Thorough investigation on Kranji land clearance mistake: Desmond Lee

Authorities to investigate how Kranji land clearance mistake occured, findings will be made public: Minister

Development works have been put on hold on a vegetated plot in Kranji, parts of which were cleared by mistake, as the authorities investigate how the error occurred.

The incident - where greenery on the plot was cleared before environmental studies were completed - has also prompted a review of how agencies work, both internally and with each other, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing yesterday.

"The public service will learn from this and improve," he said, adding that he had instructed all relevant agencies involved in land clearance projects to immediately check and make sure their project supervision and implementation processes were in order, "so as to avoid any repeat of the mistakes made".

The site was occupied by a former railway line that was originally scrubland where non-native Albizia trees later regrew.

Mr Chan spoke during a virtual press conference also attended by National Development Minister Desmond Lee, as well as JTC chief executive Tan Boon Khai and Dr Leong Chee Chiew, commissioner of parks and recreation at the National Parks Board (NParks).

Calling the situation "regrettable and deeply concerning", Mr Lee stressed a thorough investigation would be conducted, with the findings made public.

Mr Joseph Leong, Permanent Secretary for Defence Development and Second Permanent Secretary for Communications and Information, will lead the review of processes, which will take about three months.

Mr Chan said: "We take a very serious view of this incident. It is clear to us there were gaps in the way that the project was managed and supervised. And that we must do better."

On Feb 14, aerial footage circulating on social media showed that swathes of the vegetation flanking the Rail Corridor in Sungei Kadut had been cleared.

Two days later, JTC said the area had been cleared erroneously by its contractor before the completion of environmental assessments, and that the green patches had been cleared at the end of December.

But satellite footage showed the land clearance in the area had started earlier, since last March.

JTC clarified yesterday that clearance for the 25ha Agri-Food Innovation Park - which will be part of the larger Sungei Kadut Eco-District - had started last March. Most of this clearance had been approved, but the work was supposed to be done in phases.

The land cleared in December had been outside of plots approved for clearance, JTC said.

So far, about 11.9ha of land in the 25ha plot has been cleared. Of this, 4.5ha was cleared mistakenly.

JTC said that as project and site developer, it has overall responsibility for the site. It will look into whether its own officers and the private contractors involved had followed due process, and how JTC can better supervise the various agencies and qualified personnel as they implement the project.

Meanwhile, NParks, which is the custodian of native biodiversity here, will investigate if there were breaches to the Parks and Trees Act and Wildlife Act. Mr Lee announced a review of the process guiding when and how environmental studies should be done ahead of development.

Areas being looked into include mapping out the islandwide ecosystem and connectivity to better consider how specific sites connect to nature areas, buffers and corridors; and a review by the MND on whether it is better to centralise the management of environmental impact assessment consultants.

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.