SINGAPORE: Residents will have another month to share their thoughts on the future of Dover Forest as the public consultation period, which ended last month, will be extended for four weeks, said National Development Minister Desmond Lee on Monday (Feb 1).
Dover Forest is part of the Ulu Pandan estate that has been zoned for residential development. The Housing and Development Board (HDB) plans to offer 17,000 Build-to-Order (BTO) flats this year in several estates, including Ulu Pandan.
The area was also the subject of an environmental baseline study conducted by HDB, which found that Dover Forest is home to at least 158 species of animals - including critically endangered ones - and 120 plant species.
Responding to questions raised by Members of Parliament from both sides of the House, Mr Lee said the land - now overgrown with non-native trees since rubber plantations and fruit orchards in the area were abandoned - had been zoned “Residential (Subject to Detailed Planning)" since the 2003 master plan.
"HDB engaged an external consultant to conduct an environmental baseline study (EBS) for Ulu Pandan, to guide HDB’s development plans and identify the native flora and fauna and their habitats," he said.
"HDB then consulted nature groups to refine their plans for Ulu Pandan, incorporating the findings from the EBS," he added, noting that the report was then published online for public feedback.
The Housing Board continues to receive feedback and suggestions from residents living in the area as well as members of the public, Mr Lee said.
The "wide range of views" include those suggesting that the site be retained fully for greenery and recreation and designated as a nature park, while others suggested that other sites in the area - such as older housing blocks or existing school fields and running tracks - be redeveloped instead.
"Several have suggested that new housing and nature should co-exist on the site. For example, develop parts that are less vegetated or with more non-native species," said Mr Lee.
"Many who have written in appreciate the tension between the need for development and nature conservation," he said.
"We are studying the feedback in detail and welcome more Singaporeans to give their views and inputs ... as we consider our plans for the Ulu Pandan site," he said.
"We will carefully consider all the feedback received, and share our plans when ready."
Mr Lee noted that Singapore had adopted a number of different development options, such as building higher and more densely as well as co-locating multiple facilities.
Brownfield sites such as golf courses, old school sites and industrial areas are also being redeveloped as their leases expire, he said, noting that by 2030, about 400ha of golf course land would be claimed for redevelopment.
Meanwhile, some ecologically important sites have been retained as green spaces despite being initially being earmarked for other purposes.
These include the Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat, which was initially designated for industrial use but was a later retained as a nature park after biodiversity surveys and ecological modelling were conducted.
The authorities are committed to "stewarding and protecting our green spaces", said Mr Lee, pointing out that 7,800ha of Singapore's land has been safeguarded as nature reserves, nature areas and nature parks, as well as green spaces such as parks and park connectors.
However, some greenfield sites would have to be developed, given Singapore's physical constraints and scarce land area, he said.
Any decision to proceed is made only after a detailed study of the trade-offs and alternatives, said Mr Lee, adding that the authorities would "proceed with care" where development is unavoidable.
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Mr Lee said the Government is encouraged by the keen interest in plans for Singapore and nature conservation, noting that "mainstreaming of nature consciousness" among people was a key part of the country's strategy to become a "City in Nature".
He added that the Urban Redevelopment Authority would engage people later this year to gather ideas as part of efforts to formulate long-term plans for a liveable and sustainable future.
"We invite everyone to join these conversations," he said, adding the Government will continue to regularly review its plans as "consensus on the balance between environmental conservation and development evolves".
LOOP OF NATURE AROUND ULU PANDAN
In an adjournment motion, MP Christopher de Souza (PAP-Holland-Bukit Timah) described Dover Forest as a “shared and extended green landscape that the residents have for a long time admired and grown used to”.
Mr de Souza, who serves the Ulu Pandan ward where the forest is found, pointed to a now vacant plot of land next to Ulu Pandan Community Club on Ghim Moh Road as an alternative site.
He said the land, which previously housed now demolished HDB blocks, could be used for both Build-To-Order (BTO) as well as replacement flats for residents of older blocks, whose homes may go through the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS).
Mr de Souza also suggested two other under-utilised plots of land - an unused field at the Ministry of Education Language Centre premises, which was the old and now defunct Ghim Moh Primary School, as well as the former Raffles Junior College campus on Mount Sinai Road.
Retaining Dover Forest would preserve a “loop of nature” around the constituency, he said, pointing to nearby green areas such as the Ulu Pandan park connector and Clementi Forest.
His suggestions tie in with his “longer-term aspiration to both develop and rejuvenate Ulu Pandan while preserving greenery”, he said.
The ecosystem of the Dover Forest has been adopted to become part of the wider shared landscape for Ulu Pandan residents, noted Mr de Souza.
“What I am trying to get across today to the planners is the need to think long and hard before making irreversible decisions,” he said.