Saturday, 31 July 2021

Dover Forest to be used for both housing and nature; first housing project to be launched in 2022

HDB flats to be built in eastern half, with parts of western half kept as nature park
By Audrey Tan and Ng Keng Gene, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2021

The plan for Dover Forest has been revised, with public housing expected to be launched in the eastern half next year while the western half is set aside for now to preserve its biodiversity.

The young secondary forest plot in western Singapore is zoned for residential use, but the plans were tweaked after scientific studies and nature enthusiasts flagged its conservation value.

To balance the country's needs for both housing and nature, only the eastern half of the 33ha site - almost eight times the size of the Padang - will be developed in the nearer term.

The plan is to develop about 11ha of land in the eastern half for public housing projects. The first of the flats there are expected to be launched in the second half of next year, said the Housing Board (HDB).

The development of the area, which is located in the mature estate of Queenstown, will be done sensitively and also feature 5ha of greenery - including a park with a natural stream.

The western half of the site will be set aside for now and relooked at in about a decade, HDB added. But parts of this segment, which is richer in biodiversity than the eastern half, will be carved out and safeguarded as a nature park.

Minister for National Development Desmond Lee said on Wednesday during a media conference: "HDB had originally intended to launch the entire parcel, known (also) as Ulu Pandan vegetated area or Ulu Pandan Forest, for public housing to meet pressing needs for public housing in the near term. But we have decided to review it and refine it."

This decision was made after feedback from members of the public and the findings of two separate scientific studies.

The first study, commissioned by HDB to inventory the wildlife on the site, had found that the western part of it was richer in biodiversity, comprising more large trees and threatened species.

The second study by the National Parks Board in consultation with experts modelled how the Dover plot connects with other forests in Singapore. This exercise had shown that the site was an important stepping stone for wildlife moving in from the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve north of the site, as well as from the vegetation in the Southern Ridges further down.

These factors informed plans for the site.

While other development projects have incorporated green features, these elements are usually included on an individual project basis. This is the first time vegetation on a site is being safeguarded via a broader landscape approach, in a way that will allow the plot to serve as a stepping stone for wildlife moving from other forests.

Mr Lee said: "Top of our minds was our role as responsible stewards of our land and natural environment, to meet the needs of current Singaporeans as well as future generations, while ensuring that we safeguard resources for (the future)."

The Dover Forest is bound by Commonwealth Avenue West, Ghim Moh Link, Ulu Pandan Canal and Clementi Road.

Public housing development plans for the site were released last December, with Mr Lee saying on Facebook then that Build-To-Order flats to be launched this year would be in the area.

Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple Professor of Conservation Koh Lian Pin, who heads the National University of Singapore's Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions, said: "Of course I would have liked to see the entire Dover Forest conserved. But when there are competing uses of the land from housing needs, for example... the (scientific exercise) is critical for providing the scientific basis to triage which half of the forest to protect."

Keeping half of Dover Forest as nature park a win for all: Nature groups, residents
By Ng Keng Gene, The Straits Times, 31 Jul 2021

The Housing Board's decision not to develop half of Dover Forest for now and instead safeguard it as a nature park is a win not just for nature groups and nature, but also for present and future Singaporeans, said conservation experts and Dover residents.

Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum told The Straits Times yesterday: "A Singapore with vibrant nature, retained without sacrificing key development needs, is a better Singapore.

"Dover Forest is for everyone - residents of the new HDB estate (to be launched next year), residents who live in the vicinity of Dover Forest, and people all over Singapore who will be able to discover a beautiful, life-giving, restorative and accessible nature space."

HDB had earlier yesterday announced that it had revised plans for the 33ha Dover Forest, with public housing expected to be launched in the eastern half next year while the western half is to be left to preserve its biodiversity.

The forest plot has been zoned for residential use since 2003, but plans were tweaked after scientific studies and nature enthusiasts flagged its conservation value.

Among those who submitted alternative proposals for the site was Nature Society (Singapore), which in January proposed that the forest be retained as a "public-cum-nature park".

In announcing its plans, HDB said it had taken into account two studies, including one by the National Parks Board that modelled how the Dover plot connects with other forests here.

This exercise had shown that the site was an important stepping stone for wildlife moving between Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Southern Ridges.

Dr Lum, who is also a botanist at the Nanyang Technological University, said: "I think of the plan as more than a compromise. It is a holistic solution to maintain the key ecological functions of the Dover Forest site, both as a nature area in its own right and also as a key component of connectivity for nature."

He said HDB has plans to retain a freshwater stream running through the eastern sector. "The developed site will also be a place where urban nature might thrive," he said.

Members of the public such as Dover resident Sydney Cheong also weighed in on the forest's fate.

He had appealed for the forest to be left untouched, and an online petition he started has received over 50,600 signatures since January.

Said the 52-year-old of the HDB's announcement: "Although only about half of the forest will be protected as a nature park and wildlife corridor, it is still important for wildlife conservation in Singapore."

He added: "To preserve wild areas is never easy, especially in a country where land is limited."

Mr Karl Png, 24, co-founder of nature group Singapore Youth Voices for Biodiversity, said the involvement of the wider public and Dover residents in the HDB's decision-making process was a major success for his group, especially with the question about the future of both Dover Forest and the nearby Clementi Forest raised in Parliament earlier this year.

The biology undergraduate said that as a Dover resident himself, he empathised with young house-hunters hoping to buy a flat in the area to live close to their families.

"I wouldn't want to be the one to deny young families new homes in the area, and I also would not rule out myself or my siblings wanting to live in the new flats as well," he said. "Maybe it is an ironic position to be in as a nature advocate, but I still tried my best to push for the retention of the forest."

First housing project in part of forest to be launched in 2022
Developing part of Dover Forest will help meet strong demand for housing in mature estates, says HDB
By Ng Keng Gene, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2021

While the Housing Board has announced that it will put off development for the western half of the 33ha Dover Forest for now following a review of its plans, 11ha of the eastern half will be used for public housing, as well as commercial and recreational amenities.

Developing the land will help meet strong demand for housing in mature estates, including from young families who want to live near their parents in the area, said HDB. The first of the housing projects in the eastern sector of Dover Forest will be launched in the second half of next year.

HDB added that the last Build-To-Order (BTO) development in the area was launched in November 2012. Since then, it has received feedback from residents that their children wish to live in the area.

"This is aligned to HDB's data showing that more married couples and the elderly are preferring to stay near to their families for better mutual care and support," it said.

In a statement on Sunday, HDB said the application rate for new units in mature towns and estates increased to 6.7 times last year from 2.8 times in 2017, while the rate for units in non-mature estates and towns was 4.8 times last year, up from 2.1 times in 2017.

The figures indicate a continued preference among flat buyers for flats in mature estates.

HDB also said that mature estates like Queenstown - of which Ulu Pandan is a part - have also seen higher than average demand for unsold flats released in sales exercises over the past four years.

The application rate for the Sale of Balance Flats (SBF) exercises in Queenstown was 6.4 times during that period, compared with the average of 5.4 across all mature estates. Clementi - which is right next to the Dover Forest site - also had an exceptionally high SBF application rate at 8.3 times.

The high demand may also be due to the fewer BTO projects launched in these areas recently, said the Housing Board.

The coming launch in the Dover Forest site is good news for house hunters. An administration executive, who wanted to be known only as Ms Goh, said she and her fiance have been looking since 2019 for a unit near Ghim Moh, where she grew up and her parents still live.

"I am familiar with the area, and this is the community I grew up in. When my parents grow older, it will also be easier to care for them, and if we have kids, they can help with childcare, so living nearby will be very convenient," said Ms Goh, who is in her early 30s.

She said she had not been successful in getting an unsold or new flat during sales exercises, while resale units in older blocks in Ghim Moh Road were less attractive because of the shorter time remaining on their leases.

In announcing its plans, HDB said it took into account feedback submitted on an environmental baseline study it had conducted on the site.

Among the 1,800 responses were calls for the site to be fully retained as a green space, while others suggested conserving ecologically significant portions of the site alongside housing developments.

HDB also addressed alternative development sites put forward by nature groups, members of the public and Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher de Souza.

Of the five sites, two are currently in interim use by the Ministry of Education, while another two are earmarked to be part of the future Dover Knowledge District.

The last site, next to Ulu Pandan Community Club, will be part of a BTO exercise to be launched next year. Details of the number of types of flats available at this site and in the Dover Forest sector will be made available at a later date.

Mr de Souza, who oversees the Ulu Pandan ward, told The Straits Times that HDB has informed him the new developments in Ulu Pandan east would weave in greenery and enhance blue spaces to improve liveability and ecological connectivity.

NParks identifies new nature corridor for wildlife in Clementi area
By Audrey Tan, Science and Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2021

An "animal corridor", comprising a series of linked green patches between Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Southern Ridges that wildlife can travel through, has been identified by the National Parks Board (NParks).

This route, called the Clementi Nature Corridor, will pass through a nature park that will be carved out from the western half of the Dover Forest site. The eastern half will be used for public housing.

Other sites along this corridor include forested plots in Clementi - including the Clementi Forest - Toh Tuck and Maju, as well as the Rail Corridor.

NParks said this corridor provides urban planners with an overview of how wildlife connectivity in the area can be maintained, even if developments take place in the area in future. It was identified through a scientific study.

Said NParks in a statement on Friday (July 30): "There are no immediate development plans for the Toh Tuck and Maju sites, and no immediate plans for residential developments at the Clementi site."

It added that the corridor also takes into account the future transport infrastructure options in Clementi Road, by the fringe of Clementi Forest, to support existing educational institutions and residential estates there.

Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple Professor of Conservation Koh Lian Pin, who heads the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions, said that in Singapore's fragmented forest landscape, connectivity is very important for the country's native flora and fauna.

"Such corridors and vegetated stepping stones allow birds, mammals and other wildlife to safely move between patches of forests to escape predators, forage for food, or even look for mates," he said.

This helps to maintain the genetic diversity of Singapore's wildlife, making them more resilient to threats such as diseases, Prof Koh added.

The Clementi Nature Corridor had been identified by NParks in consultation with a panel of local biodiversity experts, including Prof Koh, in an ecological profiling exercise.

This exercise essentially entailed the mapping out of vegetated areas islandwide, and then modelling the likely paths that six indicator species may take to move from plot to plot.

The six species include the Sunda pangolin and hill mynah, and were selected as they are sensitive forest dwellers that may venture out to forest edges, provided suitable habitat is created for them there.

NUS mammal scientist Marcus Chua, who was not involved in the scientific exercise, said that the ecological profiling exercise is a "clear sign of the application of scientific knowledge and methods to advise land use planning and making decisions that would be beneficial for Singapore".

He added: "I see it as part of continual improvement of how such decisions are made to balance land use decisions with regard to the need for environmental protection with other needs."

Dover Forest plan revision a benchmark for future major projects
By Audrey Tan, Science and Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2021

The revision of plans for the Dover Forest was an exercise in trust and transparency and showed the strides made by the Housing Board (HDB) since its last controversial development, Tengah town.

So, while the outcome for the Dover plot - that half be used for public housing, and the other half left fallow for now, with a segment of this conserved as a nature park - may not please everyone, it sets a benchmark.

It is an encouraging indication of how Singapore will approach future tough decisions about which green spaces should stay and which must go to meet other national needs.

This thorny issue is expected to persist amid a growing awareness of how greenery can mitigate urban heat and increasing interest in the country's urban spaces.

Two factors stand out in the way the Dover Forest issue was resolved.

The first is the authorities' willingness to involve Singaporeans in the decision. The HDB said that the 1,800-odd responses to its public consultation exercise on the fate of Dover Forest were factored into the final outcome.

Such consultations should continue for other major projects. They ensure that people have a stake in the city they live in.

The second heartening point is the authorities' use of science to justify conservation decisions.

With more people kindling relationships with the country's wild spaces, nature conservation is becoming an increasingly emotional issue.

Basing decisions on science, with planners being transparent about the data gleaned from studies, will help put into perspective the varying shades of green in Singapore.

For Dover, HDB had posted on its website the full environmental study at the end of last year, allowing those interested to scrutinise the findings.

But a similar study done for Tengah town, which is being built on a larger swathe of secondary forest, had not been publicly shared.

People had to rely only on HDB's summary of findings that the Tengah plot was of "low conservation significance".

But ecologists had considered the 700ha site an important connector between the forests in the western catchment with the central nature reserves.

The development plans included a forest corridor within Tengah town to serve as this link, but ST later found that a vegetated plot outside Tengah, which the corridor was supposed to connect, was cleared for another housing project.

The authorities later said they would take steps to improve the situation with an injection of greenery.

But for Dover, wildlife connectivity was a major consideration.

The tweaks made to the plans for Dover Forest to hold off development in the more biodiverse western half, and carve out a nature park there, had been informed by the findings from a scientific model developed by the National Parks Board in consultation with experts here.

The model had shown that the western half could be a stepping stone for wildlife moving from Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in the north, and the Southern Ridges further down.

There will always be competing demands on land in Singapore.

But more people are aware that nature, too, is essential - not simply something that is good to have. The Covid-19 pandemic, for instance, highlighted the importance of green spaces for relaxation.

A balance must be struck, and policymakers will always have the unenviable task of making the tough decisions.

But trust and transparency in the decision-making process can ease tensions.

*  2 new nature trails to run through Clementi Forest; first one to be ready by 2023
Safe access to greenery while minimising impact on biodiversity; new link to Jurong Lake Gardens
By Ng Keng Gene, The Straits Times, 1 Aug 2021

Parts of Clementi Forest will be safeguarded as two new nature trails will be created, the National Parks Board (NParks) said yesterday.

Nature enthusiasts had called for the conservation of the luxuriant forest and the wildlife in it.

A stretch of the 2km Clementi Nature Trail will run along an existing stream within the Clementi Forest. The trail will connect the existing Rail Corridor to an upcoming nature park in Dover Forest. It will be completed by 2023.

A 4km path will run along a stretch of the old Jurong Railway Line, which was operational from 1965 to 1992.

The Old Jurong Line Nature Trail - as it will be called - will run along parts of the old line and feature railway tracks, bridges and tunnels. It will be completed in stages from 2024, NParks said.

The two new nature trails will also connect with Jurong Lake Gardens via a new 3km park connector to be built. In total, these green threads, along with 9km of existing trails and park connectors, will provide those who live in the western part of Singapore with a network comprising 18km of trails.

Minister for National Development Desmond Lee said in a pre-recorded video yesterday at the launch of the new green network that the two new nature trails will provide safe access for Singaporeans to enjoy greenery while minimising impact on biodiversity.

At the same time, the country's heritage will also be conserved, Mr Lee said, pointing to how the Old Jurong Line Nature Trail will enable people to experience "both nature and a slice of our heritage at the same time".

Both the Dover and Clementi forest plots have been in the spotlight in recent months, amid a growing interest among residents to preserve the country's wild spaces.

The authorities have said there is no immediate need to develop Clementi Forest.

As for Dover, the Housing Board said on Friday that it will develop only the eastern half for public housing in the near term. The more biodiverse western half of the site will be left fallow for now, although the authorities have given their assurance that a nature park will be carved from it.

Last October, drone footage of the Clementi Forest at dawn spread widely on social media. The beauty of the site captured by nature enthusiast Brice Li, 53, spurred many to attempt exploring Clementi Forest on their own.

The authorities eventually issued a statement advising people against doing so, as the site was unmanaged and tree fall incidents and unpaved trails could pose safety risks to hikers.

Wildlife, too, was affected by the influx of people to Clementi Forest.

In May, The Straits Times reported that the numbers of two rare orchid species - Dienia ophrydis and Zeuxine clandestina - had fallen sharply after more hikers took to crossing Clementi Forest.

NParks researchers went on a rescue mission to retrieve wild plants and nurture them at the Singapore Botanic Gardens to ensure the continued survival of both species.

The two new trails will also accommodate wildlife moving between Singapore's fragmented forest plots.

Mr Li, in response to the latest announcement on the new nature trails, told The Sunday Times: "It was a pleasant surprise."

He said he had sent a proposal to the authorities last November, suggesting that a boardwalk and nature trail be established to allow visitors to enjoy the space responsibly.

"There are safety concerns now, as the terrain is rough, so hopefully the new trails will make the space accessible to more, but not overly managed, so it remains as natural as possible," he said.

NParks said it will set up a Friends of Clementi Nature Corridor volunteer group so that the public can help manage the trails and enhance natural habitats along them.


No comments:

Post a Comment