Mr Dennis Tan Lip Fong: To ask the Minister for Trade and Industry with regard to the upcoming Sungei Kadut Ecodistrict (a) whether JTC has performed any environmental baseline study (EBS) or environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the development; (b) if so, whether the outcome of the study/assessment can be made public; and (c) whether the Ministry will consider mandating all future similar industrial park developments to have EIA or EBS conducted with public consultations with various stakeholders.
Oral Answer (to be attributed to Minister for Trade and Industry Mr Chan Chun Sing)
1. Mr Speaker, the Minister for National Development will also be replying to a PQ on the same issue. May I seek your permission for us to take the supplementary questions after he delivers his reply?
2. Members have filed several PQs on the land clearing activities at the Kranji Close/Kranji Road site. These include PQs filed by MPs Mr Dennis Tan, Ms He Ting Ru, Mr Xie Yao Quan, Mr Seah Kian Peng and Mr Alex Yam Ziming for subsequent Sittings. I will address all of these questions together today.
3. With your permission, Mr Speaker, may I ask the Clerks to distribute the handouts to Members.
4. Let me start by explaining the background of the site and development.
a. The former Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway line used to run through the Kranji Road/Kranji Close site. When the KTM land was returned to Singapore in 2011, the site comprised mainly disused scrubland. This is shown on Page 3 of the handout.
b. As the site was earmarked for future development works, it was left vacant. More non-native Albizia trees then sprouted over the years.
c. In 2015, following URA’s review of the plans for the KTM land parcels, the Rail Corridor was realigned out of the Kranji parcel so that the site could be redeveloped for industrial use. The plan was publicly exhibited, and community stakeholders were generally receptive to the proposal. This is shown in Page 6 of the handout.
d. The site was later earmarked for the development of the Agri-Food Innovation Park (AFIP) as part of the larger Sungei Kadut Eco-District (SKED) development, which will support Singapore’s 30-by-30 food security goals. In its development plans for the AFIP, JTC recognized the importance of retaining greenery, and therefore proposed to preserve the original alignment of the former KTM railway line within AFIP as a green corridor with additional green buffers on each side.
e. JTC’s development plans for AFIP with the green corridor were publicly exhibited in URA’s Draft Master Plan 2019 and the SKED Master Plan exhibition in Feb 2020.
Chronology of development works at the Kranji site
5. I will now go through the development works at the Kranji site. In response to Ms He Ting Ru’s question, Page 9 of the handout provides a background on the roles and responsibilities of the various parties involved in a typical development project, including that of AFIP. Besides the contractor, an important party is the consultant, who acts as the Qualified Person (QP). In particular, the QP is responsible for ensuring that the project’s design meet the statutory requirements, and obtaining approvals from the authorities for the design.
6. Mr Seah Kian Peng, Mr Xie Yao Quan and Mr Dennis Tan have asked about the sequence of land clearing activities. JTC’s chronology has been reported widely in the media, and members may refer to Pages 10 to 15 of the handout for the chronology. I will therefore just highlight a few key points.
An EIA was not required in 2019 as the site was not close to any sensitive nature areas
7. In 2019, JTC appointed CPG as its consultant to carry out planning and design works for the site. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was not required then, given that the site was previously dominated by scrubland vegetation, and later non-native Albizia trees as I had explained earlier. The site is also not close to sensitive nature areas.
8. Thereafter, CPG submitted building plans for AFIP to NParks, including proposals to fell trees. On 29 Aug 2019, NParks issued a Written Direction to approve the tree-felling for three plots within the site, namely Plots 4, 5 and 9 indicated on Page 11 of the handout. Following this, tree felling for Plot 9 started in Mar 2020.
In Aug 2020, NParks required environmental studies to be conducted due to new changes in the building plan
9. In Aug 2020, CPG submitted updated building plans to NParks, which included a new drain with discharge and flow into Sungei Pangsua.
10. As the drain could potentially cause sediments from the site to flow into Sungei Pangsua, and impact wildlife in the vicinity, NParks instructed JTC and CPG to conduct a fauna baseline study and Environmental Monitoring & Management Programme (EMMP). The consultant for the fauna study and EMMP was engaged in Dec 2020.
Between end December and 13 Jan 2021, contractor carried out further land clearing.
11. Between end December 2020 and 13 January 2021, the contractor conducted further clearing without approval. These areas are edged red in Page 14 of the handout and amount to a total of 4.5 hectares.
12. There are ongoing investigations on why the contractor did so, since there was no approval. I seek the House’s understanding that I cannot say more, pending the outcome of these investigations.
13. The further land clearing by the contractor was discovered by JTC’s project manager on 13 January 2021 during his site visit. All clearance works onsite were suspended immediately, and remain suspended today.
We will take steps to close the gaps that led to this incident and prevent recurrences.
14. Mr Xie Yao Quan and Ms He Ting Ru asked how we will ensure such incidents do not recur.
a. JTC has commenced an internal investigation to ascertain what had happened and why. The investigation will be led by JTC’s Senior Management who are not involved in the project. It will check if JTC’s current processes for land clearance works were followed by both the public officers and private contractors involved. JTC will also review how it can better supervise the various personnel involved in its development projects.
b. NParks is separately investigating whether there were breaches to the Parks and Trees Act and the Wildlife Act.
c. We will not comment further on the respective investigations at this point to not prejudice the outcomes.
15. Till today, all works on the Kranji Close/Kranji Road site remain suspended. After the fauna baseline study and EMMP are completed around Apr 2021, JTC will engage key stakeholders, including nature interest groups, to discuss its development plans. Findings of the studies will be made publicly available when ready.
16. We can and must do better.
a. As Minister-in-charge of the Public Service, I have instructed all agencies involved in land clearance projects to conduct an immediate check to ensure their project supervision and implementation processes are in order.
b. Minister Desmond Lee and I have also asked Permanent Secretary Joseph Leong, who is not involved in this matter, to lead a review of the lessons arising from this development at Kranji. In the course of his review, he will consult representatives from the public, private and people sectors.
c. The outcomes from the various investigations and review will be shared with the public when ready.
17. Mr Speaker, let me conclude by summarising the key points:
a. The said piece of land was meant for industrial development. It was scrubland that has become overgrown in recent years.
b. In developing this piece of land to strengthen our food supply chain resilience, JTC and NParks had on their own accord proposed retaining the original alignment of the former railway line to preserve its heritage, with a green corridor that would provide an ecological connection between Sungei Pangsua and Sungei Mandai.
c. The project was carefully planned, incorporating and balancing the considerations of economic development, job creation and environmental protection.
d. The execution of the land clearing could be improved. That is the subject of ongoing investigations. We should not speculate or prematurely apportion blame without a full understanding of the timeline of events, scope of responsibilities of the various parties involved, and the motivations of various parties or pressures faced that could have contributed to the outcome.
e. We will investigate the pertinent issues thoroughly, share the lessons learnt and improve as a system.
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