Forest City environmental impact report: A closer look at what M'sia approved

SINGAPORE - With the go-ahead from Malaysia's Department of Environment (DoE), the controversial Forest City will spring up in phases in the Johor Strait over the next 30 years.

Master developer Country Garden Pacificview (CGPV) hopes the 1,386ha luxury home development, comprising four man-made islands linked by bridges, will draw investors from "land-starved Singapore", it said in its detailed environmental impact assessment (DEIA) report submitted to the DoE.

CGPV is a joint venture between Country Garden Holdings and Esplanade Danga 88 Sdn Bhd.

Country Garden Holdings is the third-largest developer in China by floor area sold, according to Bloomberg. Successful projects include the Ten Miles Coast, a five-star coastal resort along the east coast of Shenzhen.

Backed by the third largest metropolitan area in the world - the Hong Kong-Shenzhen metropolis - Ten Miles Coast was a hit when it launched in 2011, selling out nearly 4,000 units in one day, said Country Garden.

Esplanade Danga 88 Sdn Bhd is partly owned by an associate company of Johor state's investment arm Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor. The remaining stake in Esplanade Danga, according to media reports, is Johor's Sultan Ibrahim Ismail and royal court member Daing A. Malek Daing A. Rahaman.

Whether Forest City, with gross development value of RM600 billion ($223 billion), can replicate this success in the Johor Strait remains to be seen.

Work on the project's initial phase was halted amid public outcry over possible environmental damage and after Singapore conveyed its concerns on a number of occasions to Malaysia over the reclamation.

The works in the Johor Strait were stopped in June last year, and is now set to resume following the DoE's nod to a slightly reduced scale of the project.

The 1,386 ha total area of the four islands is nearly four times the size of Sentosa, or, more than twice the size of Ang Mo Kio estate.

The company had earlier proposed to reclaim one giant island amounting to about 2,000 ha, then scaled that down to four islands spanning 1,623ha.

Enclosed within the four proposed islands would be a seagrass bed known as Merambong Shoal. CGPV said the seagrass bed is rich in biodiversity and home to endangered species such as seahorses and dugong.

A temporary access road from the mainland to the first partially reclaimed island has "split the (seagrass) ecosystem into two", the DEIA report revealed.

Merambong Shoal is considered one of the most important seagrass beds in Peninsular Malaysia, said the DEIA report, adding that it "will be heavily impacted by the proposed development".

Though the plan is for this access road to be removed, damage to the seagrass bed will be hard to control given the area's close proximity to the project, said the report.

The developer has proposed the Merambong Shoal to be a protected area, in the report approved by the DoE.

Forest City is expected to create 62,200 new jobs post-reclamation, when an estimated 300,000 people settle into the newly-created islands, the developer said.

Prior to that, about 5,000 workers are expected to be employed during the peak of the reclamation works.

Some RM700 million ($259.6 million) is also expected to be pumped into infrastructure upgrades that will benefit the nearby populations in Gelang Patah, Tanjung Pelepas and Nusajaya.

marilee@sph.com.sg