S'pore must balance stewardship of green spaces with land constraints: Desmond Lee

Several MPs had filed questions on the future of "greenfield" sites such as Dover Forest in the Ulu Pandan area (above). PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore is committed to stewarding and protecting its green spaces, but the Republic'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 on Monday (Feb 1) 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 would likely 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… some stacked on top of each other for one-stop, convenient access for our residents. Such projects save us hectares of land that can be used for other purposes," 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 by 2027.

Mr Lee also pointed to the redevelopment of "brownfield" sites that have had previous development on them, such as golf courses, former schools and industrial areas when their leases expire.

The former First Toa Payoh Secondary School, the Keppel Club Golf Course, 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," Mr Lee noted.

Science-based, consultative approach

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 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.

"We've done this in many other areas too - Sungei Buloh, Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa, Kranji Marshes, Chestnut (Nature Park in Thomson), Khatib Bongsu, Bukit Batok Hillside Park, Admiralty, Hampstead Wetlands Park, Tampines Eco Green, Tampines Quarry, Rail Corridor - to name a few," said Mr Lee.

Approximately 7,800ha of land has been safeguarded as nature reserves, nature areas, nature parks, park connectors and more, comprising key representative ecosystems and habitats for Singapore's native biodiversity.

The Khatib Bongsu Park Connector in Yishun. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

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

"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.

"These efforts will restore existing ecological habitats for our wildlife, and provide Singaporeans with greater access and a more immersive experience in nature."

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

This includes in-depth consultation with relevant agencies, environmental impact studies and stakeholder engagement. Studies will be made available to the public - short of security considerations - so society can provide feedback, said Mr Lee.

He also told the House that contingencies are worked into the planning process, in response to a follow-up question from MP Cheryl Chan (East Coast GRC) on the impact of evolving circumstances and factors for longer-term projects.

"We are not developers; we are stewards. We provide the needs for Singaporeans, even those not yet born," said Mr Lee. "If there are some changes in plans, you will then have to activate some contingencies."

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

"Mainstreaming of nature consciousness, or having conversations about conservation among Singaporeans, is a key part of our strategy," he said, noting that concerns about sustainability were now top of the Government's agenda.

"As we recalibrate the balance between conservation and development, we also need to discuss what this would mean, in practical terms," he added. "Singaporeans' aspirations and views are evolving: on housing property, on material pursuits, on family and society, on nature, and on the nature and form of work."

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

"The Government resolves to continue to regularly review our plans in partnership with the community," he concluded.

"Our goal is to steward a home and city-in-nature that all Singaporeans, in this generation and future ones, love and cherish."

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