Cross Island Line: Prioritising development over conservation sends wrong message to next generation

ANDRE CHUA TZE MING Today Online 14 Feb 16;

I refer to the article “Impact of Cross Island work on MacRitchie significant without LTA mitigation measures” (Feb 11).

I am writing to express my concern about one of the two proposed alignments for the MRT Line — across the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. I understand the impact of the alignments have been studied, along with the mitigation measures for the possible impact, but in my opinion, the matter should be reconsidered carefully.

As a resident in the western part of Singapore, I was initially pleased that we will have a new way of getting across the country, making more places accessible. Taking into account Singapore’s growing population, it also adds to the necessity for an even more effective transport system.

But there is a cost to this more desirable transport alternative if the MRT line cuts through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

With schools emphasising the importance of protecting the environment, constructing the MRT line across the nature reserve is contradictory to the message of protecting rainforests here, and the lessons on the impact of deforestation and the like.

If the younger generation sees that transport efficiency is placed above the protection of nature, they will have a warped idea of what Singapore’s priorities are. They, the country’s future leaders, may also be confused about where they place their priorities. The consequences of this could be unimaginable.

I implore the authorities to review the decision carefully, for the sake of the younger generation.

No substitute for ‘natural monuments’ at MacRitchie
ALOYSIUS TEO Today Online 16 Feb 16;

I agree that the Cross Island Line should be routed along Lornie Road instead of cutting through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (“MacRitchie route for MRT line an irreversible error”; Feb 13).

Constructing the MRT line along an existing road will improve worksite accessibility and minimise technical challenges.

The Nature Society of Singapore has estimated that this alignment will incur an additional travelling time of four minutes. Is spending four additional minutes on travelling to safeguard our natural heritage too much to ask for?

In recent years, the Government has been advocating a more compassionate, caring and inclusive society. This compassion should extend to the protection of our few remaining natural ecosystems as well.

Increasingly, Singaporeans have expressed their preference for less stress, a slower pace of life and the preservation of green spaces over infrastructure development. Diverting the Cross Island Line away from the nature reserve is an excellent way for the Government and the public to walk the talk.

Not all forests in Singapore are of equal conservation priority. The forests adjacent to the MacRitchie route are the remaining pockets of primary forests in Singapore. Harbouring countless trees older than even our oldest man-made national monuments, these primary forests represent our “natural national monuments”.

Cumulatively, these pockets of primary forests cover a land area of just 120ha. In stark contrast, golf courses occupied approximately 1,500ha of land in 2014.

Site investigation and tunnelling works will introduce disturbances deep into the core of these primary forests. The ability of these forests to recover remains unknown. Till now, researchers have yet to reach a consensus on the timespan needed before recovering forests reattain the diversity and structural complexity of primary forests, if they ever will.

The irreplaceability of the primary forests within the Central Catchment Nature Reserve further highlights the importance of impact avoidance. While it is true that Bukit Timah Nature Reserve also harbours significant patches of primary forests, the steep topography there has shaped a different community of tree species.

In short, there is no substitute anywhere else in Singapore for the primary forests within the Central Catchment area.

I strongly urge the relevant authorities to refrain from routing the Cross Island Line under the nature reserve. Attitude shifts are required, and we should never trade short-term conveniences for the long-term survival of our natural heritage.

Preservation of primary forests should not be main concern
DAVID CHONG CHEE MING Today Online 16 Feb 16;

I refer to “MacRitchie route for MRT line an irreversible error” (Feb 13). As a Singaporean, I treasure the MacRitchie reservoir very much. But preservation of the primary lowland rainforest in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve should not be the dominant concern.

Singapore is a city-state and we need to find a balance between the preservation and the economical use of available land for development. It is necessary to seek a satisfactory compromise between the two opposing forces.

I note that there is an alternative route suggested. But will this incur an exorbitant additional expenditure, taking into consideration the costs of construction, any compensation and redevelopment?

The Land Transport Authority needs to weigh these various factors in coming to its decision.

Cross Island Line work: LTA should detail options
TAN KOK TIM Today Online 17 Feb 16;

I refer to “No substitute for ‘natural monuments’ at MacRitchie” (Feb 16).

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) should provide information on a range of questions in response to the concerns that have been raised.

These include the length of the MRT line should it run under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and the construction cost per kilometre of such an alignment, in contrast with that of going around the area.

The LTA can also share the potential of each alignment option with regard to serving human activities.

In terms of environmental concerns, the planned depth of the tunnel and its expected impact on the surface of the nature reserve — during construction and when it is operational — should be made public. What is the minimum depth for the tunnel to not adversely and irreversibly affect the greenery at ground level?

What price will Singapore pay to balance progress, conservation?
MANORAJ RAJATHURAI Today Online 17 Feb 16;

I refer to “No substitute for ‘natural monuments’ at MacRitchie” and “Preservation of primary forests should not be main concern” (Feb 16). In time, as Singapore’s population grows on this little island-nation, land scarcity will reach a point so critical that we will eventually have to look at all land available to us, including the catchment areas where most of our forests are found.

If we do not, we may face overcrowding on a scale not seen throughout much of the world, for the sake of keeping nature alive.

Singapore’s progress, perhaps one of the most rapid in the world, in one of the smallest areas in the world, creates a tremendous strain in terms of infrastructure development, from industrial estates to housing and transport, and keeping the people moving and happy at the same time. This is a juggling act, not helped by the scarcity of land and resources. What has been achieved in the political, economic and social spheres here is remarkable.

But sustaining this balance over the next 50 years is a greater challenge, given the competition for labour, resources and land.

Will watchwords such as preservation and conservation resound as much when we are faced with the need to grow this country even further and higher, and to meet the people’s needs at the same time? Achieving a balance between the two agendas will become increasingly difficult.

Tough and unpopular choices may lie ahead. Perhaps in some areas a compromise could be reached, but at what price? This is the question that bears asking.

Love of nature versus speedier commute: Keep it in perspective
CALVIN PANG Today Online 19 Feb 16;

I have been taking the MRT for many years, as the Bishan Station is only a short walk from my home. I am thankful that the Government has been building more lines and I am looking forward to the new Cross Island Line, which can take me to other parts of Singapore.

Like many Singaporeans, I love being close to nature and enjoy going to the beautiful reservoirs and parks on the weekends with my children. Nevertheless, I also value the possibility of speedier travel when the line is finally complete. I will be an old man by then, and I hope I can still move around. But my children and my grandchildren can enjoy the fruits of the labour.

I do not envy the Land Transport Authority (LTA), which has to make a tough decision on which alignment the line will take. I am glad to hear that LTA will be doing site investigations so that a considered decision can be made.

While the Central Catchment Nature Reserve is best left undisturbed, it is not possible to expect there to be zero impact from the entire construction exercise. On one hand, nature is priceless, on the other, we know MacRitchie will not disappear if the tunnel cuts through the nature reserve.

In other words, things have to be put in perspective.

Other considerations such as the longer travel time for all commuters for the years to come and the “disturbances” caused to people living around the other alignment should be borne in mind. From the green perspective, we must also not neglect the fact that additional energy will be needed to operate the trains for the long term if the longer alignment for the MRT line is chosen.

Singapore is a garden city. Today, we have this green city to live in because our forefathers emphasised the importance of it despite conflicting demands for the limited land in Singapore. In the 50 years of rapid development, we could have ended up as a concrete jungle in the name of progress, but we did not.

I believe the authorities will do the due diligence to ensure that the final alignment will be in the best interests of the public at large, and is something future generations will benefit from.

Benefits of MRT line skirting nature reserve outweigh costs
Straits Times Forum 17 Feb 16;

I agree with senior transport correspondent Christopher Tan that it is not wise for the Cross Island Line to cut through the nature reserve ("Cross Island Line debate misses elephant in room"; Feb 16).

First, the environment will be affected. Phase 1 of the Environmental Impact Assessment mentioned that the construction of the Cross Island Line will have moderate impact on the nature reserve and that its effects can be mitigated if appropriate measures are taken.

However, no matter how many precautions the contractor takes to mitigate the effects, there will still be some damage done to the nature reserve.

Second, the alternative alignment proposed by the Nature Society will present an opportunity to serve those who are currently not served by the MRT network.

Skirting the nature reserve will bring convenience to people and serve as many people as possible.

This will also help achieve the Government's aim of having eight in 10 households being within a 10-minute walk of a rail station by 2030.

The Land Transport Authority is concerned that the alternative alignment will lead to higher construction costs.

The higher ridership from the alternative alignment will help to cover the costs incurred in building the line.

Ian Tay Ke Yang

Conservation has incalculable benefits for S’pore
AMOS MAXIMILIAN LEE Today Online 20 Feb 16;

I refer to the letter “Preservation of primary forests should not be a main concern” (Feb 16), which makes a good point about the balance needed between conservation and economical use of land.

But I would argue that the current situation in Singapore is one of imbalance, where there has been too much focus on development, with often marginal plans for conservation.

Can we truly call ourselves a green city when thousands of species of flora and fauna could be affected?

We cannot think of conservation in purely dollars and cents; much of its benefits are intangible. Cleaner air, recreation, biodiversity and scenic beauty are benefits that cannot and should not be calculated in monetary terms.

Projects such as the Cross Island Line are big and need to be deliberated over carefully.

Alternatives, even if they are more expensive, need to be considered, as the consequences of our actions now are irreversible for many generations.

There are already numerous examples of deforestation in the Amazon and Kalimantan and we do not need to contribute to this wanton destruction.

Our forests may be puny in comparison, but for our tiny size, they are of huge significance.

There is really no need to disturb our primary forests, which should be left untouched for our collective future.

Avoid tunnel vision in MRT debate
Straits Times Editorial 23 Feb 16;

Exchanges over the impact of possible MRT tunnel construction under a nature reserve echo the tensions evident during the Senoko nature debate in 1994 and the Chek Jawa controversy in 2001. Both were similarly characterised as a contest between the intrinsic value of the nation's precious little natural heritage and the intrinsic value of beneficial development in a land-scarce city. To see the Central Catchment Nature Reserve debate in the same light would not be entirely wrong but the larger issue is the handling of tensions when multiple competing interests surface over a major decision yet to be made.

Significantly, it was the green question that served as a catalyst for such wider self-examination by the State. The Senoko case saw a technocratic response to a ground effort to save a nesting ground for 200 bird species - space planners wanted for 17,000 new homes. That was apparently resolved by weighing the pluses and minuses objectively. A different result was possible only if activists could persuade 17,000 housing upgraders to opt out of the waiting list for the sake of the birds. Chek Jawa, less than 10 years later, saw a policy reversal after the facts were deeply contested between a public agency and environmentalists. Tipping the balance were ground surveys by volunteers that saved the biodiversity from being trampled, had it been used for military purposes instead. Having gone a further 15 years down the road, one might ask if the approach of the authorities has changed materially.

Housing, defence and transport are all large imperatives that might dictate an instrumental ordering of competing interests by planners. Yet, after Chek Jawa, even civil service leaders have acknowledged that "Singaporeans want a bigger say in policies… (and) the public sector will have to adapt to these changing circumstances", as a public agency chief had noted. However, in the latest case, the Land Transport Authority left some wondering about its willingness to engage the public, by originally making a crucial environment assessment report available only by appointment at its office, till March 4.

Clearly, the issues raised as a whole go beyond the technical. But by the same token, those against any work under the forest have not given enough weight to the depth of the tunnelling to be done - about 40m underground depending on further analysis. Nature aside, there is a call for homes and businesses to be preserved by avoiding an alternative alignment of the MRT Line that would go around rather than under the nature reserve. There are also issues of longer travelling times and incremental building costs of $2 billion.

The green legacy matters, of course, but the latest debate should also help to clarify broad terms of preservation amid necessary change that are supported by Singaporeans.

Zero impact on nature not realistic in S'pore
Straits Times Forum 25 Feb 16;

The debate over the impact of the Cross Island MRT Line on nature and on residents highlights the need to have moderate and diverse views, so that a balanced and informed decision can result.

There are some arguments raised in the debate that we should all be mindful of.

Mr Subaraj Rajathurai, director of Strix Wildlife Consultancy, was quoted as saying that "homes, however, can be cleared and rebuilt" ("$2b extra cost if MRT line skirts reserve"; Monday).

Unless we are residents of affected areas, we should not make such judgments.

Such an argument gives the impression that homes can be easily rebuilt, but the lives of those affected may be altered forever, and the life of those residents as they knew it may never be rebuilt.

Stakeholders such as the Nature Society (Singapore) should also moderate their views.

The society's Mr Tony O'Dempsey called for the construction of the MRT line to have zero impact on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve ("Call for 'zero impact' on nature reserve"; Feb 14).

This is an extreme view because, living in land-scarce and densely populated Singapore, this is not realistic.

On the Nature Society's website, there is no mention of zero impact. Its mission statements are clear and easy to accept:

•To promote nature awareness and nature appreciation

•To advocate conservation of the natural environment in Singapore

•To forge participation and collaboration in local, regional and international efforts in preserving Earth's biodiversity

Zero impact is something that is not enforceable in Singapore, so we should not make such a call any more.

The fact that we spent $17 million on the Eco-Link@BKE - to restore the ecological connection between Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, which were separated because of the construction of the Bukit Timah Expressway - and $1 billion on Gardens by the Bay shows that the Government wants to preserve our natural environment and allow future generations to enjoy various nature attractions.

Strong lobbying by green groups has, to some extent, been too extreme, resulting in an unbalanced view presented to the public.

Let's allow the Government to do its thorough assessment and make a balanced decision that prioritises serving the larger community.

Whatever the outcome, I hope for a better and more efficient transport system.

The building of the Cross Island MRT Line is the right decision and must go ahead.

Robin Lim Jit Piow

Related links
Love our MacRitchie Forest: walks, talks and petition. Also on facebook.