SINGAPORE: Members of the nature community will be invited to take part in work to build a more comprehensive picture of Singapore’s islandwide ecosystem and connectivity, said National Development Minister Desmond Lee on Friday (Feb 26).
This would contribute to efforts to better understand how specific sites connect to nature cores, buffers and corridors, Mr Lee said in Parliament.
It comes after woodland areas in Kranji had been mistakenly cleared ahead of the conclusion of an environmental study, sparking criticism from nature groups and conservation advocates.
The area is where the Agri-Food Innovation Park will be developed and is located along a green artery known as the Rail Corridor.
The incident was the subject of scrutiny in Parliament, with at least 15 MPs filing questions on the matter.
Questions included how authorities will strengthen the environmental impact assessment (EIA) framework to ensure that such mistakes do not happen again and whether environmental studies are always completed before tenders are issued for development projects at or near sensitive nature areas.
Mr Lee said during discussions with the nature community last year, several ways were identified to further strengthen the EIA process.
"We will develop a more comprehensive picture of the islandwide ecosystem and connectivity, so that we can better consider how the specific sites connect to our nature cores, buffers and corridors," he said.
"We will do this in a science-based manner, on an islandwide scale, and we will conduct baseline studies for specific sites to understand their ecological profile and role in ecological connectivity. Members of the nature community will be invited to join us in this upstream work."
READ: Nature advocates call for mitigation measures after error in clearing parts of Kranji woodland area
The findings from these studies would add to the data and models that the National Parks Board (NParks) has built over the years and help guide the Government in carrying out longer-term planning, he added.
Mr Lee also outlined the planning process for developments, noting that project proposals are screened for their potential impact.
Those near sensitive nature areas, in marine or coastal areas, or those with potential transboundary impacts are “subject to greater scrutiny”, he explained.
He added that while developers can call tenders for works while the environmental studies are ongoing, activities on site can only proceed when the developer has received the necessary approvals from relevant agencies.
This applies to both private and public projects.
Planning permission is only granted after a project has met the requirements set by relevant regulatory agencies. These include completing detailed technical studies and putting mitigating measures in place.
READ: Kranji woodland clearance: ‘Gaps’ in project management, directions for ‘immediate’ follow-up issued, says Chan Chun Sing
Detailing the chronology of the Kranji incident, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing also said that the project had been carefully planned, but acknowledged “the execution of the land clearing could be improved”.
As for how the error occurred, Mr Chan and Mr Lee stressed that investigations are still ongoing.
“We should not speculate or prematurely apportion blame without a full understanding of the timeline of events, scope of responsibilities of the various parties involved, and the motivations of various parties or pressures faced that could have contributed to the outcome,” said Mr Chan.
STUDY FINDINGS WILL BE USED TO DESIGN MEASURES
In the meantime, work at the Kranji site has stopped and the environmental study is under way.
“Thereafter, JTC will engage relevant stakeholders on the findings, including the measures to enhance the greenery and connectivity of the site and its surrounding environs.
“The study findings will be used to design measures such as enhanced habitats, buffers and connectivity for wildlife,” said Mr Lee.
In a supplementary question, MP Xie Yao Quan (PAP-Jurong) asked whether the Agri-Food Innovation Park would be delayed as a result of this incident. When the development was announced in 2019, it was slated to be completed in 2021.
Mr Chan responded that there has already been a delay because of COVID-19.
But even with the ongoing environmental monitoring programme to be completed and stakeholders to be consulted, Mr Chan said they would “try to progress the project as originally planned”.