HDB to retain at least 2ha of Pang Sua Woodland, which will be developed for housing

HDB changed its plans after receiving feedback from stakeholders such as nature and heritage groups. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Plans for a new housing estate to be built in Choa Chu Kang have been changed to accommodate at least 2ha of existing greenery, following an environmental study and public feedback.

Green spaces were not planned in the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) 2019 masterplan for the site of 21.7ha, which comprises the woodland of about 15ha, Pang Sua Canal which occupies about 5ha, and a heavy vehicle park.

In a written report published last Wednesday (July 6), HDB said the greenery to be kept is along the existing Pang Sua Canal.

Healthy, mature tree clusters will also be retained, said HDB.

It added that the original alignment of the Rail Corridor, which runs through the area in the western part of Singapore, will be kept as much as possible.

Following the return of land occupied by the Keretapi Tanah Melayu railway line in 2011, the Pang Sua Woodland plot was identified as a land parcel along the Rail Corridor that was suitable for development.

Between 2020 and 2022, HDB, with the support of URA and the National Parks Board, engaged stakeholders such as nature and heritage groups on its plans for the site.

HDB also commissioned an environmental study of the site in 2021. 

The study report was published for feedback from April 5 to May 3. It said that the woodland could facilitate fauna dispersal among various green spaces - forested areas in nearby Mandai and Bukit Gombak, as well as Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat further away.

HDB said last Wednesday that it received 151 responses, and that all feedback and suggestions submitted were reviewed.

Many supported conserving at least some of the woodland, said HDB, which added that respondents had highlighted that the site is an ecological connection between surrounding areas.

The board said that those who wanted a new housing development in the area hoped for a balance to be struck between development needs, greenery and heritage considerations.

Addressing suggestions that alternative land parcels be developed, HDB said some are already planned for future development, including housing, while others have existing uses and are not available for development in the near-term.

The alternative sites suggested included Chua Chu Kang Secondary School, which will vacate its premises and merge with Teck Whye Secondary School next year.

HDB said the school site cannot be redeveloped for housing in the near- to medium-term due to concerns about traffic congestion.

Warren Golf and Country Club, located west of Choa Chu Kang, also cannot be redeveloped, the board said, as its lease expires only in 2030.

Long-term plans for the club, including its potential for housing, are being reviewed, said HDB.

Nature groups remain opposed to the site's development.

Last year, two groups - Nature Society (Singapore) and Cicada Tree Eco-Place - jointly published a book on the woodland, in which they proposed for it be retained as a public park, and the stretch of Pang Sua Canal next to the woodland to be naturalised.

Naturalising a canal typically involves adding green features to make it look more natural, such as by turning the canal bed into a marshland which can be a habitat for animals.

HDB said it cannot naturalise the canal as that would require additional land and result in tree clearance.

But it will study how to green the canal walls and plant next to the canal without affecting its drainage abilities.

Nature Society (Singapore) conservation committee chair Leong Kwok Peng said he is disappointed with the decision to proceed with development.

"By reducing the woodland's size, its ability as an ecological connection along the Rail Corridor will be diminished," said Mr Leong, who suggested that developments be kept on the eastern half of the site, to retain as much greenery as possible.

"Future buildings looming over both sides of the corridor, as well as the likely addition of roads and covered walkways cutting across the development, will spoil the corridor's look and feel," he said.

Cicada Tree Eco-Place said that proceeding with development means deforestation and destruction of an ecosystem.

"Building flats so close to a wildlife corridor will just lead to more human-animal conflicts, in which animals always lose," said the non-profit group. "We should leave Pang Sua Woodland alone. It is too small an area to accommodate both flats and wildlife."

Heritage blogger and author Jerome Lim said he appreciates HDB's effort to engage the public and stakeholders in its development of plans for the site.

He expressed concerned over whether the Rail Corridor stretch along the woodland would be kept free from obstruction and as a continuous corridor with a rustic charm, post-development.

Responding to plans to "activate the corridor" by locating amenities such as playgrounds alongside it and to enhance the corridor through landscape design, Mr Lim said: "We have to recall that the rail corridor was wild and quite unmanicured.

"This was what allowed it to have a rustic charm and this sometimes calls for doing less rather than more."

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