Balancing stewardship of green spaces with land constraints

Some sites have been retained as green spaces, even after initially being designated for other uses, such as the Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat, which was eventually kept as a nature park, said National Development Minister Desmond Lee.
Some sites have been retained as green spaces, even after initially being designated for other uses, such as the Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat, which was eventually kept as a nature park, said National Development Minister Desmond Lee. PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD

Singapore is committed to stewarding and protecting its green spaces, but the country's physical constraints mean that some undeveloped sites will have to be tapped to meet land use needs.

National Development Minister Desmond Lee said this in Parliament yesterday as he outlined Singapore's approach to planning for land use and urban development.

Several MPs had filed questions on the future of "greenfield" sites such as Dover Forest in the Ulu Pandan area, which gained public attention following announcements that it was slated to be converted into a residential area.

"We've always taken a long-term view towards land use planning, with stewardship and sustainability as core, long-held principles," said Mr Lee.

"We have to constantly balance demands and trade-offs across a wide variety of needs, including housing, green spaces, infrastructure, community facilities, workplaces, amongst others.

"These tensions are inherent in land use planning everywhere, but felt more acutely in a small city-state like Singapore."

The Government's range of development options include intensifying land use by building higher and building more compactly, and co-locating suitable uses.

"For example, the upcoming Punggol Town Hub will feature a public library, community centre, hawker centre and health services," Mr Lee noted.

He further cited the "four-in-one" East Coast Integrated Depot, incorporating three MRT depots as well as one for buses, that is scheduled for completion in 2024.

Land reclamation will continue to be carried out where appropriate, along with studies on making use of underground spaces for infrastructure, said Mr Lee.

Major long-term strategic redevelopment moves are also undertaken when opportunities arise, he added.

For example, prime land will be freed up when height restrictions around Paya Lebar are lifted after the airbase is relocated from the 2030s, and when ports along the Greater Southern Waterfront move to Tuas.

Mr Lee also pointed to the redevelopment of "brownfield" sites that have had previous development on them, as their leases expire.

The former First Toa Payoh Secondary School, Jurong Country Club, Raffles Country Club, Marina Bay Golf Course (from 2024) and Orchid Country Club (from 2030) were some examples the minister gave, for land that would be used to build new homes and for other purposes in future.

"By 2030, we would have taken back more than 400ha of golf course land for redevelopment," he noted.

Specific to greenfield sites, the Government adopts a science-based approach to identify core biodiversity areas and surrounding buffers to be retained, taking into consideration ecological significance and connectivity, said Mr Lee.

He brought up sites retained as green spaces even after initially being designated for other uses.

These include the Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat - planned for industry use but eventually kept as a nature park - and the Dairy Farm and Rifle Range areas, which were slated for housing but today remain nature parks.

Approximately 7,800ha of land has been safeguarded as key representative ecosystems and habitats for Singapore's native biodiversity.

The Government is also looking to extend the network of green spaces by an additional 1,000ha over the next 10 to 15 years, while weaving greenery more intensively into urban areas, he said.

"In tandem, we will implement species recovery plans for 130 (native) animal and plant species by 2030, to strengthen the conservation of our endangered and rare species," he added.

Any decision to develop green spaces is made only after a detailed study of trade-offs and alternatives - and where development cannot be avoided, the authorities will proceed with care, he said.

This includes in-depth consultation with relevant agencies, environmental impact studies and stakeholder engagement.

In closing his speech, Mr Lee said the keen interest in the state of Singapore's greenery was something to be cheered.

"As we recalibrate the balance between conservation and development, we also need to discuss what this would mean, in practical terms," he added.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority will reach out to Singaporeans later this year to gather ideas and input for long-term plans for a liveable and sustainable future, he said.

Justin Ong

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2021, with the headline Balancing stewardship of green spaces with land constraints. Subscribe