Vital to have balanced approach to land use

Straits Times Forum 30 Jul 12;

WE THANK Dr Ho Hua Chew for his commentary ("Preserving Singapore's green heartland"; July 14) and subsequent writers on the issue ("City of gardens doesn't make a garden city" by Dr Isaac Seow En" and "Preserve the natural connection" by

Mrs Katrina Dub'e", July 19; and "Wildlife affected by excessive development" by Mr Steven Chong, Forum Online, last Monday).

Greenery has always had an important place in the planning for Singapore. Despite being land-scarce, we have set aside close to 10 per cent of Singapore's total land area for parks and nature reserves.

In addition to the nature reserves, another 18 nature areas have been retained in the current Master Plan 2008.

Where possible, nature areas with rich bio-diversity are integrated into parks and other recreational spaces, so that they are accessible and available for public enjoyment.

We will be increasing our parks and open spaces within the next 10 to 15 years from about 3,600ha to 4,200ha. This will enable us to offer a greater diversity of recreational areas and green spaces.

We have to be judicious in land allocation.

Besides land for parks and open spaces, we also need to cater for other competing needs such as industry, housing, defence, transport, basic utilities and so on. Land is allocated for these activities in the Master Plan, which is reviewed every five years.

This requires discipline and a delicate balance in land use because land is a scarce resource in Singapore.

While we wish we could have an abundance of everything, the reality is that we need to strike a careful balance among the many competing needs of a nation-state. Land earmarked for other uses will eventually need to be developed when the need arises.

Putting aside land for parks and open spaces is not the only option available to us.

Our public agencies and community have done well working together to find our own solutions to improve the quality of greenery and to integrate greenery deeply into our cityscape.

Efforts like the Community in Bloom, the park connector network, the ABC Waters Programme and encouraging more skyrise greenery will bring greenery closer to homes and transform Singapore into a City in a Garden.

Some 47 per cent of Singapore is covered in greenery despite urbanisation, a collective achievement that we can be proud of.

Through good planning and collaboration with public agencies and the community, we can certainly strive to do better in the years to come.

Tan See Nin
Director (Physical Planning)
Urban Redevelopment Authority

Heartened by bid to keep Singapore's green edge
Straits Times 2 Aug 12;

IT IS heartening to note that 47 per cent of Singapore's land mass is covered in greenery, of which 10 per cent has been set aside for parks and nature reserves, according to the Urban Redevelopment Authority ("Vital to have balanced approach to land use"; Monday).

But increasingly, natural areas in neighbourhoods from Bukit Timah to Thomson to Pasir Ris are being scaled back either by new residential and commercial property developments or road expansion projects.

In places like Punggol Park and Gardens by the Bay, much of the natural vegetation has been replaced by artificially manicured and landscaped gardens that are intended more to be aesthetically pleasing to photographers than ecologically friendly to wildlife.

While being included as part of green spaces, sites like golf courses and military training reserves are not openly accessible to the public.

So, with the land pressures from the rapidly expanding population and a burgeoning property market, it is understandable why the nature-loving public may feel that Singapore is being deforested even as it looks "green" in satellite images.

Given the anxieties over these trends, I am therefore heartened by the Housing Board's plans to retain the heritage and greenery of the former Bidadari Cemetery ("Bidadari to retain its greenery and heritage"; Tuesday).

I am also excited by the possibility that the new estate will be significantly more pedestrian-friendly with less reliance on vehicular roads.

If well implemented, this plan reflects the Government's commitment towards making Singapore an organic and liveable city that has life, history and nature even in the backyards of our heartland.

The concept of the garden city has distinguished Singapore from the uncontrollably congested and over-urbanised cities in Asia.

While other countries can easily overtake us with more impressive buildings and quality products and services, it will be harder for them to outdo Singapore as a metropolis in terms of "greenery".

As such, we should not see natural spaces in the country as "spare" land that can be bulldozed for short-term development, but essential intangible assets to the survival of Singapore in the long term.

Liew Kai Khiun