All feedback on future of Dover Forest will be studied closely: Desmond Lee

National Development Minister Desmond Lee and members of the nature community visited the forest site in Ulu Pandan on Jan 28, 2020.
National Development Minister Desmond Lee and members of the nature community visited the forest site in Ulu Pandan on Jan 28, 2020.PHOTO: DESMOND LEE/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - The authorities will closely study all feedback in devising plans for the use of a forest site in Ulu Pandan, following concerns from the public over its zoning for residential use.

National Development Minister Desmond Lee on Thursday (Jan 28) invited more Singaporeans to send in their views and ideas, adding that all feedback received would be studied in detail as the authorities consider possible plans for the site.

Mr Lee's Facebook post follows concerns from the public about the fate of the site - commonly known as Dover Forest - after he said in December that some of the build-to-order flats to be launched in 2021 would be in the Ulu Pandan estate in Queenstown.

This would likely mean the forest would be replaced with housing, as per its zoning in the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Master Plan 2014.

The Housing Board sought feedback from Dec 20 to Jan 16 on its environment baseline study on the Ulu Pandan estate, which provided information on the existing diversity and distribution of flora and fauna in the area, among other things.

The 33ha estate is home to at least 158 animal species, including critically endangered ones, and 120 plant species.

In response, Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS), in a 13-page proposal to the HDB on Jan 15, called for the site to be designated a "public-cum-nature park".

In its proposal, NSS said some parts of the space could be set aside for a recreational park and a community garden, while areas rich in wildlife should remain untouched.

Members of the public were quick to voice their concerns over the development of the forest following the publication of the NSS proposal.

A petition to save the forest on Change.org was started by Dover resident Sydney Cheong, and received more than 37,000 signatures by Thursday.

Politicians from both sides of the aisle have also weighed in on the issue.

Next Monday (Feb 1),Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher de Souza, who oversees the Ulu Pandan ward, will speak in an adjournment motion on preserving the forest. He plans to raise and explore possible vacant alternative sites for housing.

Hougang MP Dennis Tan of The Workers' Party on Jan 4 had asked if the Ministry of National Development would consider reviewing the status of Clementi Forest and other forests earmarked for development, while fellow party member Nicole Seah on Jan 17 urged Singaporeans to "make your voice heard on this issue".

"We will feel the devastating effects of deforestation in equal measure, both within the foreseeable future as well as generations to come," she said in a Facebook post.

Progress Singapore Party secretary-general Tan Cheng Bock on Jan 25 called the forest "a green lung that breathes soul to surrounding neighbourhoods" and also encouraged the public to support Mr Cheong's campaign.

Mr Lee, who on Wednesday evening visited the site with members of the nature community, said the Government had to strike a balance between providing for the housing needs of Singaporeans, and securing green and blue spaces for them.

He pointed to earlier leaders who had made decisions to clear land to build modern Singapore, highlighting that the development did not use all the land, but kept some for future generations.

"Today, it is our turn to carry this responsibility of stewardship," Mr Lee said in a Facebook post.

He also cited the successful preservation of green sites that had initially been designated for other uses like Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat - previously planned for factories but will instead be a nature park.

When areas with significant biodiversity have to be developed, Mr Lee said the authorities proceed with care.

"As far as possible, we seek to preserve and integrate natural elements within developments, to facilitate ecological connectivity," he said.

"We will consult the community, and share more detailed plans and ideas when ready."

Responding to Mr Lee's post on Thursday, NSS said it is encouraged that the Government will not rush the development of Ulu Pandan estate.

The society added that it looks forward to working with the authorities to identify what is worth retaining in the site, as well as opportunities for ecological connectivity.