Experts, residents cheer HDB decision to retain half of Dover Forest

The Housing Board's decision not to develop half of Dover Forest for now and instead safeguard it as a nature park is a win not just for nature groups and nature, but also for present and future Singaporeans, said conservation experts and Dover residents.

Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum told The Straits Times yesterday: "A Singapore with vibrant nature, retained without sacrificing key development needs, is a better Singapore.

"Dover Forest is for everyone - residents of the new HDB estate (to be launched next year), residents who live in the vicinity of Dover Forest, and people all over Singapore who will be able to discover a beautiful, life-giving, restorative and accessible nature space."

HDB had earlier yesterday announced that it had revised plans for the 33ha Dover Forest, with public housing expected to be launched in the eastern half next year while the western half is to be left to preserve its biodiversity.

The forest plot has been zoned for residential use since 2003, but plans were tweaked after scientific studies and nature enthusiasts flagged its conservation value.

Among those who submitted alternative proposals for the site was Nature Society (Singapore), which in January proposed that the forest be retained as a "public-cum-nature park".

In announcing its plans, HDB said it had taken into account two studies, including one by the National Parks Board that modelled how the Dover plot connects with other forests here.

This exercise had shown that the site was an important stepping stone for wildlife moving between Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Southern Ridges.

Dr Lum, who is also a botanist at the Nanyang Technological University, said: "I think of the plan as more than a compromise. It is a holistic solution to maintain the key ecological functions of the Dover Forest site, both as a nature area in its own right and also as a key component of connectivity for nature."

He said HDB has plans to retain a freshwater stream running through the eastern sector. "The developed site will also be a place where urban nature might thrive," he said.

Members of the public such as Dover resident Sydney Cheong also weighed in on the forest's fate.

He had appealed for the forest to be left untouched, and an online petition he started has received over 50,600 signatures since January.

Said the 52-year-old of the HDB's announcement: "Although only about half of the forest will be protected as a nature park and wildlife corridor, it is still important for wildlife conservation in Singapore."

He added: "To preserve wild areas is never easy, especially in a country where land is limited."

Mr Karl Png, 24, co-founder of nature group Singapore Youth Voices for Biodiversity, said the involvement of the wider public and Dover residents in the HDB's decision-making process was a major success for his group, especially with the question about the future of both Dover Forest and the nearby Clementi Forest raised in Parliament earlier this year.

The biology undergraduate said that as a Dover resident himself, he empathised with young house-hunters hoping to buy a flat in the area to live close to their families.

"I wouldn't want to be the one to deny young families new homes in the area, and I also would not rule out myself or my siblings wanting to live in the new flats as well," he said. "Maybe it is an ironic position to be in as a nature advocate, but I still tried my best to push for the retention of the forest."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2021, with the headline 'Experts, residents cheer HDB decision to retain half of Dover Forest'. Subscribe