HDB tweaks plans for Woodlands North, Miltonia Close after environmental studies, feedback

HDB's updated plans include preserving a 6.4ha area in Miltonia Close in Yishun. ST PHOTO: THADDEUS ANG

SINGAPORE - The Housing Board has adjusted its plans for two upcoming developments and is studying if it can modify plans for a third, following environmental studies and consultations with nature groups.

In a statement to The Straits Times last month, HDB said that where possible, it has incorporated the recommendations proposed by environmental studies in its review of development plans for Woodlands North and Miltonia Close in Yishun.

These studies, conducted by third parties, were commissioned by the board.

The board received 96 responses during a call for public feedback on the various studies, including two conducted on areas in Tengah.

It has also taken into consideration the wider ecological connectivity of the areas in line with the National Parks Board's (NParks) ongoing ecological profiling exercise, which seeks to map paths that wildlife take between Singapore's green patches.

Improving connectivity between these plots increases access to food for wildlife and helps them find mates, reducing the odds of inbreeding.

HDB's updated plans include retaining an entire 4.39ha core conservation area identified in a study on Woodlands North, and also preserving a 6.4ha area in Miltonia Close, which forms the majority of a core biodiversity area established through a study.

Separately, HDB said that along with NParks and other agencies, it is studying the possibility of conserving all "recommended areas of conservation" identified by studies on Tengah North and South.

This may include areas in addition to about 140ha of green spaces that have already been set aside for the upcoming 700ha town in the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) master plan.

HDB's updates follow the revision of plans for Dover Forest announced last July, when it said that half of the forest will be developed for housing and the other half set aside to preserve its biodiversity, after scientific studies and nature enthusiasts flagged its conservation value.

For Woodlands North, HDB will carve out part of a site presently zoned for residential use to be a green space instead.

This allows it to retain an entire core conservation area of 4.39ha in its future developments, based on recommendations by environmental studies. About three-quarters of the conservation area is currently part of Admiralty Park, which will be extended to keep the entire conservation area intact.

About three quarters of the conservation area in Woodlands North is currently part of Admiralty Park. PHOTO: ST FILE

To make up for the shortfall in housing land caused by the park's extension, a 1.39ha plot of managed vegetation that now lies in the park, towards the north of the future housing area, will be converted for residential use.

Dr Shawn Lum, a botanist at Nanyang Technological University, said the Woodlands North site is not far from but not directly connected to other nature areas.

"Yet, it has somehow managed to retain and harbour a rich variety of plant species, including some that are incredibly rare, even in Singapore's nature reserves," said Dr Lum, who is also the Nature Society (Singapore) president.

The conservation area also contains a section of original freshwater swamp forest, the rarest of all habitats in Singapore and Southern Johor, Dr Lum added.

"It is a small pocket and a bit degraded, but it has some incredibly rare plants in it such as the Neesia malayana, which was until recently thought to have become locally extinct," he said, adding that he was concerned that the environmental study report published by HDB did not account for the ecological value of the site in comparison with the wider landscape.

He suggested that the conservation area's ecological value be enhanced by retaining or creating pockets of forest vegetation in the residential area adjacent to it, and this will also help to cool the built-up area.

HDB said that for sites earmarked for development, natural elements will be preserved and integrated within developments where possible, to strengthen ecological connectivity.

The 6.4ha plot in Miltonia Close that HDB plans to retain as a nature park is 2½ times the size of the original park space budgeted for in the URA master plan.

It will include a natural stream and riparian habitats that exist alongside it, which support species such as the critically endangered red-tailed pipe snake and the endangered buffy fish owl.

Keeping the plot means the authorities have moved other planned developments out of the Miltonia Close site, which is earmarked for public and private housing. An education institution that was to be in the area will now be housed elsewhere in Yishun.

HDB said the park will provide nature-based recreation opportunities for residents and safeguard ecological connectivity along Lower Seletar Reservoir - located to the park's east - between the Central Catchment area and Khatib Bongsu.

It plans to move wildlife located outside the planned nature park into it where possible. These include young saplings of plant species that have conservation significance and bats from a roosting site that will not be retained.

HDB said its plans for Miltonia Close are subject to further study.

Dr Lum said the retained site can play a critical role in habitat connectivity in the area and has strong potential for habitat restoration and enhancement.

"The plans manage to strike a good balance between meeting housing and infrastructure needs while maintaining, as best as possible, the ecological integrity of the area," he said.

Meanwhile, for developments in Tengah North, HDB and other agencies are assessing the feasibility of retaining a 100m-wide green corridor along Bukit Batok Road. This will help enhance the town's ecological connectivity to the Central Catchment area through Bukit Batok Nature Corridor to its east.

Commenting on the process that led to HDB adjusting its plans, Dr Lum said: "The process of planning, consulting, gathering public as well as targeted feedback, and refining plans based on this feedback leads to better outcomes on all fronts, not just for nature biodiversity."

He added: "The earlier in the planning process takes place, the better the results."

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