Environmental impact assessments in S'pore to be further strengthened: Desmond Lee

The Sungei Kadut area, with the Pang Sua River and mangroves in the foreground. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - The framework to guide how and when environmental studies should be done ahead of development works is being reviewed again, to see how they can be done in a way that is sensitive to the environment, said Minister for National Development Desmond Lee.

Three areas are being reviewed, Mr Lee said during a virtual press conference held on Monday (Feb 22) to address concerns over the clearance of a Kranji vegetated plot before a biodiversity study there was completed.

First, a more comprehensive picture of Singapore's nature areas and how they connect to one another will be developed.

The idea is to map out the islandwide ecosystem and connectivity to better consider how specific sites connect to nature areas, buffers and corridors.

"We will do this in a science-based manner on an islandwide scale and we'll conduct baseline studies for specific sites to understand their ecological profile and their role in ecological connectivity," he said.

"The findings from these studies will add to the existing data and connectivity models that my colleagues at NParks have built up over the years and help guide longer term planning."

Second, the Ministry of National Development (MND) will review whether it is better to centralise the management of environmental impact assessment consultants instead of having individual developers manage their own.

Lastly, MND will explore the use of technology in the built environment sector and see how it can be applied to project management.

"We will learn from this incident and the discussions that have resulted. I hope that everyone, including our nature community, will continue to partner and support us in our efforts as we continually work to improve," said Mr Lee.

On the Kranji clearance, he said that a thorough investigation will be done and the findings will be made public when ready.

"We will not hesitate to take the necessary action should any party be responsible," he said.

A Kranji vegetated plot was cleared before a biodiversity study there was completed. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

But in parallel, his ministry will continue efforts to strengthen the environmental impact assessment (EIA) framework, Mr Lee added.

The review of the EIA framework announced on Monday (Feb 22) follows sweeping changes made to it last October.

The changes then had included the introduction of new biodiversity impact assessment guidelines, the enhancement of transparency of such environmental studies, as well as the roll-out of strategies to improve the planning process so developers take wildlife into consideration at an earlier stage. For instance, a course on basic ecology and the EIA process for planners from development agencies will be introduced.

"In our engagements with the nature community last year before we launched the enhancements, we had identified and discussed with them several ways to further strengthen the EIA process which we have been studying," said Mr Lee.

"We had identified and discussed with them several ways to further strengthen the EIA process which we have been studying," he said.

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Asked if an EIA law was necessary, Mr Lee said that the requirements for the relevant studies - such as those that look at the flora and fauna of the area - are pegged to legislative gateways.

For instance, under the Planning Act, statutory permissions and conditions can be imposed for the conduct of these studies and investigations into biodiversity, said Mr Lee.

The Wildlife Act, which came into force last June, also gives the National Parks Board (NParks) greater regulatory and enforcement powers to look into and to impose the relevant studies and measures.

But other than through legal means, Mr Lee said there are other measures in place to improve the sensitivity of development to the environment in Singapore, citing the changes made to the EIA framework and the areas under review.

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