriculture or landscape design, or left to evolve naturally.

Lee added, “And any decision to proceed is made only after detailed study of the trade offs and alternatives including the assessment of ecological diversity value, and where development cannot be totally avoided, we proceed with care.”

Some 7,800 hectares of land has been safeguarded in the form of nature reserves, nature areas, nature parks, and other green spaces, such as parks and park connectors. An additional 1,000 hectares of green spaces will also be conserved over the next 10 to 15 years.

Furthermore, said Lee, species recovery plans for 130 animal and plant species will be implemented by 2030.

The needs of a city state

The minister noted that Singapore has just 728 square kilometres of land area, and is also a city state, making its land use considerations “quite different” from others. “This is because unlike most other cities, which have large hinterlands, we have to cater for everything that the country needs within the limits of our city, instead of far beyond its limits.”

There is therefore a constant need to balance demands and trade offs across a wide variety of needs, including housing, green spaces, infrastructure, community facilities and workplaces, and this is felt more acutely in a small city-state like Singapore, Lee said.

For example, there is continued “high demand” for new HDB flats, he added. In 2020, the overall application rate for BTO flats was 5.8 times: for each BTO flat, there are between five and six Singaporean applicants. There is also a growing trend of smaller households, as more young couples, singles and their parents choose to have their own flats and their own homes, instead of staying with extended families.

In addition, the ongoing pandemic has highlighted the very real possibility of supply disruptions, according to Lee. Given the scarcity of certain food and medical items at key points last year, “this may mean increasing local production and storage capacity for such resources.” There is also a need for buffer sites for emergency use, which can be activated quickly for quarantine and recovery facilities and temporary housing of migrant workers.

Meanwhile, trends such as telecommuting and e-commerce have accelerated, raising questions about how much office and retail space is needed in the long term.

“Singaporeans' aspirations and views are evolving, on housing property, on material pursuits, on family and society, on nature, and on the nature and form of work. At the same time, the world and the global economy around us and technology are changing and changing rapidly,” said Lee.

“And so too must our strategies and approaches so that we can emerge as a stronger nation after this most difficult of tests.”

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