Best of our wild blogs: 19 Aug 14

How do you envisage the new Science Centre Singapore to be?
from Stir-fried Science

Where have all the migrants gone?
from Singapore Bird Group

Bats roosting in my porch: 7. Arrival of the Common Fruit Bats
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Read more!

Congested roads, factory pollution obstacles to transforming Jurong

Xue Jianyue Today Online 19 Aug 14;

SINGAPORE — The makeover of Jurong, complete with a scenic new garden and waterfront residential housing, could potentially be a big draw, but urban planners will have their work cut out to fully transform the area and cast off its industrial image, analysts said.

As the Government yesterday announced that the first phase of the Jurong Lake Gardens project — the Jurong Lake Park— will be completed by 2017, the analysts noted that with its water bodies, the area could emulate idyllic areas such as East Coast and Punggol. However, obstacles to achieving this include the congested public transport infrastructure as well as pollution from petrochemical plants on Jurong Island nearby, they said.

Writing on his blog, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan acknowledged that the “exciting” plans for Jurong, including major improvements to the transportation networks, would take years to realise.

The Jurong Lake Park was originally planned in 2012 as one of three “Destination Parks” to attract Singaporeans across the island with its unique features. Construction has started at one of the parks, East Coast Park, and will last until 2016.

The third park, Admiralty Park, is currently “at the consultancy stage” and will be completed by 2016 as well, said the National Parks Board. The revamp of Jurong will include the integration of the Chinese Garden, the Japanese Garden and the Jurong Lake Park into the Jurong Lake Gardens.

New public housing developments around Pandan Reservoir is also on the cards. The Urban Redevelopment Authority said the conceptual idea will require detailed planning and technical studies. Currently, a mix of industrial offices, commercial buildings and Housing and Development Board flats line the area around the reservoir.

Analysts told TODAY that while housing prices in the Pandan Reservoir area might not be able to match those of waterfront housing in other parts of Singapore, such as Punggol and East Coast, developers will still be drawn to opportunities in the land around the reservoir.

Mr Nicholas Mak, head of consultancy and research at SLP International Property Consultants, said high-rise housing could be built there.

Noting that the area has no coastal park, he said: “I think it can potentially be like East Coast, but it will also need a lot of redesign.”

However, the analysts said Pandan Reservoir’s appeal could be affected by pollution from petrochemical plants on Jurong Island, as well as crowded roads and train networks.

“When the wind is going in a certain direction, will it blow the smell from the chemical factories towards the residents? ... There is a possibility, depending on how near they are,” said Mr Mak.

Mr Ku Swee Yong, chief executive of Century 21 Singapore, noted that the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE) is usually congested and that the East-West MRT Line has reached its maximum capacity.

New residents will end up competing with heavy vehicles on the jammed streets, he added, suggesting that the AYE be widened or MRT lines be extended to the area.

Jurong makeover 'will breathe new life into estate'
Danson Cheong, Lester Hio and TJoa Shze Hui The Straits Times AsiaOne 19 Aug 14;

LAKE gardens in the heartland, a new science centre and maybe even Singapore's first high-speed rail station.

Jurong, the gritty industrial hub of the country, is transforming into a jewel in the west, and residents and workers in the area are cheering the prospect.

Almost all 24 Jurong residents and business owners The Straits Times spoke to said the changes would breathe new life into an old estate, though a few expressed disappointment that a planned hospital will open six months later than originally scheduled.

That aside, new plans for the Jurong Lake District include a new Science Centre, a possible terminus for the Singapore-Malaysia high-speed rail network, and an expanded park that will combine the decades-old Chinese and Japanese gardens, and the Jurong Lake Park, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Sunday in his National Day Rally speech. Taxi driver Patrick Ong, 54, told The Straits Times yesterday: "The upgrade will be good, it will give Jurong a younger feel."

Together, the Jurong East and Jurong West Housing Board estates are home to 358,000 residents. The Jurong constituency spans more than 12 sq km.

One retiree, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Cheong, is looking forward to the new 70ha Jurong Lake Gardens. "The gardens are a national treasure and so beautiful, but so few people come here. It's such a waste," said the 62-year-old.

The new gardens will be completed by 2017, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan in his blog yesterday.

Long-time fans of the Science Centre were also excited to find out it will have a new home, on the north of the lake just beside the Chinese Garden MRT station.

Madam Prabavathi Natarajan, 34, started taking her son to the science centre when he was still in a stroller. Now he is six and "knows about motors, electromagnets and things like that", said the housewife, who lives in Jurong Town Hall Road.

She plans to take him and her older son to the new centre even more often.

Over the years, 29.5 million students have visited the Science Centre, which was built in 1977.

The new centre, the "jewel" of the district, said Mr Lee, will be integrated with the lake gardens.

Others were happy that there might soon be one more way to travel to Malaysia. The terminus of the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail link - slated to be completed by 2020 - may be located in Jurong.

It would make life easier for people like Malaysian Sha Chia.

The 38-year-old retail associate, who lives in Johor Baru, takes a bus to Woodlands and then the MRT to get to work at a Jurong shopping mall.

"If there is a train, it will be very convenient for me," he said. Businesses said they were looking forward to increased traffic. "The new developments will only make the area more exciting," said Mr Tan Jian Da, 26, a deputy assistant outlet manager at Sync restaurant in Westgate mall.

On another note, three of the 24 interviewed were disappointed that the new Ng Teng Fong General Hospital will not be ready this year, because of a shortage of manpower and delay in getting construction parts from Thailand.

"When my son had food poisoning a year ago, we had to rush him to the National University Hospital (in Kent Ridge)," said Mr Lim Swee King, who lives at the Park Vista condominium in Lakeside.

And there were those worried they would be left behind as Jurong modernises and moves ahead.

Mr Tay Lye Whad, 60, who has been running the Bao Sheng Minimart in Jurong Street 13 for more than 30 years, said business has been flagging for more than a decade.

"Nowadays people stop and shop at the shopping malls like Jem," he said. "It's hard for shops like us to stay open."

The shops beside his store are shuttered and empty.

"Business was so much better last time. The Government should do something to help old businesses like mine," he said.
- See more at:

First phase of Jurong Lake Gardens to be ready by 2017: Khaw
Sharon See Channel NewsAsia 18 Aug 14;

SINGAPORE: Residents in the city-state, particularly in Jurong, can look forward to enjoying the 70-hectare Jurong Lake Gardens "as early as 2017", said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan in a blogpost on Monday (Aug 18).

He wrote that heritage elements at the Chinese and Japanese Gardens will be retained, but refreshed as part of Jurong Lake Gardens. The Gardens will be developed in phases, with Jurong Lake Park being the first to be completed in 2017, and implementation plans will dovetail with the greater plans for Jurong Lake District.

Mr Khaw also called on the public to share their ideas with NParks on how it can develop the area. NParks will invite ideas from planning and landscape design professionals and the local community next year for the development of the Gardens, he said.

The Chinese Garden and Japanese Garden were both built in the 1970s, and visitors comprise residents in surrounding neighbourhoods and the occasional tourist. Dr Harvey Neo of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Geography department said he believes redevelopment would elevate the gardens' standing and create greater national interest in them.

"We're talking about a fairly radical imagination of the gardens, so I won't be surprised if (the gardens) look completely different. But that's almost inevitable because we're really trying to create new space, we're trying to incorporate new ideas," he said. And while he does not feel that the Japanese Garden had any iconic features, Prof Neo said the Chinese Garden's pagoda deserved to be retained. Still, "if they do not want to retain that, I think it's understandable as well because we're really talking about a major shift in how we use the space there," he said.


Mr Khaw also reiterated Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech, which highlighted the new Science Centre as the "jewel" in Jurong when completed around 2020. The new Centre will be located at the eastern bank of Jurong Lake, next to the Chinese Garden MRT station.

"We will make it fun, educational and spectacular, in keeping with changing times and our achievements over the decades. Its location will enable NParks to integrate the future Science Centre with the new Gardens, combining themes such as science, technology and horticulture in a uniquely Singaporean way," Mr Khaw wrote.

Dr Neo said the site of the future Science Centre next to Jurong Lake presents new opportunities. "I hope they will make full use of the location and think of educational activities that involve the lake," he said. "The sky's the limit here. They can really push the boundaries of scientific learning. This is a unique opportunity for them to think big about the kinds of experiences we want to give to the visitors.


The Ministry of National Development (MND) also provided more details on developing the Jurong Gateway, as indicated by Mr Lee.

One idea being considered is to realign the stretch of the AYE from Yuan Ching Road to Jurong Town Hall Road to free up land south of Jurong Lake for residential development, and to integrate the Pandan Reservoir area with the district to form a larger and more cohesive development area, it said.

"Environmental improvements can be made to the surrounding parks and water bodies such as Jurong River, Pandan River, Pandan Reservoir and Teban Gardens to create an attractive waterfront residential district with good quality living environment amidst lush greenery, similar to those found in Punggol and around Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park," MND said.

But Dr Neo urged caution when it comes to moving the AYE southwards, saying it should be studied further. "Of all the initiatives that were announced, that strikes me as a little bit hard to understand because I cannot see its relative advantage. I don't know how much southwards they want to move," he said. "I assume it is to free up a certain amount of space, so that the entire area can be bigger and development can be more seamless but this freeing up of extra space has to be weighed against the extra cost and the inconvenience."

The cost of the endeavour is hard to estimate without knowing what the freed-up land would be used for, he noted, pointing out that shifting entire expressways is not common abroad due to high costs. "I'm very sceptical. It was mentioned that (the land) will be used for housing in the plan, but how much extra housing are we talking about here? The details are not (furnished) yet."


Mr Khaw added in his blogpost that there are many other "exciting plans" in store for Jurong, including major improvements to the transportation networks. "All these will take years to realise. We shall stage the implementation," the minister said.

For instance, as part of the Land Transport Authority's (LTA) Land Transport Master Plan 2013, the current East-West and North-South MRT lines serving the region are currently being upgraded. Two new lines - the Cross-Island Line and Jurong Region Line - are expected to be completed by around 2030 and 2025, respectively, MND stated.

It added that agencies will explore building more dedicated cycling paths and park connectors to strengthen connectivity and accessibility between Jurong Lake District and the surrounding residential and business nodes such as Pandan and Teban gardens estates, Tengah New Town, JTC’s proposed integrated R&D and industrial township centred around Clean Tech Park, NTU, and Bulim and Tengah industrial estates.

"This will reduce the need to drive within the district and help promote a healthier lifestyle," MND said.

As for plans to site the future Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail terminus in Jurong East, MND said the Government is currently studying possible locations. These plans will undergo detailed planning and technical studies and will be progressively implemented in the next 20 to 30 years, it added.

Once the Jurong Lake District development is complete, property experts believe there will be high demand for houses near the lake or coastal area, and they expect authorities to continue focusing on infrastructure development in Jurong.

Professor Sing Tien Foo of NUS' Department of Real Estate noted that the the plans for the Cross Island and Jurong Regional lines go hand in hand with the land use plan. "You cannot wait for the area to be developed then you put in all the infrastructure and roads. So some of these developments may have to take place earlier to support the future expansion of the area and land use intensification of the area," he said. "With more businesses and residents moving into the area, I think the demand for infrastructure capacity is also expected to increase. Early planning will actually minimise some of these interruptions in the long term and also allow for smoother transition into more integrated land use."

- CNA/kk/xy

First phase of Jurong Lake Gardens to be complete by 2017
Today Online 18 Aug 14;

SINGAPORE — The first phase of the Jurong Lake Gardens, a revitalised Jurong Lake Park, will be completed by 2017, announced the Urban Redevelopment Authority and National Parks Board (NParks) in a joint statement today (Aug 18).

The Ministry of Education will also set up a committee on plans for the Science Centre, which will relocated into the Jurong Lake Gardens, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat in a Facebook post today. “I hope to have a diverse group of talented and passionate people on the committee, including, for instance, our best educators in the sciences and maths; scientists and researchers here and overseas; industry practitioners and technologists who use the insights of science and technology in their daily work; and people with a deep sense of wonder and love to share this,” he said.

NParks will be seeking ideas and engaging with designers and the community on the masterplan design of the Jurong Lake Gardens project next year. "This will allow for an implementation plan to be better established with a view to phase the completion of the entire Gardens," said NParks and the URA.

Plans to integrate the Japanese and Chinese gardens with Jurong Lake Park to create a "beautiful set of gardens in the heartlands" was mentioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally yesterday (Aug 17).

In a blog post today (Aug 18), National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said: “Heritage elements at the Chinese and Japanese Garden will be retained but refreshed as part of Jurong Lake Gardens.”

The authorities also touched on longer-term plans, such as building new homes in the area. It could realign the stretch of the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE) from Yuan Ching Road to Jurong Town Hall Road to free up land south of Jurong Lake for residential development, and to integrate the Pandan Reservoir area with the district to form a “larger and more cohesive” development area.

To reduce the need to drive within the district, the Government will also explore building more cycling paths and park connectors to link up the Jurong Lake district with surrounding areas such as Pandan and Teban gardens estates, Tengah New Town, and the Bulim and Tengah industrial estates.

More buzz for future Jurong tenders
Kalpana Rashiwala The Business Times AsiaOne 20 AUg 14;

Developers are expected to take a keener interest in future state land tenders in Jurong Lake District - whether for residential, commercial or hotel projects.

The greenery attractions may also boost home values, said property consultants, following plans announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to liven up Jurong Lake District.

The buzz will be greater if a decision is made to house the future Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail terminus in Jurong Gateway, they said.

"Going forward, the plans to realign Ayer Rajah Expressway and convert some of the old industrial estates to waterfront housing could greatly enhance the liveability of Jurong as it enjoys an image overhaul, thanks to all the leisure elements that the Government will put in place," said Christine Li, research head at OrangeTee.

"Existing property owners can look forward to one of the most liveable housing estates in Singapore outside the central and fringe areas," she added.

CBRE's Singapore research head, Desmond Sim, felt that the changes will "remove the stigma of an industrial township that Jurong was originally planned for".

Jurong Lake Gardens, spanning over 70ha, will integrate the revitalised Jurong Lake Park - to be completed by 2017 - as well as the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, which are set to be spruced up, and not forgetting the new Science Centre, which will emerge next to the Chinese Garden MRT station around 2020.

DTZ's regional head (SEA) research, Lee Lay Keng, said: "Even though the overall conditions in the residential property market remain tepid, the buzz created could provide a minor boost to existing projects and help support prices and transaction volumes in the area."

The plans are expected to fuel developers' interest in a 99-year private housing site just above Jurong Lake - between The Lakeshore and Lakeville condos - that will be launched in December through the confirmed list of the Government Land Sales Programme. Said Mr Sim: "While the number of bids is expected to be high... bid prices are expected to be dampened by current market sentiment and confidence."

Ms Li expects development sites for residential, commercial as well as integrated uses (for example, office, retail and residential elements) to whet developers' appetite - if they are released over the next year or two. "Hotel sites are also likely to be released once the terminus of the high-speed rail is confirmed," she added.

Mr Sim added that should the terminus be located in Jurong Gateway, it could boost the nascent office market in the area.

JLL's head of research, South-east Asia, Chua Yang Liang, said the realignment of the AYE will generate the opportunity to develop "more lakefront homes for the masses".

Once the current slowdown ends, he expects developers to grab the opportunity. "We can expect the regenerative efforts by the state to be capitalised into higher real estate values in the long term," he added.

Wow wow west
Natasha Ann Zachariah The Straits Times AsiaOne 25 Aug 14;

Often thought of as an industrial neighbourhood with few leisure options, Jurong became the talk of the town this week, after plans to turn it into a "people's garden" were revealed.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday, announced major changes to the area, in particular to the 70ha Jurong Lake Gardens.

This comes six years after the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) released plans in 2008 for Jurong to become a key regional hub, as part of a move to bring jobs closer to homes.

One of the major developments involves the Japanese and Chinese gardens being combined with Jurong Lake Park.

The two gardens, surrounded by the man-made Jurong Lake, were built in the 1970s and need an injection of new life.

The Japanese Garden was initiated by the late deputy prime minister Goh Keng Swee. Built at a cost of $3 million and completed in 1973, it received funding from the Singapore and Japanese governments. It was designed by Professor Kinsaku Nakane, a leading Japanese garden and landscape artist, and his three assistants from Tokyo.

The Chinese Garden, which is connected to the Japanese Garden, was designed by prominent Taiwanese architect Yu Yuen-chen and opened in 1975.

Once plans are finalised, the integrated space will have a park in the heartland, bigger than the 62ha Bishan- Ang Mo Kio Park, one of the largest urban parks in central Singapore. The new gardens will be completed by 2017, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan in his blog on Monday.

The transformation is not confined to the gardens. Under the URA Masterplan, which includes the Jurong Gateway, the Jurong Lake District will have edutainment attractions and hotel clusters.

The district, bounded by Boon Lay Way, Yuan Ching Road and Ayer Rajah Expressway, also looks set to become more vibrant as the 37-year-old Science Centre moves to a new site. The new building is slated to be completed in 2020.

There are also plans for waterfront housing, hotels and more leisure options.

A call for garden design ideas will go out next year and PM Lee encourages Singaporeans to send in the ideas they have for the area. Residents who spoke to The Straits Times earlier this week gave the plans a resounding thumbs-up.

Revamped gardens can be testbed for ideas

The Japanese and Chinese gardens have been around for more than three decades, without a major revamp to date. While their physical look is about to get a makeover, a change of perception of the area might be in order too.

DP Architects director Seah Chee Huang says if people see the Jurong district as an industrial part of Singapore, the changes, especially with more developments around the lake, will make it less so.

"If there are hotels and more waterfront housing, that will inject a 'live-in' population to the area. This also has the potential to bring people straight to the heart of the action, which is the lake... This will add to the vibrancy of the area. People will know it's a good place to hang out."

The gardens in the middle of Jurong Lake have long been dogged by comments that they are ghost towns most of the week. Even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at Sunday's rally the Jurong Lake Gardens were "under-utilised" and looked dated, compared with the nearby Jurong Gateway area, which has educational institutions and new malls.

But Associate Professor Tan Puay Yok from the department of architecture at the School of Design and Environment, National University of Singapore, says residents would not think the gardens are not well used. Instead, he feels these areas are "under- visited" - an impression that should change once the new amenities are built.

He says: "Residents get a lot of utility out of them. But those who travel to visit don't return because they think they've seen it all.

"But there are two factors the area has: serenity and natural landscape, much of which should be retained and its biodiversity highlighted. This will get more people in. Keep it natural, rather than a highly managed area, like with other parks."

Indeed, the area has much biodiversity, especially bird life.

The Nature Society (Singapore) has a list of important bird sites in the Jurong Lake area with many uncommon and rare birds. The list was last updated in 2010. The group has records of 123 species of birds in the lakeside area, along the shoreline and at the Chinese and Japanese gardens.

For example, there is the rare Grey-headed Fish-eagle, spotted at the Chinese Garden, that is a resident breeder and is nationally threatened.

The non-profit organisation first wrote to the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 2008 to make recommendations on what can be done to the area. The suggestions included growing aquatic plants along the lake to "create marshy habitats and to make the lake more scenic".

Dr Ho Hua Chew, vice-chairman of the society's conservation committee, says the members hope their recommendations will bear fruit now. "We're glad the National Parks Board will be on the team to look at the area's redesign. We're happy to work with them to see how the wildlife here can be protected."

Mr Franklin Po, chairman of landscape architectural firm Tierra Design, suggests the lake can be a good way to test new ideas for the future, especially when it requires "water-sensitive urban design" - a relatively new concept here. The lake could be a catchment area, and different ways to manage water can tried out.

For example, harvested rainwater can be used for irrigation. Mr Po, who is an architect and landscape architect, adds: "Grey water, which is from household water points such as sinks, can be recycled, while small riverines can have turbines within them to generate electricity."

DP Architects' Mr Seah adds that the redevelopment of the area with the new Science Centre as the jewel is an "exciting opportunity to take a more experimental approach".

He adds: "There are plenty of possibilities out there. Key is that the proposals must be sustainable, attractive and inclusive. Remaking Jurong with purposeful planning can show others what a liveable city Singapore can be."

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On NEA's mobile app: Recycling locations, cleaning schedules for hawker centres

Channel NewsAsia 18 Aug 14;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency's (NEA) updated myENV mobile app will help people find recycling locations, explore new hawker centres to dine in and volunteer for campaigns such as Dengue Prevention.

These are some of the new features added to its recently updated mobile app, the agency said on Monday (Aug 18). A check on Apple's App Store showed that the app was updated on Aug 14, 2014, and it was first introduced in July 2011.

Other new content added to the app include integrating events and news to users' calendars and social media platforms so they can be alerted, while users can also get information on NEA's work such as pollution control, public health and the cleaning and upgrading timetables for hawker centres, it added.

These features are in addition to existing capabilities such as reporting litter at a specific location, or sending high alert advisories during times of crisis such as haze, dengue and flu pandemics.

The agency also revamped the app's user interface, making it a "user-centric design that is clean and intuitive". "NEA hopes more members of the public will download myENV to leverage the application's many useful features that will benefit their daily lives," it said.

During the National Day Rally on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called on Singaporeans to tap on technology such as NEA's myENV app to help make Singapore a better home.

He said: "You can also be part of the solution, being our eyes and ears all over Singapore. We can use technology to crowd-source, to involve Singaporeans, so that you can give feedback, report incidents and problems on the ground."

- CNA/kk

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The fishball stick-ing point and the new Municipal Services Office

Steven Chia Channel NewsAsia 18 Aug 14;

SINGAPORE: A complaint by one of her residents led South West District Mayor Low Yen Ling to discover the difficulty of bridging certain inter-agency boundaries. The resident claimed that the walkway towards Bukit Gombak station was often dirty, adding that a discarded fishball stick remained uncleared for two consecutive days.

The mayor said that despite the size of the area, it took several calls to different government agencies to establish what happened, and to finally resolve the issue, as the area was managed by the National Environment Agency, the National Parks Board and the Land Transport Authority. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shared this story at the National Day Rally on Sunday (Aug 17), and said it illustrated the need for a Municipal Services Office (MSO).

"The setting up of the MSO is a very timely move, because it will address the need for a common platform to bridge inter-agency boundaries in a very integrated manner. And I welcome the move in setting up of the MSO, which I hope will also address areas which fall into the gap of 'every man's island, but no agency's responsibility'," said Ms Low.

"There will be areas where responsibility overlaps across different Government agencies, so the role of the MSO will be very critical. And I think moving forward with the formation of the MSO, we look forward to better coordination, quicker response and improved ability to provide sustainable solutions for residents," she continued.

Residents Channel NewsAsia spoke to said they hope that there would be better coordination amongst Government agencies when responsibilities are split.

"There might be too many complications and too much repeated work," said one. "It's a good thing that they are coming up with all these kinds of measures to keep the place clean, but it would be better if they take care of other areas," said another.

Meantime, the fishball stick story had people abuzz on social media, but for a different reason. Many asked why the resident did not simply discard the fishball stick himself, instead of just complaining about it to the authorities.

- CNA/ly

New municipal office to help bridge inter-agency issues
Louisa Tang Today Online 18 Aug 14;

SINGAPORE — When one resident observed that a fishball stick along the walkway at Bukit Gombak MRT Station had not been cleared after two days, it took Member of Parliament (MP) Low Yen Ling “multiple calls to several agencies and a few meetings” to find out why the area appeared not to be regularly cleaned.

The reason? “On the left of the walkway is a slope, (which is overseen by) the NEA (National Environment Agency); in the middle is a park connector, under NParks (National Parks Board); on the right is a pavement next to the road, under the LTA (Land Transport Authority),” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

As the cleaners engaged by each of these agencies have different cleaning schedules, “the fishball stick was on the roadside, and the roadside is only cleared every two days”, he said.

The incident was an example of how the Government still has some way to go in getting different agencies to work more closely together, especially when responsibilities are split, despite previous efforts to address this, said Mr Lee at the National Day Rally last night. For example, the question of what to do with a snake spotted on the street used to depend on the direction in which it was moving, but all animal-related issues are now handled by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

Although she has since got the NEA to take charge of the entire area, Mr Lee noted that it had been a “frustrating and difficult experience” for Ms Low, who is Mayor of South West District.

“Can you imagine if you are an ordinary citizen trying to solve such a problem and running around with different agencies?” he added. “It’s not the way we should be operating, and we have to do better to bridge these inter-agency boundaries and serve the public in an integrated way.”

To that end, Mr Lee yesterday announced the setting up of a Municipal Services Office (MSO) under the Ministry of National Development, which will coordinate several government agencies and “single-mindedly focus on service delivery”. The agencies are the LTA, NEA, NParks, national water agency PUB, the Housing and Development Board, the AVA and the police.

Such a set-up exists in other countries, such as the Brazilian Operations Center in Rio de Janeiro, which is an operations centre in the Mayor’s office. It is manned by 50 officers and coordinates the activities of more than 30 municipal and state departments, as well as private utility and transportation companies. Its officers monitor cameras around the city and are able to act quickly in the event of a disaster or traffic accidents. Operations managers also monitor data feeds concerning weather, traffic, the police and medical services. By integrating data from agencies and companies, they get a full picture of what is happening at any time.

Ms Grace Fu, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, has been appointed to oversee the MSO and she will be working with National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, said Mr Lee. More details will be announced in the coming weeks.

MPs whom TODAY spoke to welcomed the move. Ms Denise Phua of Moulmein-Kallang GRC said officers must go to the ground to understand the concerns more deeply. “(They) must have a shared vision and key performance indicators in terms of efficiency and effectiveness, so the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts,” she added.

However, Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Zainal Sapari, who is also chairman of the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council, noted that town councils were not mentioned in the MSO framework.

“Currently, town councils have an Essential Maintenance Service Unit hotline that residents can call to give feedback and ask for maintenance,” he said. “It would be convenient for residents (if there is) one number to call to reach agencies as well as the town council itself. Then, it is up to the back-end office, the MSO, to channel the issue to the relevant offices.”

While the Government will try to do a better job with the MSO, Mr Lee said citizens “also have a role to play to play in making ours a better home”. For instance, feedback on problems on the ground can be sent to the authorities via various apps, such as the LTA’s MyTransport.SG and the NEA’s myENV.

“You can also be part of the solution, being our eyes and ears all over Singapore,” he said.

New office to tackle estate matters
Charissa Yong The Straits Times AsiaOne 20 Aug 14;

The longstanding problem of frustrated residents being given the runaround between different agencies over estate maintenance may soon be a thing of the past.

A Municipal Services Office will be set up to get different public agencies to work more closely together, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

The office will help serve residents in a more seamless way, especially when responsibilities are split across public bodies, he said in his National Day Rally speech. It is part of making Singapore an "outstanding city" that is planned and run well, Mr Lee added.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu will oversee the new office, which will be under the Ministry of National Development (MND). She will work with MND Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

The office will coordinate multiple agencies, such as the Land Transport Authority (LTA), PUB, National Environment Agency (NEA) and the National Parks Board. More details will be given out later.

The move to plug the gaps between agencies comes as residents lament that complaints and requests can bounce between several agencies instead of being quickly resolved.

Some progress has been made on this front, "but we have not arrived", said Mr Lee.

He cited the experience of South West District mayor Low Yen Ling, who had to call and meet several agencies in order to find out why a walkway in Bukit Gombak had been left dirty for some time.

She found out that a fishball stick had been left at the walkway for more than a day because different parts of the walkway were managed by different agencies. NEA managed the slope to the left of the walkway, while NParks took charge of the park connector in the middle, and LTA was responsible for the pavement on the right.

The fishball stick had fallen on the roadside to the right, which was cleaned every two days.
The issue was eventually resolved, but the experience had been "frustrating and difficult" for the mayor.

"Can you imagine if you're an ordinary citizen trying to solve such a problem and running around the different agencies? It's not the way we should be operating and we have to do better," said Mr Lee.

Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Zainudin Nordin, who is a former mayor and a former town council chairman, told The Straits Times that town councils are responsible for managing common areas in Housing Board estates.

"There are parts inside housing estates that don't fall under the ambit of the town council.
"People don't realise but roads, drains, bus stops are... not part of the town council's responsibility," he said.

He welcomed the setting up of a central office, which he saw as a "cockpit" from which to ensure that nothing falls through the gaps.

Municipal Services Office not meant to be sole feedback channel
Joy Fang Today Online 24 Aug 14;

SINGAPORE — The new Municipal Services Office (MSO), first mentioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech, is not meant to be the sole feedback channel, nor will it displace the roles or feedback management functions of Government agencies and town councils, said Minister in Prime Minister’s Office Grace Fu today (Aug 24).

“If you’re already used to calling your local HDB office, or your local police post, we really don’t want to cause you to have to relearn another number,” she said. “So it has to be something that you can call, and has a way to direct your feedback to the right agencies , but not one that requires you to call only one number.”

Ms Fu added that the office has to provide convenience for the public and not delay the feedback process.

She said one of the main purposes of the MSO would be to help make it easier for residents who are unsure about which agency their issue falls under. This could include complex issues that involve multiple agencies. Other purposes of the MSO could include looking at how to improve service delivery and in the longer term, operational processes, she said.

In his speech, Mr Lee had said that the office will be overseen by Ms Fu, who will work with Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan. He also said the office, which will be part of the Ministry of National Development (MND), aims to resolve the problem of residents getting frustrated when their complaints or requests bounce back and forth between several agencies.

The office is slated to be set up on Oct 1. However, it will not be operational then as MND says it takes time to work with the agencies and develop processes. More details will be shared at a later date.

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Malaysia: Pygmy elephant shot in Sabah took up to four days to die, says state Wildlife Department

muguntan vanar The Star 18 Aug 14

The pygmy elephant found dead on a road leading to Felda Umas inTawau.

KOTA KINABALU: Wildlife rangers are seeking police assistance to identify a bullet shell recovered from a pygmy elephant that died along on road leading to the Felda Umas Oil Plantation about 70km from Tawau.

Sabah Wildlife Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said that the elephant, which died of a gunshot wound, suffered for two to four days before it finally died.

"Our Wildlife Rescue Unit's Veterinary team conducted a post-mortem on the carcass, and found a small wound on the abdominal area. Lodged in the left lung was a bullet or maybe even a slug from a shotgun cartridge," he said.

He said that the projectile entered the abdominal area and penetrated the intestines, causing serious internal bleeding before finally hitting the lung.

"It was sad this elephant probably suffered for days succumbing to its injuries," Dr Sen said, adding that the male elephant was about 18-25 years old.

Tawau Wildlife Department officer Soffian Abu Bakar said the pygmy elephant was a protected species and urged the public to come forward with any information on the shooting as it amounted an offence.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said that the elephant was among a few in the area earmarked for translocation to a forest reserve.

"The elephants in Felda Umas have been an ongoing issue. We have, to date, translocated more than 15 elephants from this area.

"The elephant was one of the few still remaining in the vicinity of the plantation, awaiting translocation," he said.

Rangers seek police help to probe shooting of pygmy elephant
muguntan vanar The Star 19 Aug 14;

KOTA KINABALU: Wildlife rangers have sought the help of police to investigate the shooting of a male pygmy elephant near the Felda Umas oil palm plantation.

Sabah Wildlife Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said the elephant had suffered for two to four days before it died in the area, about 70km from Tawau.

He said a post-mortem conducted by the wildlife rescue unit’s veterinary team found that the elephant had a small wound in the abdominal area and a shotgun pellet lodged in the left lung.

He said the shot entered the abdominal area and penetrated the intestines, causing serious internal bleeding before being lodged in the lung.

“It was quite sad as this elephant did not die straightaway and probably suffered for several days,” Dr Sen said, adding that the elephant was 18 to 25 years old.

Tawau Wildlife Department officer Soffian Abu Bakar urged those with information to come forward as it was an offence to kill the protected pygmy elephant.

State Wildlife Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said the elephant was among a few in the area identified by the department to be translocated to forest reserves.

“The elephants in Felda Umas have been an ongoing issue for the villagers. We have so far transferred more than 15 elephants from this area.

“The elephant that was killed was one of the few still remaining in the vicinity of the plantation that were awaiting translocation,” he said.

Dr Ambu said a similar problem occurred in the Telupid district.

“Recently, a group of about 25 elephants made their way to almost a kilometre from Telupid town.

“We have already translocated eight elephants and are moving the others.

“Even areas like Pensiangan and Sapult, which have never seen the presence of elephants, are now facing a serious elephant-human conflict,” he said.

Dr Ambu said translocation was expensive to carry out.

“It can cost up to RM30,000 to transfer one elephant. And in some cases, just a few weeks after a group of elephants was translocated, they end up going into other human populated areas, causing problems there,” he said.

Elephant found dead in Tawau
New Straits Times 19 Aug 14;

KOTA KINABALU: A bull elephant was found killed in the Felda Umas Oil Palm Plantation near Tawau, from a gunshot wound.

Its carcass was discovered on Friday by the plantation manager, who alerted the district’s Wildlife Department.

Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said an autopsy on the elephant, aged between 18 and 25 years old, confirmed that it had died from a gunshot.

“When we conducted the post- mortem, we found a bullet or maybe even a slug from a shotgun cartridge lodged in the left lung.”

Sen said the elephant probably suffered for two to four days before dying.

He said the Wildlife Department handed over the bullet to the police for examination and identification.

Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said human-elephant conflict in plantation areas, such as Felda Umas, was an ongoing issue.

“We have translocated more than 15 elephants from this area.

“The dead elephant that was killed was one of the few remaining in the vicinity of the plantation, awaiting translocation.”

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Brazil makes progress on saving forests, Indonesia risks setbacks-report

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 18 Aug 14;

Brazil has made good progress in safeguarding the Amazon rainforest but Indonesia's plans for its forests could face setbacks under a new government, a report commissioned by top forest aid donor Norway said on Monday.

Norway, rich from offshore oil and gas, paid 10.3 billion crowns ($1.7 billion) to slow tropical deforestation from 2008-13, according to the report by the state-funded Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad).

"Brazil's deforestation rate and corresponding greenhouse gas emissions have strongly decreased," the report said of progress in protecting the Amazon, the biggest tropical forest.

Projects funded by Norwegian cash in Brazil were "paving the way for future reductions", it said.

Norway has paid Brazil 4.6 billion crowns ($720 million) to help back up domestic programs, it said. Norway promised Brazil up to $1.0 billion in 2008 to slow deforestation, depending on its performance.

Under a similar deal in 2010, Norway pledged up to $1 billion to Indonesia, which has the third-largest rainforest after the Amazon and Congo basins and has cleared large areas to make way for palm oil plantations.

Indonesia had made "good progress" in planning to protect forests, Norad said. But it said that "upcoming governmental change and weaknesses in the legal basis" for forest protection "present a serious risk that achievements may be lost".

President-elect Joko Widodo takes over form Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in October. "There could be new priorities," Ida Hellmark, who coordinated the report at Norad, told Reuters, pointing to risks of a further shift to palm oil plantations.

So far, Indonesia has so far got just 2 percent of Norway's total payments, Norad said.

Forests soak up carbon dioxide as they grow and release it when they rot or burn. Deforestation, mainly to clear land for farms, accounts for up to about a fifth of all man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, according to U.N. estimates.

Cash promised by Norway accounts for more than 60 percent of all funds pledged by rich nations linking forests and climate change, the Norad report said. Norway's money has also gone to international agencies and nations such as Guyana and Tanzania.

Dag Hareide, head of environmental group Rainforest Foundation Norway, said Norway's aid had helped put a focus on forest losses and climate change at a time when many donors were facing austerity at home.

Still, he told Reuters that Norway could do more, especially to ensure that its $880 billion sovereign wealth fund avoided investing in companies that stoke deforestation.

(Editing by Andrew Roche)

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Indian poachers threaten lesser-known animals

Today Online 18 Aug 14;

NEW DELHI — Wildlife poachers, hindered by India’s efforts to protect majestic endangered animals including tigers and rhinos, have begun to think smaller. And activists say scores of the country’s lesser-known species are vanishing from the wild as a result.

The Indian pangolin — a scaly critter whose defence mechanism of rolling up into a ball is no help against humans — and the star tortoise — a popular pet that maxes out at a foot in length — are just two of the species that are being killed or smuggled in increasing numbers while conservation efforts focus on iconic animals such as tigers and elephants.

“The problem is that we were turning a blind eye to all lesser-known species and suddenly this very lucrative trade has been allowed to explode,” said Ms Belinda Wright, director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, an advocacy group.

Wildlife specialists say the growing affluence of China, Vietnam and other South-east Asian countries has helped drive the demand for exotic animals. Some are kept as pets, while others are eaten for their purported but questionable medicinal or aphrodisiacal properties.

Pangolins are killed for their meat, which is considered a delicacy, and their scales, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. The scales are made of keratin, the same protein that forms hair and fingernails, and have no documented medicinal value.

The pangolin trade was once obscure in India, with an average of only about three a year reportedly killed by poachers between 1990 and 2008. Ms Wright said that soared to an average of more than 320 per year from 2009 to 2013.

That only covers confirmed seizures. Customs officials and wildlife experts estimate that seizures form only 10 per cent of the total illegal trade. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimated in a report last month that more than a million pangolins have been poached from habitats in Asia and Africa.

Star tortoise seizures by airport and port customs officials also have increased dramatically, from an average of less than 800 per year from 1990 to 1999 to more than 3,000 per year from 2002 to 2013, according to the protection society.

Similarly, the growing demand for lizard skin, meat and bones has led to the near-disappearance of the monitor lizard in the Indian countryside, said Mr Tito Joseph, a program manager for the society. Monitor lizard meat, especially the tongue and liver, is mistakenly believed to have aphrodisiacal properties, while lizard skin finds use in high-end bags and belts.

Such animals became more attractive to poachers as the Indian government strengthened the tiger conservation program it began nearly four decades ago. Vast swathes of forests and hills have been turned into tiger reserves and national parks.

Indian officials deny neglecting lesser-known species. Creating the tiger reserves also helps protect smaller species in these areas, they say.

“The focus on tigers does not mean that other species are not taken care of,” said Mr S B Negi of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, a government agency.

But the bureau has only just begun efforts to collect data on many smaller species now in peril, including the pangolin, reflecting the scant attention they have received so far. Mr Kamal Datta, a director at the bureau, said the agency has asked wildlife departments in India’s 29 states to collect the data, but some have yet to begin.

“The trade in lesser known species cannot be ignored, else entire species, such as the Indian pangolin, are in danger of being wiped out,” said Ms Wright.

Pangolins, often described as “walking artichokes” on account of their coats of overlapping scales, were once found across India.

When threatened by predators, the animal protects itself by curling up into a scaly ball, but that makes it easy for poachers to bundle them into sacks for transportation.

Most of the illegal trade in pangolins and other species takes place across the porous border that India shares with Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh, experts said.

Activists say efforts to stop the illegal trade are hampered by a lack of knowledge among customs officials and border guards about the species they are supposed to protect.

“We’re talking here of the threat of pangolins being wiped out. But most often the officials set to catch the poachers don’t even know what the animal looks like, let alone who are the people involved in catching them, or those involved in the trade,” said Mr Shekhar Niraj, India director of TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, generally considered to be the most comprehensive of its kind, lists 374 species in India that are vulnerable and 274 others that are endangered, or critically endangered, and at risk of becoming extinct.

“This is a huge tragedy in the making,” Ms Wright said. “We must act before it is too late, or many of these spectacular animals will disappear.” AP

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Elephant poaching deaths reach tipping point in Africa

Rebecca Morelle BBC News 18 Aug 14;

Africa's elephants have reached a tipping point: more are being killed each year than are being born, a study suggests.

Researchers believe that since 2010 an average of nearly 35,000 elephants have been killed annually on the continent.

They warn that if the rate of poaching continues, the animals could be wiped out in 100 years.

The work is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Lead author George Wittemyer, from Colorado State University, said: "We are shredding the fabric of elephant society and exterminating populations across the continent."

Dramatic loss

The illegal trade in elephant tusks has soared in recent years, and a kilogram of ivory is now worth thousands of dollars. Much of the demand has been driven by a rapidly growing market in Asia.

While conservationists have long said the outlook was bleak, this study provides a detailed assessment of the impact this is having on Africa's elephants.

The researchers have found that between 2010 and 2013, Africa lost an average of 7% of its entire elephant population each year.

Because elephant births boost the population by about 5% annually, this means that overall more of the animals are being killed than are being born.

Julian Blanc, who also worked on the study, from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), said: "If this is sustained, then we will see significant declines over time.

"The other thing to bear in mind is that different areas are affected differently.

"There are still healthy growing populations in parts of Africa, Botswana for example. But in other places the poaching levels are devastatingly high, and that is particularly the case in Central Africa."

In Central Africa it is estimated that elephant numbers have fallen by about 60% in a decade.

Prof Wittemyer added: "We are talking about the removal of the oldest and biggest elephants.

"That means removal of the primary breeding males and removal of family matriarchs and mothers. This leaves behind orphaned juveniles and broken elephant societies."

Conservationists said urgent action was needed.

John Scanlon, secretary-general of Cites, said: "The world needs to decide how much further effort it wants to put into the conservation of this magnificent species and, if so, be prepared to mobilise the necessary human and financial resources to deliver - and we are seeing some encouraging signs in this regard.

"In terms of concrete actions, we need to move to focus on the front-line and tackle all links in the illegal ivory trade chain - improve local livelihoods (for those living with elephants), strengthen enforcement and governance and reduce demand for illegal ivory. "

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