Thursday 17 October 2013

Pasir Ris Green is a secondary forest

In reply to Mr Wang’s forum letter on 4 Oct, we agree that greenery is important to Singapore. As a small city-state, we have to ensure that sufficient land is available to accommodate a whole range of uses, including greenery and other critical needs like housing, schools and employment centres. 

Providing for parks and greenery remains a key focus in our planning approach. By taking a holistic approach to planning and balancing our needs for development with environmental and social needs, we have managed to safeguard about 9 per cent of our land for both nature reserves and aprks, including four gazetted Nature Reserves and more than 350 parks. While we may not be able to conserve every local green area, we have consciously conserved a significant and representative segment of our native ecosystem. We will continue to safeguard land for greenery, but we need to be selective and ensure that parks and greenery are well distributed so at least 85 per cent of our residents will live within a 10 minute walk of a park. 

The relevant agencies have conducted visits to the Pasir Ris Drive 3 site between 2004 and 2012 and affirm that the site is a secondary forest that was regenerated after it was left fallow. Their survey found far fewer species of flora and fauna at the Pasir Ris site than at the Nature Reserves and Nature Areas. The bird species found at the site can also be found in a range of other localities in Singapore, including the Nature Reserves. 

Pasir Ris has many parks that are within easy reach of residents, such as Pasir Ris Park, Pasir Ris Town Park, the nature area next to Sungei Tampines and Lorong Halus Wetland. Compared to many housing estates, it has more parks and greenery for residents to enjoy.

Goh Chin Chin (Ms)
Director (Physical Planning, East)

The dilemma and difficulties in urban greening

Despite the efforts by the Pasir Ris residents, meeting DPM, agencies, in discussions and dialogues, highlighting the biodiversity of the area, putting up petitions, these have not deterred the planning for the site, and the decision has been made for the forest to give way for an international school. Thus, a forest will be gone. The residents can only watch the cutting down with hurt and helplessness in their hearts.

The recent ZB article on this issue reported that URA will minimise disruption to the environment, had a very appropriate title, the first part stated the determination by the agency to destroy the forest, while the later part mentioned about appeasing the residents. But how much were the residents appeased, we will not know.

A resident, Mr Xu said that as the nation needs to progress, it is not possible to preserve the forest just for the sake of a small portion of the people, after three to five years, the residents will get used to the new changes.

So, the entire stretch in Pasir Ris will be developed, with a few high end condominium projects currently in construction. To meet the needs of Singaporeans, some greenery had to be sacrificed, this is unavoidable and understandable.

However, this piece of forest, which Pasir Ris residents had considered a Green Lung, had many rare bird species which are in danger of extinction. Experts had pointed out that this was a site where seasonal bird species will stop on their way, and should be seen as a national resource, to use for educating the younger generation, to cultivate their character, which would be more valuable than anything else. Based on this, preserving the forest is not just for the sake of a few residents, but has a higher meaning, in terms of preserving a national resource. 

Government policies can change according to the needs of a nation and its people, but greening policies should not change. For the past 50 years, the nation had spared no expense towards greening efforts, from cultivating a green environment in primary schools, and at the same time increasing the amount of trees and plants for a green environment. Even though in order to develop housing, industrial construction, public transport the government has reached a consensus that to cut down forests they will replace greenery, however the writer is unable to understand why the forest had to make way for the Overseas Family School.

Pasir Ris international school design tweaked after residents' objections
But some still concerned about traffic woes at Pasir Ris international school
By Grace Chua, The Straits Times, 1 Oct 2013

A group of residents in Pasir Ris have lost a long-running battle to stop the Government from giving approval for a new international school close to their homes.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) informed the residents recently that the Overseas Family School (OFS) will proceed, but with a design addressing some concerns they had raised.

Some residents were concerned that the school's 12-storey buildings would loom over their homes, while others were keen to preserve a forested area.

Some were also worried that transport for its 4,800 pupils would affect traffic flow.

The $261 million campus on the 4ha plot is at the corner of Pasir Ris Drive 3 and Elias Road.

Until last month, when it was cleared, the plot boasted woodland that some residents had fought to save. They aired their concerns with the authorities.

Last weekend, about 300 residents of the Pasir Ris Heights area got a URA letter showing the campus layout and detailing measures to assuage some concerns.

These include a new road off Pasir Ris Drive 3 and opposite Pasir Ris Drive 10, providing more planting at the site's edges than the standard 2m requirement, and putting the car and bus parks beneath the school field.

"We have approved the layout of the school campus based on the following major considerations to mitigate your concerns," it said.

Another design feature is that the air-conditioned 12-storey academic buildings are to tilted at an angle to reduce the sense they will tower over homes, mostly terrace or semi-detached homes.

Still, some residents are concerned about traffic congestion and parents of OFS pupils parking their cars in front of their homes.

The Pasir Ris Greenbelt residents' group is still hoping for a townhall-style meeting with the school, URA and the Ministry of National Development to reiterate concerns before piling starts and the layout of the campus is set.

But OFS has a deadline as it must move out of its Paterson Road campus by 2015 to make way for the Thomson MRT Line.

Asked if his views might be considered "not in my backyard" or Nimby entitlement, Pasir Ris Heights resident Oliver Foo, 49, said: "Would we prefer to have a green belt? Yes."

"But do we accept that the school is coming? Yes, we do," said the leadership consultant.

National University of Singapore geographer Harvey Neo, who studies nature and society, said while the authorities have factored in some of the residents' concerns, "fundamentally, the residents are questioning the need and inevitability of building an overseas school in the green belt".

But some have pointed out that some give-and-take is necessary.

There have been incidents of residents opposing developments, like nursing homes, being built near their homes.

MP Lim Biow Chuan, who has dealt with such cases, said: "I always hesitate to use the term Nimby. Although strictly speaking the land does not belong to the residents... we should see if these are legitimate concerns.

"Planning for land use is a complicated affair, and like it or not, some things have to be built. Sometimes residents are concerned because they can't see the whole picture. So communication is important."

Timeline of events
- April 2012: Land on either side of a forest patch at the intersection of Pasir Ris Drive 3 and Elias Road is earmarked for development.
- June 2012: Residents form the Pasir Ris Greenbelt Committee to protect the 4ha patch.
- July 2012: They petition to protect the woodland.
- Aug 2012: They hold talks with their MP, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
- Oct 2012: The Ministry of National Development (MND) and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) send the group a letter saying the site is to make way for a school.
- Nov 2012: The group meets DPM Teo, URA, MND and the National Parks Board.
- Dec 2012-Jan 2013: Residents are alarmed to see workers about to cut down a large tree, but MND says the tree is being felled for safety reasons.
- June 2013: The lease for the land is awarded to Overseas Family School for $28 million for 30 years.
- Sept 2013: The school pays an extra $9.1 million for intensified land use.
- Sept 19: Pasir Ris residents meet the school and URA representatives and their MP.
- Sept 29: URA sends residents a letter detailing campus plans, to mitigate concerns.

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