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Govt open to feedback on conservation issues
by Lydia Lim, the Straits Times, 15 Jan 02

On-line version on Straits Times Interactive

National Development Minister says it must, however, remain pragmatic and balance competing needs.

Just like the sea creatures of Chek Jawa, five angsana trees at Pandan Valley condominium received a reprieve recently from civil servants who went the extra mile. Unknown to the public, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) last year waived certain development guidelines to help save the eight-storey-high trees, which are 25 years old. This enabled property developer Wing Tai Holdings to rework the design of its Mount Sinai condominium, where excavation works had affected the trees' roots.

In an interview with The Straits Times, URA chief executive officer Tan Yong Soon cited the example to show that the Government does try to resolve conflicts arising from Singapore's land constraints. ''We do not always go out and talk about it,'' he said.

In a separate interview yesterday, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said that the Government always takes public feedback seriously, although not all feedback will lead to a major policy change.

In the case of the National Library building, the redevelopment plan remained because plans to develop the Bras Basah area for the Singapore Management University campus were in their final stages, limiting the options available, he said.

Chek Jawa, on the other hand, was not developed and the URA was able to find an alternative site for the Defence Ministry, which wanted to use the reclaimed land for training.

Said Mr Mah: ''Has there been any change in our thinking? No. ''What has changed is the environment. Over the past 10 years, people's awareness of heritage and conservation issues has become more acute. ''The Government has also become more aware of the need to accommodate this... giving people a sense of belonging to Singapore.''

However, because Singapore will always be short of land, he said that the Government must remain pragmatic in its approach to balancing the various competing needs. ''No matter how high we build, no matter how far down we go underground, there's still a limited amount of land that we have. ''We still have to worry about issues of economic development, national security, catchment areas and so on,'' he said.

Chek Jawa, said Brigadier-General (NS) Tan, is not so much a turning point in government policy as it is a ''good model'' of public consultation at work.

Members of the public provided new information on the area's biodiversity, information that was both ''insightful and detailed'', he said.

They partnered the Government in a search to come up with alternative reclamation profiles for Pulau Ubin that would not harm Chek Jawa's habitats.

''This is certainly a good model to work on,'' he said. ''The Government is always open to feedback and it always wants to take the pragmatic point of view. ''When there is a congruence of all these forces, there will be a good outcome.''

 
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