Nature groups oppose zoning of Dover Forest in Ulu Pandan for residential use

Dover Forest is home to at least 158 animal species, including critically endangered ones, and 120 plant species. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - The Nature Society Singapore (NSS) has raised concerns over the zoning of Dover Forest for residential use, citing the need to protect animal and plant species, and create more green spaces for the public.

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

On Friday (Jan 15), NSS posted on its Facebook page a 13-page proposal to the Housing Board (HDB). In the proposal, NSS argued for the Dover Forest to be designated as a "public-cum-nature park" instead.

It said that 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.

The proposal came as HDB sought feedback from Dec 20 until Saturday on its environment baseline study on the Ulu Pandan estate, which provided information on the existing diversity and distribution of flora and fauna, among other things.

In the study posted on its website last year, HDB said that the site had been largely zoned as residential in the Urban Redevelopment Authority Master Plan 2014.

The site is bounded by the Ulu Pandan Canal to the north, Ghim Moh Link to the east, Commonwealth Avenue West to the south and Clementi Road to the west.

National Development Minister Desmond Lee said last month that some of the Build-to-Order flats to be launched this year would be in the Ulu Pandan Estate in Queenstown.

Some concerns raised by NSS included the loss of biodiversity and wildlife connectivity with other green spaces nearby, such as the Clementi Forest. Other nature groups are also against the zoning, including Singapore Youth Voices for Biodiversity and LepakInSG.

The Singapore Youth Voices for Biodiversity said the Dover Forest could mitigate the urban heat island effect - which is when an urban area becomes much warmer than the rural areas surrounding it - and cool surrounding residential spaces.

A petition has also been set up by Dover resident Sydney Cheong to save the forest. As at 9pm on Saturday, the petition had more than 15,000 signatures.

The 52-year-old said he started the petition last Thursday as he was worried that the forest would soon make way for HDB flats.

"This is one of the last strongholds of nature that we have in Singapore. We should keep it," he said.

Dover resident Lai Ee Na, 54, said she and her husband go on weekly walks along the canal near the forest.

"In recent years there has been a lot of construction in the Dover and Ghim Moh areas. We should just leave wildlife as it is," said the pilates teacher who has lived in Dover for 20 years.

The NSS raised similar concerns a few years ago over the building of the HDB town of Tengah.

In 2019, Mr Lee explained in Parliament that while nature is an important buffer against climate change, Singapore had to make difficult trade-offs because of its size and to ensure future generations had a place to live.

"Our small size means that our land and resources are finite, and the tensions and trade-offs for us when it comes to land use are magnified many times compared with larger countries," he said during the debate on the Ministry of National Development's budget.

"Any decision to clear land and forest cover is not taken lightly," added Mr Lee, who was then Second Minister for National Development. "It is a decision we make after very careful deliberation and inter-agency discussion, taking into account Singaporeans' needs and the trade-offs involved."

Said ERA Realty head of research and consultancy Nicholas Mak: "There are competing needs for land as Singapore's population grows. I support the green movement. But where can we find more space to build more homes, schools, places of work and worship?"

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