Nature Society slams land-use plan

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times 8 Jan 2014;

THE Nature Society (NSS) has taken issue with the Government's latest land-use draft masterplan, calling it "embarrassingly negligible" in its commitment to conserving biodiversity.

In a strongly worded document posted on its website last Friday, the society said that only 4.4 per cent of Singapore's projected 76,600ha land area in 2030 was seriously committed to preserving the country's wealth of plants and animals.

This falls well short of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, which Singapore ratified in 1995. The UN recommended that by 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas should be conserved.

A draft of the Urban Redevelopment Authority's masterplan, which guides land use over the next 10 to 15 years and is revised every five years, was unveiled last November. It will be finalised by June after taking in the public's feedback.

It included a pledge to expand green spaces, introduce more than 60km of "nature ways" by next year to link green spaces for birds, butterflies and small animals, and build a new eco-corridor through the future Tengah town to connect the Western Water Catchment and the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment Nature Reserves.

While plans to create more public parks are laudable, they cannot count towards serious efforts to preserve flora and fauna, as parks are created mainly for people, said NSS.

"With the exclusion of the public parks and the so-called nature areas... we have only 4.4 per cent of Singapore's total land area (in 2030) committed seriously to biodiversity conservation."

The NSS's 4.4 per cent figure includes nature reserves, which are protected from development by law, but excludes reservoirs as well as previously announced "nature areas", such as a 20ha natural greenery patch in Admiralty Park, which are left alone only if there is no need for development.

Although ratification of the UN convention does not mean "total adherence" to it, Singapore's 4.4 per cent is a "shocking, niggardly contribution" to the benchmark, NSS said.

Government Parliamentary Committee for National Development and Environment chairman Lee Bee Wah said Singapore is a country and city with competing land uses. "We should not harp on the percentages. It is more important to strike a balance," she said, adding the 17 per cent target may be more achievable in other places with more land.

The URA said it has received NSS' feedback and is assessing the suggestions.