Oral Answer by Ministry of National Development on Development Plans for Green Spaces
Feb 1, 2021
Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin: To ask the Minister for National Development (a) what are the considerations as to whether or not a green space can be protected as a nature reserve; and (b) whether this has been considered for the Dover Forest.
Dr Tan Wu Meng: To ask the Minister for National Development regarding Clementi Forest and similar green spaces (a) what are the criteria by which land parcels are scheduled for development; (b) how are implications for wildlife, biodiversity and green corridor connectivity assessed when a green space is developed rather than redeveloping an existing urban space; and (c) whether and how any potential irreversibility of environmental impact is considered during the above processes.
Mr Dennis Tan Lip Fong: To ask the Minister for National Development (a) whether the Ministry will consider extending the public consultation period for the Environment Baseline Study for the Dover Forest; (b) whether the results and outcome of the consultation can be made public; and (c) whether an environment impact assessment will be conducted if active development of the Dover Forest zone is considered.
Mr Chua Kheng Wee Louis: To ask the Minister for National Development (a) what is the current number of hectares of existing green spaces that are projected to be developed over the next 10 to 15 years; (b) what percentage of these are forested areas; and (c) of the projected increase of 1,000 hectares of green spaces over the same time period, how much of the increase is reserved for wildlife compared to areas accessible to the general public.
Miss Cheryl Chan Wei Ling: To ask the Minister for National Development (a) what are the new trends factored in the current review of the Concept Plan; (b) whether there is a minimum percentage requirement of Singapore's land space to be allocated for natural green space such as forests; and (c) whether COVID-19 has affected the considerations of future land use in terms of natural and built environment.
Ms He Ting Ru: To ask the Minister for National Development (a) what processes are in place to ensure that that public bodies respect the principles laid out in the 2015 Nature Conservation Masterplan when making any development decisions that affect our green spaces or biodiversity; (b) in relation to the Dover Forest, what was the nature and frequency of consultation that the Ministry conducted with MND, HDB and URA about the development of the forest; and (c) what steps are being proposed to address the loss of biodiversity and habitat of endangered and rare species caused by the envisaged deforestation of Dover Forest.
Members have asked about development plans for green spaces in Singapore, including specific sites at Clementi and Ulu Pandan. I will first address our overall approach to land use planning and nature conservation, and then talk about specific sites and locations.
Let me start with our approach to land use. We are a city, 728 sq km of land area in all. But we are also a city-state. Our land use considerations are therefore quite different from most other cities. This is because, unlike most other cities which have large hinterlands, we have to cater for everything that a country needs within the limits of our city, instead of far beyond its limits in the case of other cities, these include things such as: airports and seaports, airbases and military training ground, reservoirs, incineration and power plants, agriculture, and so much more.
Our approach to conservation as a city-state is also quite different. For example, in other cities, you travel out, sometimes for many hours on the motorway, to enjoy natural greenery and nature. But in Singapore, our wild spaces are right in our midst. With our gem, the Central Catchment and Bukit Timah Nature Reserves, nestled in the green heart of our city.
Our approach : Stewardship and Sustainability
We have always taken a long-term view towards land use planning, with stewardship and sustainability as core, long-held principles. Given our small size, we have been, and have to be, judicious in stewarding our scarce land resources to support Singapore’s development, as well as in our aspiration to be a City in Nature.
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.
Sustainable development for Singapore over the long term also means that we need to recycle and reuse our limited land, while incorporating flexibility into our plans, to meet the changing needs and aspirations of each new generation. We must continue to plan ahead to support our collective vision for Singapore, not just for ourselves, but for our children and theirs.
Our Land-Use needs
Our land use needs today are quite different from those of yesteryear, and will continue to evolve. Let me use Public Housing as an example. Today, we continue to see a high demand for new HDB flats. In 2020, the overall application rate for BTO flats was 5.8 times. This means that for each BTO flat, we broadly get between 5 and 6 Singaporean applicants. This is driven partly by marriage and family formation. Between 2015 and 2019, the annual average number of Singapore citizen marriages registered was 23,600, higher than the annual average of 22,400 registered between 2010 and 2014.
In the near term, we expect more demand from the larger “Echo” Baby Boomers cohorts (born in late 1980s to 1990s) as they enter into marriageable age. For comparison, we built an average of 16,200 new HDB flats each year over the same period, to cater to BTO demand by all buyer groups, and not just newly-weds. For completeness, other housing options, of course, including HDB resale flats, ECs, private property, open market rental flats or living with parents and family members remain. So therefore, we need to continue building, to meet the demands and aspirations of young families. And I’m sure Members, from time to time, at your Meet-the-People sessions, or more likely via email, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, they will reach out to you.
On top of that, our public housing demand is also partly driven by changing social structures. For example, there is a growing trend of smaller households as more young couples, singles and their parents choose to have their own flats and their own homes, instead of staying with their extended families, as it was so in the past. Indeed, Members of this House have championed some of these needs and more. The average household size in HDB dwellings was 3.07 in 2019, compared to 4.24 in 1990.
Or take a more recent development like COVID-19, which continues to impact our lives in many significant ways, and has thrown up new land use challenges.
Apart from the fact that working from home became the norm for many of us, the pandemic also reminded us that supply disruptions are a very real concern. For example, given the supply tightness that the world experienced for certain food and medical items, our agencies are looking to strengthen local resilience of some of our resource systems, such as for food. This may mean increasing local production and storage capacity for such resources, where feasible.
The pandemic has also demonstrated the importance of having buffer sites for emergency use, which we were able to activate quickly for quarantine and recovery facilities, and temporary housing of our migrant workers.
Meanwhile, trends such as tele-commuting and e-commerce have accelerated, raising questions about how much office and retail space we might really need in the long term. Our economic imperatives may also shift and evolve after the pandemic, as technology changes and advances, so we will need to take a good, hard look at land use needs for the future.
While it remains to be seen if some of these shifts will persist in the “new normal” beyond COVID-19, we are actively monitoring these trends and adjusting our land use strategies to satisfy both the needs of today, and the possibilities and challenges of tomorrow.
Strategies to maximise land
To meet our growing and changing needs, we have been, and will continue to adopt a range of development options. This includes increasing the density of developments – building higher, and building more densely, while ensuring liveability, so there is a limit.
We are also co-locating suitable uses. For example, the upcoming Punggol Town Hub will feature a public library, community centre, hawker centre, and health services. All co-located – some stacked on top of each other – for one-stop, convenient access for our residents. This of course beats having one site for the CC, one site for the hawker centre, one site for healthcare services, one site for the library, and so on and so forth. We maximise the land take. We are also co-locating a Water Reclamation Plant and an Integrated Waste Management Facility at Tuas Nexus, and a 4-in-1 rail and bus depot in the East Coast. Such projects save us hectares of land that can be used for other purposes.
We are also redeveloping brownfield sites such as golf courses, old school sites, or industrial areas, as leases expire. For example, last year, we launched the former First Toa Payoh Secondary School site for public housing, after the school was merged. Many Members might also remember that Bishan used to be a cemetery.
Going forward, when the lease for the Keppel Club Golf Course expires, we will use the land to develop public and private housing. Land taken back from Jurong Country Club, Raffles Country Club, Marina Bay Golf Course from 2024 and Orchid Country Club from 2030, will also be used to meet other needs. By 2030, we would have taken back more than 400 ha of golf course land for redevelopment.
We will continue to carry out land reclamation where appropriate, and see how we can also make use of underground spaces and deep cavern spaces for infrastructure, though the costs are high. If you look at the geological map of Singapore, parts of it are granite – solid hard rock, and parts of it are sedimentary rock. In fact, a number of years ago I visited the Jurong Rock Cavern on Jurong Island, making use of cavernous underground space through advances in engineering to store high value products, saving the surface for other uses. But this is work in progress.
We also undertake major long-term strategic redevelopment moves whenever the opportunity arises. An opportunity to reimagine Singapore, to advance our children’s interests and that of their grandchildren. For example, the height restrictions over a large part of eastern and north-eastern Singapore will be lifted after the air base moves out of Paya Lebar, allowing us to intensify land use both in and around the site. We will also progressively redevelop the Greater Southern Waterfront after the port moves to Tuas, freeing up prime waterfront land for public and private housing, and other purposes.
But many of these moves take time and require complex planning and careful coordination, because they affect people, homes, livelihoods, and industries. So we cannot redevelop these spaces overnight, but plan far ahead, like now, for the needs of the next generation. There are also different trade-offs to weigh, including the compatibility of a new development with surrounding land uses, and the availability and capacity of supporting infrastructure, among other considerations.
Approach to Greenfield sites
Now let me now move on and explain our approach when it comes to greenfield sites – vegetated sites, green and natural areas. Because of our commitment to land stewardship and sustainable development, we adopt a science-based approach to identify core biodiversity areas and surrounding buffers that we want to retain for future generations.
Broadly, the considerations include ecological significance and ecological connectivity of habitats. The four-pronged Nature Conservation Masterplan sets out the strategies to safeguard these green spaces. In fact, the Masterplan goes much more than that. In terms of City in Nature it is also the mindset of people. Their ability to be conscious of nature, to be scientific about it, and also to be able to understand all the stresses and tensions we deal with as we seek to protect biodiversity on our city-island.
As a result of this approach, we have retained a number of ecologically important sites as green spaces, although they had initially been designated for other uses, human uses. For instance, the Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat had initially been planned for factory use, for industry. Yet, after careful study through biodiversity surveys and ecological modelling, we decided to keep it as a Nature Park given its high ecological value – both domestically as well as playing our role internationally, as part of a Flyway.
Similarly, while other green spaces such as Dairy Farm Nature Park and Rifle Range Nature Park could have been developed for housing, they have been retained as green buffers to our Nature Reserves instead. We’ve done this in many other areas too over time: Sungei Buloh, Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa, Kranji Marshes, Chestnut, Thomson, Khatib Bongsu, Bukit Batok Hillside Nature Park, Admiralty Park, Hampstead Wetland Park, Tampines Eco Green, Tampines Quarry, Rail Corridor, to name a few. And we are looking out for more areas to help enhance ecological connectivity, and we have to look at those areas with biodiversity and significant biological importance, and prioritise those.
Today, we have safeguarded approximately 7,800 hectares of our land for Nature Reserves, Nature Areas, Nature Parks and other green spaces, such as parks and park connectors. These comprise key representative ecosystems and habitats for Singapore’s native biodiversity.
Now, we need also to remember that not all of these areas were untouched habitats. For example, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and the upcoming Khatib Bongsu Nature Park were once prawn farming areas. These areas were abandoned, the land was acquired by the Government in days gone by for future redevelopment, they were marked out by earlier batches of leaders and public officers for our generation’s use and the next generation, but over time they have become green spaces inhabited by indigenous flora and fauna.
We will not only protect and enhance existing green spaces but will also extend our network with an additional 1,000 hectares of green spaces over the next 10 to 15 years, and weave greenery more intensively into our urban areas. And I seek all Members’ support when we intensify in your areas.
In tandem, we will implement species recovery plans for 130 animal and plant species by 2030 – native flora and fauna, to strengthen the conservation of our endangered and rare species. These efforts will restore existing ecological habitats for our wildlife, and provide Singaporeans with greater access and a more immersive experience in nature.
It’s not just the green space that we protect, but we intensify it, for example, through the Forest Restoration Action Plan. To scientists, they know the difference, when they go into a green space, they look at the mix of native and alien invasive species, they look at what might be strangling the forest and ecology, what may be disrupting the habitat, even though it looks all green from afar, and its painstaking. For example, in the Bukit Timah area and Rifle Range area, painstaking removal of Dioscorea, by hand and by basic tools. The replanting of native species, the soil preparation, the intensive work, and then allowing the forest to recover after the removal of invasive species, for it to settle again, and for forest succession to take place over time. And that requires stewardship beyond our generation.
Let me assure Members that we are committed to stewarding and protecting our green spaces. But given our physical constraints and scarce land area, there will be some greenfield sites that we might have to develop to meet our land use needs. Any decision to proceed is made only after detailed study of the trade-offs and alternatives, including the assessment of ecological and biodiversity value. And where development cannot be entirely avoided, we proceed with care.
Developments near to sites with significant biodiversity undergo an in-depth consultation with Technical Agencies and may be subject to an environmental study to assess the possible environmental impact of development plans, including ecological connectivity. We also engage stakeholders, such as those from the nature community, to take in feedback and strengthen the rigour of the studies. Unless there are security considerations, the studies will be made publicly available, so that anyone can provide feedback on the findings and recommendations.
The studies, as well as feedback received, guide the planning of the site, including mitigating measures to reduce the impact on the environment, where necessary. We also seek to preserve and integrate natural elements within the development where possible, to facilitate ecological connectivity. We thank the nature groups for their close partnership in working with the relevant agencies to achieve these outcomes.
Now, let me talk about the specific sites in Clementi and Ulu Pandan mentioned by Members. Some call Ulu Pandan “Dover”, but of course, according to the planners it is part of Ulu Pandan, so let me use in Parliament, the correct planning language. The site at Clementi was an abandoned rubber plantation, which has since been overgrown with Albizia trees which are not native to Singapore.
In January this year, I explained to Parliament that the land had been rezoned “Residential (Subject to Detailed Planning)” 23 years ago, since the Master Plan 1998. While there is no immediate need to develop the site for housing, we will retain the zoning of the site for now, and not touch it. This will give our future generations the options of deciding whether to use it for housing as intended by generations gone by, or to review its land use if the need arises.
As for the site at Ulu Pandan, it used to be a rubber plantation, fruit orchards and kampongs. In fact, I took a photograph of a marker and had a good discussion with some heritage buffs, and are continuing to study what the history of that site was. Because underlying all of Singapore, every inch of land, there are layers of history, layers of heritage, many stories to tell over the generations.
The Ulu Pandan site is similarly overgrown with non-native trees after the rubber plantation, fruit orchards and kampongs were abandoned, and the land taken by the Government. Since the Master Plan 2003, the land had been zoned “Residential (Subject to Detailed Planning)”. 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. HDB then consulted nature groups to refine their plans for Ulu Pandan, incorporating the findings from the EBS. Subsequently, the EBS report was published online to invite public feedback.
HDB has since received and continues to receive feedback and suggestions from nearby residents, members of the public and those interested in nature and environmental issues.
There has been a very wide range of views and we thank everyone for contributing them: Some have called to retain the site fully for greenery and recreation, and to designate it as a Nature Park. Some say keep it green, others say keep it green, but let’s intervene through restoration – so different levels of scientific understanding and interests.
Some have gone further to say that we should not build any more flats, and halt all development. We can understand that sentiment too. Others have urged the Government to redevelop other sites instead, including vacant sites, acquiring older private or public housing, or taking existing school fields, running tracks, car parks in the vicinity. 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.
While there are diverse views, and what I’ve summarised is really just scratching the surface, many who have written in appreciate the tension between the need for development, and nature conservation, and actually all of them lie along a continuum of where that balance should lie.
We are studying the feedback in detail and welcome more Singaporeans to give their views and inputs – give us your ideas, sketch them on the map, as we consider our plans for the Ulu Pandan site. Accordingly, HDB will extend the public consultation period for the EBS for another 4 weeks, so please write in. We will carefully consider all the feedback received, and share our plans when ready.
We are encouraged by the keen interest generated in our plans for Singapore and nature conservation. Indeed, mainstreaming of nature consciousness or having conversations about conservation among Singaporeans at large is a key part of our strategy to become a City in Nature. I talked about it in an interview with Audrey from The Straits Times, and really it’s beyond just the locations, and about the science, and about conservation, but about mainstreaming these conversations.
This is a good time as concerns about sustainability are now at the top of our agenda. At the same time, as part of such conversations, it is good for all of us to better understand the opportunities and constraints facing Singapore when it comes to balancing our various land use needs. And if we recalibrate the balance between conservation and development, or for that matter, different kinds of developments and needs, or adjusting the ratio of different land use types, we also need to discuss what this would mean, in practical terms.
For instance, I read the TODAY commentary over the weekend. They quoted a 24-year old SUSS student Mr Yeo Wei Jiang, who shared his personal convictions and some of those in his generation. He said that preserving the natural environment should be Singapore’s “top priority” and that “I am willing to commit to it even if it means waiting longer for a BTO, living in a more inconvenient area, or paying a higher price”. Now some may resonate, others may not agree, but that is part of the conversation.
Singaporeans’ aspirations and views are evolving: on housing/property, on material pursuits, on family & society, on nature, and on the nature and form of work. At the same time, the world and the global economy around us, and technology, are changing, and changing rapidly, and so too must our strategies and approaches so that we can emerge as a stronger nation after this most difficult of tests.
URA will engage Singaporeans later this year, as we do regularly every few years, to discuss our aspirations as a people, and gather ideas, inputs and importantly, partnerships, to formulate our long-term plans for a liveable and sustainable future. We invite everyone to join these conversations and to partner us in action.
Mr Speaker sir, the Government resolves to continue to regularly review our plans in partnership with the community, to support the diverse aspirations and changing needs of our people, as consensus on the balance between environmental conservation and development evolves. Our goal is to steward a home and City in Nature that all Singaporeans, in this generation and future ones, love and cherish. Thank you.