Large swathes of Kranji woodland along the Rail Corridor were mistakenly cleared while the authorities were in the midst of biodiversity impact assessments there.
Aerial photos of the site showing the destruction of the 70ha woodland emerged on social media on Sunday. One showed a narrow strip of trees near the Rail Corridor, with much of the rest cleared.
In response to these posts, a JTC Corporation spokesman said yesterday that the land was "erroneously" cleared by its contractor before the completion of environmental assessments.
The National Parks Board (NParks) told The Straits Times that it is investigating the unauthorised clearance at the site. "We take a serious view of unauthorised greenery clearance and will not hesitate to take the appropriate enforcement action."
Development projects in Singapore near sensitive nature areas are subject to greater scrutiny and may require more detailed environmental studies to be carried out.
Beginning at the end of December, green patches were cleared on the site, slated for the Agri-Food Innovation Park, which is part of Sungei Kadut Eco-District (Sked). The Sked masterplan, which seeks to support new growth sectors such as agri-tech and environmental technology, was announced in February last year.
On discovering the mistake during a site inspection on Jan 13, JTC instructed the contractor, Huationg, to stop all clearing work immediately. No further clearing has taken place at the site since then and the contractor has been issued a stern warning, JTC said.
According to the statutory board, it had engaged an environmental specialist to conduct a biodiversity baseline study in December to create an environmental monitoring and management plan (EMMP) for specified plots of land within the area. These were expected to be completed around April.
"JTC will continue with the baseline study and EMMP and will work closely with all relevant stakeholders... to ensure the Sked redevelopment plans are carried out with due consultation and in an environmentally responsible and sensitive manner," the spokesman said. "The findings of the studies will be publicly available when ready."
In a statement, Huationg apologised and said it was working with JTC on investigations "to determine the cause of this lapse, and to prevent future occurrences". "We are reviewing internally and working with JTC," the contractor said.
Members of the nature community were shocked by what had happened. Creative art director Brice Li, who posted the photos, said: "This was a... human error that could have been avoided."
On Monday, the Nature Society Singapore (NSS) commented in a Facebook post that this was a "shocking and dreadful development". "It's a huge oversight," NSS conservation committee chair Leong Kwok Peng said.
Environmental consultant Tony O'Dempsey said this will likely affect the ecological significance of the Rail Corridor but the impact can be fully understood only with an environment impact assessment.