“We seek to preserve and integrate natural elements within developments”: Minister Desmond Lee

“As far as possible, we seek to preserve and integrate natural elements within developments,” said Minister of National Development Desmond Lee on Thursday (28 Jan).

In a Facebook post, Mr Lee addressed the concerns that have cropped up in recent months about the conservation of green spaces such as the 33-hectare Dover Forest which is zoned for residential development.

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 13-page report by the NSS 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.

The conversation around the potential redevelopment of Dover Forest sparked another round of calls and petitions from the public for the conservation of green spaces in Singapore and for the Government to take a look at alternative sites for urban redevelopment instead.

In his post, Mr Lee said that he visited the forest on Wednesday evening (27 Jan) with his colleagues at the National Parks Board (NParks). Members of their nature community also joined the party, including President of NSS Shawn Lum and co-founder of Singapore Youth Voices for Biodiversity (SYVB) Karl Png.

The Minister noted that the HDB’s environmental baseline study was carried out to guide future plans for the site and that nature groups were consulted on the findings, adding that the Board has also received much feedback after making the report public.

“We will study all the feedback received in detail, as we consider possible plans for the site,” he said.

Mr Lee asserted that it is the current generation’s responsibility to meet the needs of Singaporeans today while also safeguarding land for future generations so as to provide for current and future needs while securing green and blue spaces.

“In days gone by, our earlier generation of leaders had made the difficult decision to clear settlements, villages, pond-farms, plantations and cemeteries to build modern Singapore,” he remarked.

“But they did not use all the land. Instead, they kept some of the sites clear for future generations to use.”

The Minister went on to say that careful planning in pursuit of a “City in Nature” has led to the protection and even enhancement of some ecologically important sites over the years which were initially earmarked for other uses.

He cited the Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat as an example, which was originally meant to be developed for factories. He also noted the Thomson Nature Park, Dairy Farm Nature Park, Rifle Range Nature Park, and Khatib Bongsu which were all meant for residential development but were then kept as “green buffers” to protect the country’s nature reserves instead.

“We are looking at more possibilities, to enhance ecological connectivity and provide more green spaces for Singaporeans,” Mr Lee remarked.

“At the same time, because of the needs of our current generation of Singaporeans, we have had to take some previously cleared land that had been set aside by earlier generations, and developed them for their intended purpose.”

He then stated that development near areas of “significant biodiversity” is proceeded with care.

“Such proposals are subjected to an environmental study with in-depth consultation amongst technical agencies,” the Minister explained, adding that the Government is also committed to engaging stakeholders – from nature communities to the public to “take in feedback and strengthen the rigour of the study”.

He said that these are some of the considerations taken into account “for balancing greenery and conservation on the one hand, and providing future homes on the other” in Ulu Pandan – which is where Dover Forest is located.

Mr Lee also noted that a decision shouldn’t be rushed into as these are both important needs, adding that the feedback they have received will be taken in to inform the planning process.

“We will consult the community, and share more detailed plans and ideas when ready,” he concluded.

Calls to conserve Dover Forest coming from all sides

Following several weeks of public outcry about the reclassification of the Clementi Forest for redevelopment, the Dover Forest came under the spotlight as well, sparking more calls for conservation.

While the Government said that it has no immediate plans to redevelop the Clement Forest, Dover Forest is actually earmarked for residential use and may be developed into new flats in the next few years.

A petition was started calling for the Government to conserve Dover Forest, and source other alternative sites – such as brownfield sites – for development instead.

Beyond that, People’s Action Party (PAP) Member of Parliament (MP) for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Christopher de Souza said in early January that he had filed a request in Parliament to speak on preserving Dover Forest in the form of an adjournment motion.

While noting his support for housing and redevelopment, Mr de Souza said that he also “cherish[es] greenery and the serenity it offers people and wildlife”.

As part of the motion, he noted that he plans to also raise and explore possible vacant alternative sites for the residential development planned for Dover Forest. Additionally, he will also talk about promoting and preserving green and natural sustainable spaces across Ulu Pandan, which is part of the constituency he serves.

Separately, TOC is also aware of another motion that is to be presented in Parliament in February by six 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.

The Workers’ Party (WP) MP for Hougang SMC Dennis Tan also took to his 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.

Mr Tan 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.

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 Facebook post on 17 January.

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