Dover Forest redevelopment plans raise larger questions on Gov’t’s commitment to climate change

The question of a 10 million population target by 2050 has also resurfaced

Just weeks after people started protesting online to the reclassification of Clementi Forest for development, the government came under fire again as its plans for the eventual redevelopment of Dover Forest into a new housing estate was made public.

On 15 January, the Nature Society Singapore (NSS) made public its feedback to the Dover Forest-Ulu Pandan Baseline Study prepared by infrastructure firm AECOM for the Housing Development Board (HDB) which was released in November 2020.

The HDB study notes that the area bounded by Ulu Pandan Canal to the north, Ghim Moh Link to the east, Commonwealth Avenue West to the south and Clementi Road to the wst has been area which has been largely zoned for “Residential” based on the gazetted Master Plan 2014.

The 13-page report by the NSS, however, proposes that the area be designated a public/nature park instead—based on the information reported in the HDB study as well as the NSS’s cumulative data on birdlife in since 2007.

According to the HDB study, the Dover forest is home to over 200 species of wildlife including threatened and endangered species. In fact, the NSS feedback notes that there are more threatened species in that 33-hectare patch of lush greenery than the study found back in 2017, for a total of 103 species of birds.

This includes about 12 nationally near-threatened or threatened according to the Singapore Red Data Book and at least two vulnerable species listed on the ICUN Red List.

While the HDB study identified 22 species of resident and migratory birds that are dependent on the forest, NSS says 9 more were not listed in HDB’s study.

NSS noted, “This will make a combined total of 31 forest/woodland dependent species, which comes to about 30 percent—about a third—of the combined total, which is of very high conservation significance.”

Apart from serving as a wildlife habitat, the Dover forest is also an important part of wildlife connectivity in the region, said the NSS, as animals use the forest as a sort of “stepping stone” to numerous other green spaces such as the area east of Pandan Reservoir, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Clementi forest and forests of the Southern Ridges.

The non-profit organisation then suggested that the entirety of Dover forest be conserved as a public-cum-nature park.

“Such a substantial park (about 33 hectares in total, with an estimated 10 hectares for a public park section) set up in tandem with its natural assets is rather imperative for the well-being of all in this very dense and busy sector of Singapore, surrounded by schools and colleges, private housings and HDB flats as well the buzzing One-north Biotech Hub and Media complexes and offices.”

The organisation also highlighted the growing demand for more green spaces by the public, as evidenced by a rise in the number of visitors at the Central Catchment Nature Reserve’s Tree-Top Trail as well as the “simply astounding” number of people flocking to the Clementi Forest in recent times.

As an alternative, the NSS went on to suggest that the new HDB estate be developed in other areas that are “brownfield sites”—which are previously developed land not currently in use—or cleared and open areas instead of cutting down existing secondary forest that are rich in wildlife.

Some proposed sites were the roughly 3.5 hectare open patch at the junction of Ghim Moh Road and Commonwealth Avenue West, the already degazetted Warren Golf Course (also about 3.5 hectares) or the open patch at the junction of Dover Road and North Buona Vista Road which is approximately 14.5 hectares.

The NSS report sparked public outcry and calls for the Dover forest to be preserved as well. A petition started on the 13 of January calling for the protection of Dover forest has already garnered over 30,000 signatures.

Workers’ Party (WP) MP for Hougang SMC, Dennis Tan, also took to Facebook to say that he was “saddened” to hear about the plans to redeveloped the Dover forest which had been left untouched for 40 years.

He went on to say that he had filed a Parliamentary question in early January asking the Ministry of National Development (MND) to review the statues of development of the Clementi forest and other areas. However, the answer he received was that the planned status of these areas as “residential zones” is to remain.

He then called for the outcomes of the public consultation the MND is conducting on the Dover forest to be made public. This is a call that was echoed by WP’s Youth Wing President Nicole Seah.

The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP)’s youth wing, the Young Democrats, have also stepped into the fray to advocate for the preservation of Dover forest.

“We, the Young Democrats, have been advocating against the development of Bukit Batok Hillside Park (BBHP) and Clementi Forest for residential use. We now found Dover Forest, a 33-hectare plot that is home to many critically endangered species, is similarly zoned,” said the Young Democrats in a post on Facebook on 17 January.

“The planned development is deplorable and inconsistent with the Government’s expressed commitment to sustainable population growth and to protect our green space,” the youth wing noted.

The group went on to call on the government to “not only recognise the role that nature conservation plays but to be the protector of what precious pockets of green space we have left in our little island.”

Gov’t pledged $100 billion in the fight against climate change while cutting down forests for redevelopment

Part of the outrage sparked by the news of these redevelopment plans has to do with the government’s earlier pledge of S$100 billion over the next 100 years to address climate change.

In his National Day rally speech in 2019, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that climate change is “one of the gravest challenges facing humankind”.

Mr Lee said that Singapore has to understand, mitigate, and adapt to this problem. However, he noted that a global solution for climate change “is still very far off”, adding that Singapore must “work for the best, but be prepared for the worst.”

The 22-minutes of his speech that was dedicated to climate change was actually focused mostly on measures that would help the country “adapt to climate change”, announcing a S$100 billion budget to be spent over 100 years for specifically that purpose.

Now, you would think that to “work for the best” in the face of climate change would include actively preserving what little green spaces this little island has instead of cutting it down to build new residential property.

TOC is aware of a motion that is to be presented in Parliament in February by 6 People’s Action Party (PAP) MPs to accelerate and deepen efforts against climate change.

The motion calls on the government to work with the private sector as well as the public to do more in mitigating and adapting to climate change as to “embrace sustainability” in the further development of Singapore.

If this motion is adopted by the Parliament, clearly the right thing to do would be to set aside green spaces like the Clementi and Dover forests as nature reserves in the battle against climate change and for the benefit of future generations.

Why build so many new residential areas if there is no push for 10 million population?

The other point that many have questioned is the reason behind the government’s apparent push for more housing in Singapore where there is already a glut of new properties as well as consistently low total fertility rates.

When pushed by SDP’s Dr Chee Soon Juan during a general election debate on the government’s supposed plan to significantly increase the country’s population, PAP’s Vivian Balakrishnan disputed it, saying: “Let me state for the record. We will never have 10 million. We won’t even have 6.9 million.”

In fact, an article was published on Gov.sg following the debate in which the government reiterated that it has not proposed, planned or targeted to increase the country’s population to 10 million.

Despite that, the news more forests have been earmarked for the development of residential property is throwing doubt on that assurance.

Way back in 2016, EdgeProp Singapore published an article arguing that there is no lack of space in Singapore if the government does want to house a population of 10 million.

Dismissing the old saying that “land scarcity is a very real problem in Singapore”, the author, Ku Swee Yong, explained how advances in space planning, improved transport systems, and enhanced construction capabilities have led to the country being able to a handle a much high population density. Mr Ku stressed that land scarcity does not equate to space scarcity.

The article noted:

“The brief statistics are, in the 35-year period between 1980 and 2015, our population grew 129% from 2.41 million to 5.54 million, made possible by a 16% increase in land size from 617.9 sqkm to 719.1 sqkm and a 97% increase in population density from 3,907 people per sqkm to 7,697 people per sqkm.”

Putting together various pieces of the government’s Population Master Plan, Mr Ku looked at various existing and planned real estate project that he expects would allow Singapore to accommodate a 10 million population by around 2050. This also takes into consideration that the birth rate will remain low and that there will be a constant stream of new citizens to enable this population growth.

So going back to environmental concerns, ever-advancing technologies and capabilities means that Singapore is able to continue to build higher, thus creating more space to accommodate a growing population. Land reclamation efforts also debunk the idea that is land scarce.

On top of that, there is also the option to redevelop old estates for better plot ration and space planning. For example, there are 22 blocks in Tanglin Halt that is due to be cleared in 2023. Each of these 10-storey blocks and be replaced with 40-storey blocks.

The NSS report also suggested more degazetting of gold courses and revamping old industrial sites like Kadut and Senoko.

There’s also the closure of the Paya Lebar Air Base which will free up 800 hectares of land, which is bigger than Bishan or Ang Mo Kio. The closure of the airbase also means a potential easing of height restrictions (put in place to ensure navigational safety for aircrafts) in the eastern swathe of Singapore, so current low-rise building in that area can also be redeveloped.

Of course, this assumption works only if the government intends to redevelop the land into residential land for the people instead of selling it off to the highest bidder to develop private properties which appeals to rich foreign investors.

With all these available options, surely the remaining forests in Singapore can be preserved even if the government is trying to prepare for a larger population contrary to its promises.

These forests are not only a precious wildlife habitat it also serves as carbon sinks, keeps the temperature from rising higher than it already is, and plays an important role in the wellbeing of residents. Surely it is worth protecting for the current and future generations of Singapore.

 

 

 

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