A Forest Worth Fighting For (I)

Recently, the green voice in Singapore has been getting louder, and in the face of rapid urbanization  numerous citizens have banded together, forming individual groups with the purpose of fighting for plots of greenery they treasure and feel should not be lost to development. Bukit Brown, Tanah Merah, Bidadari and Bradell are some, to name a few. While most of these groups have been unsuccessful despite their efforts, I hope the government will take note of this green voice and listen to it, especially in the spirit of “national conversation”.

I, myself, have been involved in one of such efforts, fighting to save the Pasir Ris Greenbelt located between Pasir Ris Drive 3 and Pasir Heights. To those who have read some of my previous posts, I have previously referred to it as the backyard forest.

For this post I will not go into details on the plot and the threat, but rather the entire experience thus far and some thoughts on the issue.

So on the 5th of August, a dialogue was to be held with the DPM Mr Teo Chee Hean and people from the relevant authorities (URA, NParks), to hear out the concerns of residents from Pasir Ris West regarding the proposed conservation of the greenbelt. The turnout was over 200 people, greater than anyone expected, and included not only residents of the Heights and Terrace estates, but also those who lived in the nearby HDBs overlooking the forest. As the first few people spoke, more and more residents decided to speak up, and the atmosphere was one of great passion and unity. The forest had brought everyone together to fight for a common cause.

I spoke second during the questions and comments, with a script I had prepared about an hour before. (If you’re interested, you can read it here)

My father spoke after me, expressing how he was proud of me, and how he was inspired by my passion as well as everyone who had turned up that day to support the cause as well. That was honestly quite touching (I teared).

Unfortunately, DPM was unable to make it due to circumstance which was no fault of his, and was unable to witness the proceedings that day. For this reason we were told a second dialogue would be held, at which the DPM’s presence would be definite. However after a month of waiting we received no news from any authority on when this dialogue would be held.

Quite a while later, I found out that the DPM and the other MPs for the constituency would be having a post-national day rally dialogue on the 16 of September, and my dad and I, together with some other members of the greenbelt committee decided to attend to see if our concerns could be highlighted once again. This happened with some urgency, as some clearing of the forest had started despite a the lack of a clear conclusion that was to be given to us. Thus I wrote an e-mail to the DPM directly to request a follow-up, as well as to convey the feelings and atmosphere I experienced that day which I felt would be hard for him to witness first-hand as these “heat 0f the moment” feels are hard to replicate.

(You can read the e-mail here)

At the dialogue however, my dad and I decided it was not the right platform for us to bring up the issue (only ourselves and the other greenbelt comm members non-RC), so we expressed that during the comments and left before the end of the session.

Just two days after, I received a reply from the DPM himself (I really appreciate the fact that he took the time to reply personally), saying how he remembered us from the Post National Day dialogue, and giving a rather vague reply that alluded to the importance of balancing conservation and development, and that in the future I would need a place to live too.

So.. I replied that weekend.

Dear Mr Teo,

I received your reply with much gratitude, and i apologize for not having replied earlier, due to the fact that i am a stay-in personnel and internet connection is limited in camp.
Thank you for taking the time to reply to my e-mail personally, your anecdotes of old pasir ris have given me new insights. Your email reply also warms my heart to know that every individual voice is heard and responded to. 
I know that my conviction and commitment to preserve the little patch of green belt maybe less significant compared to the larger and more pressing issues of the country (as I gathered from your recent dialogue with the grassroots organizations), however, I am deeply inspired by you taking time and effort to take note of our views. I look forward to meeting you in person some day.
Well who would’ve thought that some day would come a week later!
So on Wednesday evening when i called home, my dad informed me that the RC chairman had dropped by to inform us (and all residents of Pasir Ris Heights) that the DPM would be visiting houses along the street on Saturday morning. While we were initially unsure of the agenda of his visit, we decided that it would be a good time to remind him of the issue still.
Saturday came, and since my house is near the end of the street, by the time the DPM came to our place most of the other residents concerned about the greenbelt had also gathered around/in our place. We invited him in, and even though he (very likely) knew he was about to be cornered with questions regarding the development of the woodland, he gamely accepted anyway.
In my living room, Mr Teo listened to all the concerns raised, and patiently discussed the issue with all of us over mooncakes and tea.  Once again, he brought up the point of a balanced national progress, but assured us that the issue will be discussed with the URA.
I thank DPM Teo Chee Hean for taking time off his busy Saturday morning to visit the residents and listen to our concerns, and feel this is very much in the spirit of national conversation. I also acknowledge the fact that he may not be the best authority in answering our questions on protection of endangered species of birds and the flora and fauna nor was he able to give us an answer to our appeal. While the situation at this point seems rather bleak, we are hopeful and will continue the conversation.
I will follow up with “A Forest Worth Fighting For (II)” next weekend, where I will post my views, as well as the views of others regarding the issue of conservation of natural areas VS development. Topics such as what makes a place worth saving and what can be done to buffer the negative impacts should an area be lost will be discussed.
If you have any comments or views of your own, please leave a comment, so I can garner more perspectives for a more insightful post! Feel free to be as positive or negative as you want. Thanks!

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Lim YT on October 4, 2012 at 3:54 am

    Hi Sean,
    I am so proud of you being so committed in being the voice of the forest. Due to the lack of land and with increasing population, the forests have become convenient ‘space’ for human development. Continue with the good work!
    Mrs Lim YT

  2. Dear Sean (I gather that is your name, can’t see from your blog?) – your post on Pasir Ris Greenbelt is inspiring. As a veteran of Nature Society (Singapore)’s conservation campaigns of the 1970s-’90s, I can assure you that the green voice of Singapore has been loud for some decades already, and yet there have still been many losses over time! (I remember Pasir Ris when it was ecologically a lot more exciting than it is now!). But achievements have been made in more recent times, and one of these must surely be your getting DPM Teo into your living room! Congrats for your efforts and best of luck for future success. Never give up, never accept less than your original goals, and keep going! Respect, (Ms) Ilsa Sharp, former committee member NSS, now based in Perth, Western Australia.

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