Thursday, August 23, 2012

Residents fail in bid to save forested area


Straits Times: Thu, Aug 23

THE plea by a group of residents to keep a stretch of greenery near their homes has been turned down - the latest in a growing number of cases this year of groups that favour conservation instead of development.

The site, a woodland area belonging to the Government, is about the size of four football fields and is located next to Tanah Merah MRT station.

One section of 3.2ha went on sale this month; another of 2.69ha is on the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) reserve list, meaning it will be sold if developers are interested. Both sites will be used for housing.

On Aug 14, residents in nearby Limau estate met URA representatives and the area's MP, Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman, to appeal against the potential sale of the two sites.

"We're not anti-development. We understand the constraints of this country," said resident Rajpal Singh, 46, an infotech security specialist. "But development has to come with a sense of balance."

Asked if he was worried that development would eat into the value of their property, he said he and his wife, a general practitioner, have no intention of selling.

They bought their home three years ago precisely because of the greenery, trading up from a four-room Housing Board flat in Bedok South over the years, he said.

They were concerned that adding hundreds of homes would cause a sharp increase in peak-hour congestion at the already-packed Tanah Merah MRT station.

The area in question, a cleared kampung on which forest has grown back, is one of the few woodland patches in Bedok South, said Dr Ho Hua Chew of Nature Society Singapore. "It's a refuge for a lot of species."

The residents had asked Dr Ho to survey the site, and over two mornings he observed more than 20 species, including the common palm civet and blue-throated bee-eater.

In turning down the residents' appeal, the URA said the release of the two sites for sale would not be deferred, but it would ensure that new developments were carried out "sensitively".

These include plans to retain the estate's mature trees in addition to imposing urban design guidelines to minimise the impact on nature.

The authority said it weighs many factors when putting up sites for sale. For instance, it intensifies use of land near MRT stations and bus interchanges in housing estates to provide easier access to public transport.

Site zoning is reflected in its Master Plan, and sites selected for sale are listed online under its government land sales scheme.

The URA added that the Limau estate sites were among the last in the area to be developed, and that flatter sites with less vegetation north of the Tanah Merah MRT station were chosen to be developed first.

When residents asked why other empty spaces near MRT stations such as Kembangan or Paya Lebar were not developed first, the URA said these were zoned for commercial or mixed residential and commercial use.

In response, the group of more than 40 residents said they would submit a petition to the Ministry of National Development (MND) to appeal against the URA decision. At 5pm yesterday, their online petition had 189 signatures.

But Mr Han Hee Juan, 48, another resident behind the Save The Limau Estate Woodlands campaign, said: "It shouldn't need to result in a petition every time."

The Limau estate issue is the latest in a number of cases this year - from Dairy Farm in Upper Bukit Timah to Pasir Ris - with residents writing petitions and meeting their MPs.

Asked why more residents are suddenly keen on preserving forest fragments, National University of Singapore geographer Harvey Neo cited a rise in civic consciousness among people accustomed to seeing these pockets of nature. "The act of attempting to 'save' these areas can be seen as an illustration of residents wanting to have more say in how they live their lives," he said.

"In other words, the act of trying to preserve these spaces is not a mere means to an end; the act in itself is indicative of the changing ways in which residents see themselves in relation to their living environment and those who govern them."

  
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