URA defends biodiversity commitment

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times 11 Jan 14;

THE Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) yesterday defended its land-use draft masterplan's commitment to conserving Singapore's plants and animals.

Answering a charge by the Nature Society (NSS) that the plan's commitment to biodiversity was "embarrassingly negligible", the URA said: "Despite land constraints, parks and nature reserves are and have always been accorded importance..."

The draft of the masterplan, which guides land use over the next 10 to 15 years, was unveiled last November. It will be finalised by June after taking in the public's feedback.

The URA said that "unlike countries with the luxury of land outside their cities for defence, utilities, and nature areas, Singapore has to accommodate all these uses in our small island".

Despite this, 9 per cent of the planned 76,600ha land area in 2030 has been set aside for parks and nature reserves. "This compares very favourably to land allocated to other major uses", such as 17 per cent each for housing as well as industry and commerce.

NSS noted in its 24-page document on the masterplan that parks should not be included as serious conservation efforts as they were mainly meant for people. It said only 4.4 per cent of land in 2030 was seriously committed to preserving flora and fauna.

This proportion includes nature reserves, but excludes reservoirs and previously announced "nature areas", such as a 20ha greenery patch in Admiralty Park, which are only left alone if there is no need for development.

"Singapore has perhaps the most difficult land use balancing act of all countries, and we have done remarkably well," NSS president Shawn Lum said yesterday. "But I think we have the expertise, ideas and ingenuity to make the country greener and richer in nature areas. They are not mutually exclusive with a robust economy and desirable quality of life."

Parks, nature reserves important: URA
Straits Times Forum 11 Jab 14;

LAND is a scarce resource in Singapore, and drafting the Master Plan for land use requires a balanced accommodation of the many competing needs that Singapore has, both as a country and as a city ("Nature Society slams land-use plan"; Wednesday). Above all, we need to ensure that the fundamental and basic needs of our citizens are met first.

Unlike countries with the luxury of land outside their cities for defence, utilities and nature areas, Singapore has to accommodate all these uses in our small island.

Our planning intention is to create a high-quality living environment for our people, and this includes housing, jobs, recreation, schools, hospitals and transport systems for both domestic and international connectivity.

Despite the land constraints, parks and nature reserves are and have always been accorded importance in our plans.

In the Draft Master Plan 2013, we allocated 9 per cent of land for parks and nature reserves. This compares very favourably to land allocated to other major uses, as shown in the table (attached).

In addition, a large proportion of the land allocated for defence is forested and contributes to our biodiversity.

Given our land constraints, we have sought practical and innovative solutions to integrate greenery and biodiversity into our urban environment, through our parks, park connectors, streetside planting, water networks and sky-rise greenery. In this way, we also improve the quality of our living environment.

Likewise, while we are not able to regard and legislate every wooded area as a protected nature area, we have selectively conserved representative eco-systems in our gazetted nature reserves.

We have also designated 20 nature areas with significant biodiversity that will be retained for as long as development is not needed. Most of these areas are, in fact, part of our larger public parks, such as Bukit Batok Nature Park and Kent Ridge Park.

When Dr Ahmed Djoghlaf, the former executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, visited Singapore in 2008, he endorsed our approach and even thought Singapore could serve as a model of how cities can overcome their land constraints to conserve biodiversity in an urban setting.

At his invitation, Singapore subsequently partnered the Convention on Biological Diversity to set up the Singapore Index on Cities' Biodiversity, as a tool for cities to benchmark and guide their conservation efforts. This is an achievement Singapore can be proud of, and which we hope to advance through our Master Plan.

We are currently assessing the suggestions from the drafters of the Nature Society's submission. We hope to find opportunities to respond and engage constructively, so as to explore useful suggestions in due course.

Hwang Yu Ning (Ms)

Group Director (Physical Planning)

Urban Redevelopment Authority

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