Pasir Ris Heights: Fight to save forest patch hots up

Pasir Ris Heights group protests against plans to build school
Grace Chua Straits Times 9 Jan 13;

A GROUP of Pasir Ris residents, unhappy with a decision to build an international school on a patch of forest near Pasir Ris Heights, is locked in a battle with the authorities.

They claim they will lose a precious piece of woodland and had suggested alternative nearby plots for the school. They also want an independent study of the biodiversity of the forest and for the Government to provide statistical data to support its decision.

But the Ministry of National Development said that the school site was "based on planning considerations, including the need to provide a good distribution of such school sites islandwide".

Still, the group is not satisfied. In a post on its Facebook page on Monday, it said it was "disappointed" with MND's response, which it felt did not "adequately address" the issues it had raised.

It added: "We are seriously considering proceeding with a legal recourse to save the forest."

The battle to save the green space started with a petition last July, after plans to develop the land on either side of the forest patch at the intersection of Pasir Ris Drive 3 and Elias Road were made known. The residents also met their MP, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

But one incident on Dec 29 tipped them over - when HDB ordered a tree with about 90 parakeets chopped down because other residents had presumably complained about the noise. They confronted workers preparing to cut it down and, after a discussion about whose authority they were acting on, the workers took their ropes and left.

Two days later, the group published a letter on Facebook which it sent to the MND, Urban Redevelopment Authority, National Parks Board and Singapore Land Authority. It asked if they were "doing this to achieve their end of destroying the forest on the quiet, using what appears to be a fictitious pretence".

It threatened legal action unless the Government gave figures supporting its decisions by Jan 7.

Late on Monday, the MND told residents the attempted felling was to stop the wild tree being toppled by strong winds. It said it was now assessing the tree and insisted the attempted felling "was with the intent to ensure public safety and not to commence clearance of the site".

It also said the dialogue in August with DPM Teo and government officials "was not intended as 'a PR exercise' - it was arranged to allow the agencies to hear the residents' concerns".

"After consideration of the assessment of the local biodiversity and the many competing land uses, we were unable to accede to the residents' request," it added.

The group had insisted that the area was a wildlife haven but the MND said visits by NParks from 2004 to 2012 found "the number of species is considerably lower than in the nature reserves or in many parks and nature areas".

The plot is about the size of two football fields.

A member of the group's committee, lawyer Deepak Natverlal, 42, who has lived in Pasir Ris for 16 years, said the Government's decision to "raze the forest to build an international school despite objections from residents is an unfair and an unreasonable one". He also insisted that surveys by NParks were not independent enough.

Dr Ho Hua Chew of the Nature Society said it did a bird survey at the patch last year and found 30 to 40 species, including hawk-eagles, white-bellied sea eagles and oriental pied hornbills. "Of course you can't compare forest fragments with nature reserves, but the carrying capacity of the nature reserves has been exceeded for some species. That's why they are resorting to these areas outside nature reserves," he said.

Associate Professor Lye Lin Heng, an environmental law scholar at the National University of Singapore, said a legal challenge could be a test case that rests on whether residents have legal standing to stop developments on state land. An argument can be made that the Government holds the land on trust for the people, then they have a right to be consulted, she said.

Background story

10-month battle

April 2012: Land on either side of a forest patch at the intersection of Pasir Ris Drive 3 and Elias Road is earmarked for development. June: Residents form the Pasir Ris Greenbelt Committee to protect the patch, which is about the size of two football fields.

July: They start a petition to protect the woodland.

Aug 5: They hold talks with their MP, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

Oct 30: The Ministry of National Development (MND) and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) send the group a letter saying the site is slated for an international school. It will be encouraged to retain the trees there as a buffer between the school and homes at Pasir Ris Heights.

Nov 18: The group meets DPM Teo, URA, MND and the National Parks Board.

Dec 29: Residents are alarmed when they see workers about to cut down a large tree. Workers stop work after residents protest.

Dec 31: The group sends a letter to agencies following the Nov18 meeting. They want a reply in seven days or "we shall instruct our solicitors to commence legal proceedings".

Jan 7: MND replies that the tree was being felled for safety reasons, and the school was picked based on planning considerations; the group says its questions have not been adequately addressed, so it is seriously "considering proceeding with a legal recourse to save the forest".

No rub of the green for Pasir Ris woodland
'Considerably lower' number of species at proposed school site than in nature reserves: MND
Neo Chai Chin Today Online 9 Jan 13;

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of National Development (MND) has provided more details on its decision to develop an international school at the junction of Pasir Ris Drive 3 and Elias Road - the latest round of engagement between the authorities and some residents who want the forested area preserved.

The secondary vegetation on the land is suitable for a range of animal and bird life, but the number of species there is "considerably lower" than in nature reserves and many other nature areas in Singapore, wrote the MND's Manager for Strategic Planning Loo Jian Sheng in an email to the Pasir Ris Greenbelt Committee on Monday. The committee comprises residents who initiated a petition last July that garnered over 1,200 signatures.

Sites designated as nature reserves must be rich in native biodiversity across several taxonomic groups, such as plants, mammals and reptiles, he said.

Mr Loo's reply, posted on the committee's Facebook page, stated that the authorities had considered options to salvage and relocate the plants and animals at the site, but identified no rare plant species that needed to be salvaged.

"There are lower risks in permitting animal species to move out of the area themselves at the start of land clearance, than would be incurred by attempting to capture and remove them," he added.

The area in question is the size of two football fields and home to more than 30 bird species, including the endangered Changeable Hawk Eagle and critically endangered Oriental Pied Hornbill.

Before Monday's reply, Mr Loo had written to residents last October to say that plans for the international school would go ahead.

The residents then met with their Member of Parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, and government agency representatives on Nov 18 and expressed dejection at what they felt was a lack of transparency and sincerity from the authorities in managing the issue. The MND promised to follow up with a clearer explanation, but things came to a head on Dec 29, when a big tree in the woodland nearly got cut down.

Residents halted the contractor's work and wrote again to the authorities. The MND told TODAY that the Albizia tree was identified for removal for public safety under the National Parks Board's (NParks) Tree Management Programme.

Mr Loo wrote to the residents that NParks is now doing a "detailed assessment" of whether the tree needs to be felled for safety reasons.

But the Greenbelt Committee is still unsatisfied with the MND's reply. Committee member Cherry Fong said the Urban Redevelopment Authority has yet to explain the need to clear the woodland "when there may be other alternative sites" for the school.

"Every effort" should be made to protect areas with endangered or uncommon species, even if they belong to one taxonomic group, and the committee has proposed an alternative site of less biodiversity importance, she said.

The committee will deliberate on further options to preserve the woodland, Ms Fong added.

1 comment:

  1. Aiyah! Nobody cares about nature and its animals. No "un-built-up" area is safe from so call development. Not patches of forest, cemeteries, not even private properties in the way of roads or trains. So, brace yourselves for the day (very soon) where there will be HDB flats, industrial buildings, expressways, train tracks, in every part of Singapore. You will be very lucky if you own a landed property with a garden, because that will be your only "nature reserve". Or, the only other places will be the public parks, except that they are all very synthetic and sterilised. Otherwise, it's the East Coast park, which is already like a refugee camp. For those of us who are nature lovers, we will have to buy a big screen TV and enjoy digital nature at home. That's life here. Take it or lump it. That's what I feel I am being told, in no uncertain terms. Even the past president of the Nature Society is pro destruction of these green lungs. I think we are overlooking the fact that we need these "patches of wild growth" not just because of the birds and bees or plantlife, but also for our own well being.