Fight to save forest patch hots up
Pasir Ris Heights group protests against plans to build school – by Grace Chua
A GROUP of Pasir Ris residents, unhappy with a decision to build an international school on a patch of forest near Pasir Ris Heights, is locked in a battle with the authorities.
They claim they will lose a precious piece of woodland and had suggested alternative nearby plots for the school. They also want an independent study of the biodiversity of the forest and for the Government to provide statistical data to support its decision.
But the Ministry of National Development said that the school site was “based on planning considerations, including the need to provide a good distribution of such school sites islandwide”.
Still, the group is not satisfied. In a post on its Facebook page on Monday, it said it was “disappointed” with MND’s response, which it felt did not “adequately address” the issues it had raised.
It added: “We are seriously considering proceeding with a legal recourse to save the forest.”
The battle to save the green space started with a petition last July, after plans to develop the land on either side of the forest patch at the intersection of Pasir Ris Drive 3 and Elias Road were made known. The residents also met their MP, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
But one incident on Dec 29 tipped them over – when HDB ordered a tree with about 90 parakeets chopped down because other residents had presumably complained about the noise. They confronted workers preparing to cut it down and, after a discussion about whose authority they were acting on, the workers took their ropes and left.
Two days later, the group published a letter on Facebook which it sent to the MND, Urban Redevelopment Authority, National Parks Board and Singapore Land Authority. It asked if they were “doing this to achieve their end of destroying the forest on the quiet, using what appears to be a fictitious pretence”.
It threatened legal action unless the Government gave figures supporting its decisions by Jan 7.
Late on Monday, the MND told residents the attempted felling was to stop the wild tree being toppled by strong winds. It said it was now assessing the tree and insisted the attempted felling “was with the intent to ensure public safety and not to commence clearance of the site”.
It also said the dialogue in August with DPM Teo and government officials “was not intended as ‘a PR exercise’ – it was arranged to allow the agencies to hear the residents’ concerns”.
“After consideration of the assessment of the local biodiversity and the many competing land uses, we were unable to accede to the residents’ request,” it added.
The group had insisted that the area was a wildlife haven but the MND said visits by NParks from 2004 to 2012 found “the number of species is considerably lower than in the nature reserves or in many parks and nature areas”.
The plot is about the size of two football fields.
A member of the group’s committee, lawyer Deepak Natverlal, 42, who has lived in Pasir Ris for 16 years, said the Government’s decision to “raze the forest to build an international school despite objections from residents is an unfair and an unreasonable one”. He also insisted that surveys by NParks were not independent enough.
Dr Ho Hua Chew of the Nature Society said it did a bird survey at the patch last year and found 30 to 40 species, including hawk-eagles, white-bellied sea eagles and oriental pied hornbills. “Of course you can’t compare forest fragments with nature reserves, but the carrying capacity of the nature reserves has been exceeded for some species. That’s why they are resorting to these areas outside nature reserves,” he said.
Associate Professor Lye Lin Heng, an environmental law scholar at the National University of Singapore, said a legal challenge could be a test case that rests on whether residents have legal standing to stop developments on state land. An argument can be made that the Government holds the land on trust for the people, then they have a right to be consulted, she said.
The residents’ group insists the patch of greenery is a wildlife haven, but visits by NParks over eight years found fewer species there than in nature reserves. — ST PHOTO: RAJ NADARAJAN(c) 2013 Singapore Press Holdings Limited
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