Development vs environmental protection: Public discussion needed

Tan Wee Cheng Today Online 7 Sep 13;

The area along Ayer Rajah Expressway was once lush with greenery, but now science parks, educational institutions, condominiums and industrial complexes stand in its place.

Trees and vegetation cover help retain water and prevent surface run-off in ways that concrete surfaces and storm drains cannot. I am therefore not surprised that flash floods shut down part of the expressway on Thursday (“Floods hit western S’pore”, Sept 6).

Indeed, the question of whether the decrease in vegetation cover in the Orchard Road and Bukit Timah areas — as a result of increasing development — is linked to the floods that occurred there has been raised.

In the coming decades, could the next flood hot spots be the central-north region, where for decades the dense vegetation at areas like Bukit Brown, Bidadari and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve has helped absorb surface run-off?

With plans to develop Bukit Brown and Bidadari, as well as the future Cross Island MRT line that could cut through nature reserves, we may be removing the last natural bastions against flooding in the area.

Given public concern over flooding and the potential increase in insurance premiums to include risks associated with flooding, the Government should make public the outcome of detailed Environmental Impact Assessments on its proposed development plans and encourage public discussion of the trade-offs between development and environmental protection.

I also urge the Government to consider flooding concerns when drawing up the proposed master plan for underground spaces (“Govt mulling large-scale underground developments”, Sept 4).

Cities like Montreal and Toronto can develop elaborate underground networks of malls, public spaces and industrial facilities as they also have large areas of high ground within their central metropolitan areas that are subject to strict nature conservation rules.

The dense natural vegetation of Montreal’s Mount Royal and Toronto’s complex ravine system have long been credited for not only preventing urban flooding but helping to keep summer temperatures low within the densely-populated urban areas.

Floods in urban areas are Mother Nature’s way of telling us that relentless development has its limits, and we should heed the signs before worse disruptions occur.