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  Today, 26 Jan 05
Towards a city in a garden: House approves Bill to
strengthen nature conservation efforts

Derrick A Paulo derrick@newstoday.com.sg

IT has been some years since the National Parks Board came under the spotlight in Parliament. Yesterday, though, the agency in charge of Singapore's natural capital got a boost in political capital when the House passed a Bill to strengthen the Republic's green efforts.

Key, perhaps, in the new Act were steps to formalise NParks' regulatory functions - a move, which as Nominated MP Geh Min observed, appear to give the board more powers. Now, developers are required to separately seek approval from NParks for their greenery provisions instead of relying on the approval processes of other agencies, such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority. The Bill raised the fines from $10,000 from $50,000 and allows NParks to recover the value of the destroyed tree or plant.

MP Amy Khor (Hong Kah GRC) urged the ministry to be even-handed when Government agencies' actions affect the environment. "A good example would be the LTA when they plan for infrastructural developments such as roads and MRT tracks," she said. The Parks and Trees Act also allows for any area to be gazetted for tree conservation and both broadens and more clearly defines the "green" areas under the NParks.

Dr Geh, who is president of the Nature Society, pushed for the protection of areas with valuable marine biodiversity as nature reserves. Saying she has learned that "when talking to hard-headed policy makers, one should give hard figures", her speech highlighted the "potential scientific and economic value" of Singapore's natural resources. "Our laws should protect them as our natural reserves in the same way we protect our fiscal reserves," she argued.

In his response, Second Minister for National Development Lim Swee Say said it was about balance. "From time to time we may have to subtract value from our natural capital in order to create economic value. It is also important for us to recognise that we do invest some of our economic value to create natural value," he said.

The latest land allocation for conservation comes with the heritage road scheme, which requires green buffers of 10 metres along roads with mature roadside greenery. NParks has gazetted South Buona Vista Road, Mount Pleasant Road, Mandai Road, Lim Chu Kang Road, and Arcadia Road under this scheme. A "watchlist" of roads, which will get special attention if developments are planned, is also being compiled.

Mr Lim assured Dr Geh and Dr Khor that public input would be welcome for both schemes.

Both MPs urged greater community ownership of the environment, which Mr Lim said would be the next step as Singapore evolves from a garden city into a city in a garden.

Related articles on Putting a price on nature in Singapore
and on Heritage Trees of Singapore

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