Recently, I attended a guided tour by URA at the Draft Master Plan 2019 exhibition. This tour was organised to engage representatives from different nature groups to get feedback on the Master Plan. The Master Plan is a land use plan that demarcates zones for different functions and is reviewed every five years to meet Singapore’s changing development needs. This year, the Master Plan has five focus areas, two of which interest me: (i) Liveable and inclusive communities, and (ii) Sustainable and resilient city of the future.
A first glance at the draft master plan raised a critical issue: Why are there still designated “Reserve Sites” at Chek Jawa and Mandai mudflats, making them vulnerable to future development?
You may have heard about the struggles against possible reclamation project at Chek Jawa in 2002. Since 1992, the eastern tip of Chek Jawa is designated for reclamation. In early 2001, National Parks Board and Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research documented the biodiversity of Chek Jawa before reclamation works start. In May 2001, URA held a public forum, and views on preserving Chek Jawa as an important biodiversity site housing rare and unique flora and fauna took the media and public by storm. And yet, URA remained adamant that the planned reclamation of Chek Jawa would proceed. This then sparked public campaigns and guided tours to raise awareness and urge the government to review the reclamation plans. After an arduous struggle, in January 2002, the reclamation of Chek Jawa was put on hold. Still, as long as Chek Jawa is not designated as a protected area, it remains vulnerable.
And so are Mandai mudflats. When the Mandai mudflats was recognised as an important stopover habitat for migratory shorebirds and to be conserved as a nature park, the nature community cheered. But its fate in the future is uncertain.
But it is not all doom and gloom. Singapore is actively trying to create an eco-city, while still meeting the needs of the nation. To foster greater appreciation for nature, the Master Plan designated more areas for greening, and playgrounds will be designed with a biophilic element. One of the strategies that caught my attention was the “Greater Rustic Coast”: a 50 km continuous belt, taking you through not just Singapore’s biodiversity, but also our cultural and heritage sites. Another aspect worth applauding is the plan to naturalise our waterways. Riding on the success of Bishan-AMK park, URA plans to have more of such naturalised waterways along Kallang River, such as the Bishan-Braddell ABC Waters.
There are, of course, still controversies over issues such as the development of Tengah Town, which will destroy almost 90% of the Tengah Forest, threaten many forest-dependent species and disrupt connectivity between the Western and Central catchment areas. One of the key features is the 100 m wide, 5 km long Forest corridor in a bid to facilitate connectivity. But is this elongated and narrow stretch of forested area enough to protect wildlife?
In our last lecture, we asked: what makes an eco-city? And where does Singapore lie in terms of “Ecoscape integrity” and “Ecological awareness”? Singapore has come a long way, and it is a challenge to balance the needs of a growing and aging population, and the duty to preserve biodiversity. How can we be urbanised and maximise the utility of the limited green spaces? Perhaps we could densify urban areas more, leaving more land for green spaces. Or we could plant more food and nesting trees, to promote diversity of urban adapters. Or we could possibly re-direct certain roads to create more connected areas.
It is no easy task to balance urbanisation and conservation. As such, I encourage everyone to drop by the Draft Master Plan 2019 exhibition at URA Centre, which is on until 24th May. Do provide feedback as well, and let’s play our part in making Singapore an eco-city!
National Library Board, Singapore (2014). Chek Jawa. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_256_2005-01-03.html
National Parks Board (2018). Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat will be conserved as a Nature Park. Retrieved from: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/news/2018/10/mandai-mangrove-and-mudflat-will-be-conserved-as-a-nature-park
Nature Society Singapore (2018). Nature Society Singapore (NSS)’s Position on HDB’s Tengah Forest Plan. Retrieved from: https://www.nss.org.sg/banner.aspx?id=IRDERO6o0u8=&type=1
Urban Redevelopment Authority (2019). Draft Master Plan 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.ura.gov.sg/Corporate/Planning/Draft-Master-Plan-19/