URA now says to ‘engage’ NSS but can one trust URA?

According to an official reply from URA in the media yesterday (11 Jan), URA now said that it is currently assessing the suggestions from the Nature Society of Singapore (NSS) and hopes to “engage” with the Nature Society “constructively”.

URA was responding to the Nature Society’s recent slamming of URA’s Master Plan 2013 for land use in Singapore (‘NSS slams URA for poor bio conservation‘).

In the reply, URA Group Director, Hwang Yu Ning, said, “Our planning intention is to create a high-quality living environment for our people, and this includes housing, jobs, recreation, schools, hospitals and transport systems for both domestic and international connectivity.”

“Despite the land constraints, parks and nature reserves are and have always been accorded importance in our plans.”

Ms Hwang said that in the Draft Master Plan 2013, URA has allocated 9% of land for parks and nature reserves.

This 9% differs from the estimated 4.4% by the Nature Society.

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The Nature Society had earlier criticised URA’s plan, saying, “What is grossly deficient in the Master Plan is that only 4.4% of the 29% ‘spontaneous’/natural greenery are truly or permanently protected as our Nature Reserves (Labrador, Sungei Buloh, Bukit Timah & Central Catchment).”

“With the exclusion of the public parks and the so-called ‘Nature Areas’ in the Singapore Green Plan, we have only 4.4% of Singapore’s total land area (76,600 ha) committed seriously to biodiversity conservation,” it concluded after reviewing URA’s Master Plan 2013.

It also added that Singapore embarrassingly fell short of the benchmarks set by the latest UN Convention’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, which stated that by 2020, at least 17% of terrestrial and inland water areas, and 10% of coastal and marine areas, are to be conserved. Singapore ratified and committed itself to the UN Convention on Biodiversity in 1995.

In the official reply, Ms Hwang also defended about the land used for defence, “A large proportion of the land allocated for defence is forested and contributes to our biodiversity.”

“Given our land constraints, we have sought practical and innovative solutions to integrate greenery and biodiversity into our urban environment, through our parks, park connectors, streetside planting, water networks and sky-rise greenery. In this way, we also improve the quality of our living environment.”

She said that URA has designated 20 nature areas with significant biodiversity that will be retained “for as long as development is not needed”. These include public parks, such as Bukit Batok Nature Park and Kent Ridge Park.

However, she did not say what will happen to these nature areas if, indeed, developments are suddenly required in these areas.

In this respect, the Nature Society also said in its criticism earlier, “Some parks are called nature parks but to what extent they are permanent in the sense of not being subjected to development in the future is not guaranteed nor clear.”

And even if the government gives a ‘guarantee’ now for the current plan, it can still decide to change its mind some years down the road, as revealed by the Nature Society. For example, it noted that Mandai Mangrove, Khatib Bongsu, Pulau Semakau and the four Coral Zones were designated as “Nature Areas” in the original 1993 Singapore Green Plan. However, they were quietly removed from the 2012 revised Singapore Green Plan.

“All these without any proper consultation with the stakeholders of the Singapore Green Plan,” the Nature Society added.

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