The Parks and Trees Act empowers NParks to manage and protect our greenery and biodiversity in our nature reserves, national parks, heritage road buffers, and tree conservation areas. But we need to continually review and update this piece of legislation as our City in a Garden continues to transform and grow.
First, the Bill enhances NParks’ ability to protect the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park, or SIMP. The Marine Park was established in 2014, after many years of hard work by NParks colleagues and passionate members of our marine conservation community. They include representatives from the Nature Society Singapore, Wild Singapore, the academic community, and many other committed individuals. In particular, I would like to thank Mr Francis Lee, the lead for the Blue Plan, Professor Chou Loke Ming, a luminary in the field of marine biology, Mr Leong Kwok Peng, vice president of Nature Society Singapore and Ms Ria Tan, Singapore’s passionate naturalist and many, many more.
The coastal areas and waters in the Marine Park teem with life and are rich in local biodiversity, such as coral, anemones, seahorses, fish and other creatures. It is amazing that our waters, which lie within some of the busiest commercial sea lanes in the world, are home to over a third of the world’s total coral species. So protecting the reefs at the Sisters’ Island Marine Park is crucial to our coral conservation efforts.
By adding a definition of “marine park” in clause 2(a), and adding it as a type of public park in clause 2(c), we make it clear that the protection of the Parks and Trees Act applies to the designated foreshore as well as marine areas in the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park. For instance, it will be an offence to fish, collect corals or moor boats without NParks’ approval.
The Bill will also enable NParks to make new subsidiary rules to regulate human activities in the Marine Park, in order to keep it as a sanctuary for marine life. For example, NParks can restrict diving and dropping of anchors at ecologically sensitive
Let me next move on to provisions that enhance protection of biodiversity in our nature reserves. Section 9(3)(a) of the Act restricts the bringing in or releasing of animals in a nature reserve. This prevents the introduction of invasive species which may threaten the survival of our native animals in the reserves.
However, the law currently does not cover cases where unwanted aquatic pets like exotic fish and terrapins are abandoned in streams or drains that lead into the reserves. So, clause 5 now makes it an offence for any person to release or abandon animals into watercourses outside of our nature reserves, if the person knows or ought to know that these watercourses flow into the reserves. To make this clear, NParks will put up signage at key watercourses and continue to strengthen its public education efforts.
Third, the Bill gives greater protection to public parks and gardens that are not managed by NParks. Gardens by the Bay is independently managed by Gardens by the Bay Company (GB Co). Clause 4 of the Bill now allows the Minister to designate entities like GB Co as managers of public parks. Clause 2(d) also brings these parks under the protection of the Parks and Trees Act, while clause 3(b) further allows the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation to delegate certain enforcement powers to selected employees of these entities.
In short, GB Co employees can now rely on the Parks and Trees Act's provisions to protect the greenery and biodiversity of Gardens by the Bay. For example, park wardens who are GB Co employees will now be able to take enforcement action against illegal cutting of trees and plants at Gardens by the Bay.
Fourth, the Bill provides NParks with more effective regulatory and enforcement powers. Under clause 3, the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation may delegate certain powers of enforcement to public officers, NParks employees, as well as the auxiliary Police officers. He can also appoint public officers, NParks employees, an employee of a management body designated under section 6A, as well as licensed security officers as park rangers .These officers will receive proper enforcement training and work closely with NParks officers. In addition, NParks officers will now have more effective powers to investigate offences under the Act. For instance, they may interview offenders and record statements.
Currently, when greenery along Heritage Road green buffers are removed, offenders will not only face a fine, they may also be ordered to reinstate the greenery. However, those who commit illegal tree-felling in Tree Conservation Areas and vacant land are currently only subject to fines. Clause 10 now allows NParks to order those responsible to also reinstate the greenery. This brings the regulatory treatment for both Heritage Road green buffers as well as Tree Conservation Areas into alignment.
Clause 14 will also allow NParks officers to enter premises to ascertain the condition of trees and plants to safeguard public safety. Maintenance notices may be issued to occupiers if the trees or plants pose a danger to persons or property. These notices may require the occupier to engage an arborist to conduct detailed inspections or to carry out pruning. Non-compliance will be an offence.
Let me emphasise to Members that NParks’ first recourse is usually to engage the occupier to better understand the situation, and persuade him to rectify the situation. These powers will only be exercised as a last resort, if the occupier is uncooperative.
Seventh, the Bill restructures the Parks and Trees Act to better enable NParks to respond more quickly and dynamically to new trends in greenery development. Presently, very technical specifications, such as the dimensions of planting areas that surround buildings, are set out in the Parks and Trees Act. These requirements cannot be modified or waived, even by the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation. Sometimes, this hinders the adoption of innovative greenery proposals like vertical planting. Clause 11 will give NParks more flexibility. It transfers the prescription of dimensions of planting areas from the Parks and Trees Act to subsidiary legislation. It also allows the Commissioner to modify or waive these dimensions where necessary or appropriate.
Finally, the Bill makes related amendments to the National Parks Board Act to further encourage the development of the landscape industry. This industry, comprising landscape designers, maintenance workers, arborists and nursery operators, is crucial to the development and maintenance of our City in a Garden.
Since 2007, NParks has rolled out industry training programmes and best practice guides. In 2013, NParks launched the Landscape Productivity Grant to help companies mechanise. In 2016, NParks worked with NTUC and MOM to launch a Progressive Wage Model for landscape workers. In this regard, clause 24 defines the landscape industry and NParks’ role in helping to manage, promote, and strengthen the industry. In particular, the clause empowers NParks to manage and optimise State land safeguarded for nurseries. This land will be tendered out in phases from mid-2018 to provide options for nurseries affected by redevelopment plans.
Madam, in conclusion, these amendments will enhance the protection, management and development of greenery in Singapore. They underscore our determination to ensure that our greenery and natural heritage will endure. Mdm Speaker, I beg to move.
Er Dr Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon): Mdm Speaker, I rise in support of the Bill. The campaign to green Singapore has indeed been very successful and despite the demand for housing and other infrastructure we are indeed maintaining our image as a garden city. However, the success of our policy has also brought on some ugly issues between
I have received feedback from residents who complained that their neighbours did not maintain their trees properly and as a result the trees are leaning over, or the leaves fall into their garden, or the roots are uprooting the boundary wall. These residents are at a dilemma because not all neighbours are so understanding and so co-operative.
They view that as long as it is on their land, they can do what they want. The overgrown trees may tilt or drop leaves into the next house but it is not their problem. For the ones at the receiving end, there is no redress. There is no one that they can turn to. Can the Minister advise in such cases what can the neighbours do? Do not ask them to go for mediation as they will not turn up and do not ask them to go and look for the neighbourhood committee members because neighbourhood committee can keep knocking at the door, they would not open the door.
Of course, if there is a danger of human lives, then this amendment would be helpful as NParks can now step in. I would like to ask: how do you define danger? Do the dropping of the leaves to the neighbour's house that may clog up drains, may cause mosquito breeding and may cause dengue or Zika − is this danger? Or the leaves fall to the neighbour's house cause the neighbour to have sleepless nights and subsequently have depression − is this danger? Since there are already a lot of roadside planting, can NParks order to remove trees that cause dispute or concern?
(In Mandarin): [Please refer to Vernacular Speeches.] : Many residents in private estates told me that their neighbour’s tree was “leaning over”. As a result, the leaves would fall into their garden, or the tree looked so precarious that they felt scared every day. If the Neighbourhood Committee was asked to mediate, their neighbour may even refuse to answer the door! This has made the residents feel rather helpless.
Now, the Government is amending the law to allow NParks to direct property owners to trim trees that could pose a danger to others. This would give the residents peace of mind. However, I would like to ask the Minister: what is the definition of “posing a danger to others”?
Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong (Non-Constituency Member): Mdm Speaker, I recall reading with delight back in 2014 about the initiative to establish our country’s first marine park at Sisters’ Island. The objective to protect Singapore’s coral reefs, which are home to rare and endangered marine life, is lofty and praiseworthy. The plans for the marine park to serve as a platform for conservation, research, outreach and education on our marine biodiversity are ambitious and worthy of support.
There is also a promising social aspect leading to the establishment of the marine park. It was born from the proposal by civil society called the Singapore Blue Plan 2009. Various local NGOs and institutions worked with NParks during the International Year of the Reef in 2008 to develop the Plan, which was submitted to the Government. As a result, the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey was launched, led by NParks and involved the universities, many NGOs and many more volunteers. In the five years, the Survey has discovered possibly 100 new species, which is in itself a major accomplishment and contribution to the global commons.
The Government’s move to establish the marine park is a ringing endorsement of civil society’s initiative. It shows what non-governmental organisations and social clubs can achieve by pooling their creative energies, and what can be accomplished for the national good when the Government listens and allows the creative energies to be channelled through to policy and law.
I have been looking forward to this Bill to formalise the legal status of the marine park and I am disappointed. I am disappointed with two things. Both disappointments are related to the objective of protecting our coral reefs. The first is the scope of protection and the second is the scale of protection.
Let us begin with the scope of protection. The Bill defines "marine park" as "any area of the sea or seabed that is set aside for conservation of marine organisms and is designated in Part III of the Schedule". So far so good, as the marine park seems to take on the characteristics of "national park" and "nature reserve", being set aside for conservation, and designated with its own Part in the Schedule.
However, the "marine park" is then parked, forgive the pun, under the definition of "public park". Now, there are two national parks, Fort Canning Park and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Singapore Botanic Gardens, and four nature reserves, the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Labrador Nature Reserve, and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. These areas are set aside for conservation of our natural heritage, scientific research, outreach and dissemination of knowledge, and educational purposes. These are exactly aligned with the purposes of the marine park, to serve as a platform for conservation, research, outreach and education on our marine biodiversity. So, why is our only and very unique marine park not placed with our national parks and nature reserves, but lumped with over 300 public parks?
This is not just a question of bad categorisation. The protections that are afforded to national parks and nature reserves should be given to our marine park, for the simple reason that our marine park was established to protect our unique and endangered marine biodiversity. Under sections 8 and 9 of the Act, persons are restricted from collecting, capturing and displacing any plants and animals; from disturbing the land
This is more urgent given that intertidal guided walks are being conducted and the diving trail and other planned trails will bring more visitors to experience the marine biodiversity up close. I understand that in any nature conservation effort, outreach and education are important to get public support. The intertidal walks, the trails, the planned boardwalk and the floating pontoon at Big Sister's Island complement the conservation effort. However, they do expose the fragile marine eco-system to human footfalls and the natural temptation to touch and collect. Furthermore, as a public park, the marine park is exposed to visitors in private boats who could swim and snorkel freely among the reefs. Designating the marine park as a nature reserve, and not just any public park, will signal to visitors to give due respect to the marine biodiversity.
There is one more reason why the marine park needs the protection of a nature reserve, even more so than a terrestrial nature reserve. The boundaries of a terrestrial nature reserve such as Sungei Buloh could be carefully guarded against human intrusions using well-designed fences, walls, roads, hedges, waterways or secondary forests. However, the marine park is by nature a very open space given its location in the open seas. As our marine park gathers fame, our marine biodiversity could become a target of unscrupulous poachers and collectors. One major threat to coral reefs and reef fishes is poaching for the aquarium hobby market. We need to empower the custodian, NParks, to guard the marine park against this threat.
My second disappointment is with the scale of the protection. The marine park covers 40 hectares around Sisters’ Island and the reefs off the western coasts of Pulau Tekukor and St John’s Island. The Blue Plan had a far more extensive list of areas with high marine biodiversity, which included many islands and reefs adjacent to the marine park, such as Pulau Hantu, Pulau Semakau, Pulau Biola, the Cyrene Reefs and Kusu Island. Expanding the marine park to cover these areas with submerged reefs would greatly enhance and deepen the protection of our marine biodiversity.
Kusu Island is also a cherished place for thousands of Singaporeans travelling there for religious pilgrimages. The legend behind the island about a tortoise turning itself into an island to save two shipwrecked sailors, a Malay and a Chinese, and the Chinese temple and kramat shrines located there represent our multi-racial harmony. Kusu Island presents us with the opportunity to integrate an area of cultural significance into the marine park, to enhance it as a place of natural and cultural heritage.
There is also the need to create buffer zones in between the conserved areas. The marine park, as it is designated now, is not a contiguous zone of protection, but split into three parts off Sisters’ Islands, St John’s and Pulau Tekukor. Unrestricted shipping poses a threat to the separated pockets of marine biodiversity. Just last year, in August, a collision between a Very Large Crude Carrier and a container ship close to the Sisters’ Island brought on fears of an oil spill that would have been disastrous for the marine park. Buffer zones providing for secondary protection, not unlike the proposed amendment to create a new offence of releasing animals into a reserve through waterways outside the reserve, would mitigate the risks.
I believe we should not stop at the creation of a continuous waterfront from Labrador to Marina South and we should creatively and courageously imagine the inclusion of an expanded Southern Islands Marine Park as the Greater Southern Waterfront’s premium green space. Instead of limiting the green network to the corridor from Labrador Park and Mount Faber to Pulau Brani, we should think outside the terrestrial green box to a great national park that integrates Labrador Nature Reserve and its green corridor with the blue network of coral reefs of the Southern Islands.
I have a third point to add to the two disappointments concerning the scope and scale of protecting our marine biodiversity. This third point is the fear the amendments in this Bill will shift the evolution of the marine park in an undesirable direction.
Clause 4 of the Bill inserts a new section 6A to allow the Minister to designate any entity to manage a public park. Will this lead to the commercialisation of our public parks? Will this lead to the parcelling out of our 300-plus public parks to diverse organisations to turn them into spaces to carry out their agenda that may undermine or dilute the open character and recreational purpose of our public parks? Will this promote unhealthy competition and turf wars between entities such as Resident Committees, non-profit groups and even statutory boards? I hope the Senior Minister of State will clarify the intention of this amendment.
Now, with respect to the marine park being defined as a public park, rather than a national park or natural reserve, this new section means that the management of the marine park could be assigned to another entity other than NParks. This is a dangerous proposition, as the marine park needs to be managed by an entity equipped with the right scientific and conservation expertise. NParks is the only entity that is properly equipped to manage the marine park.
Reading the two amendments together, defining the marine park as a public park, and allowing other entities to manage public parks, I fear that the marine park will be taken down the road to become an eco-tourist theme park one day. This will definitely subvert the aim of conserving our marine biodiversity. I hope the Senior Minister of State can state, categorically, that this is not the direction it will take the marine park towards.
The marine park represents to us our hope for the future, the legacies we leave behind for our children, an unrivalled lesson in good stewardship, and the values we cherish as a cosmopolitan island nation embracing the world. We should deepen the scope and expand the scale of protecting our marine biodiversity. We should not turn what should be a nature reserve into an eco-tourist theme park.
Mdm Speaker, I call for this Bill to be the first step to deepen the scope and expand the scale of protecting our marine biodiversity and not for turning the marine park into a theme park. With this hope, I support the Bill.
Firstly, the focus and emphasis on marine parks, as it is relatively new in Singapore, is welcomed one and it establishes a safe haven for ecologically sensitive flora and fauna. With the definition of marine park given in section 2, part 3, are there other parks or areas that are under consideration, besides the Sister's Islands and its vicinity, which has been stipulated in the Bill, and how actively are we working with other expert groups to see if there are other suggested areas that can be incorporated into this?
Thirdly, for trees found in any premises and are deemed to pose an immediate threat to life and property, it is known that NParks can intervene and take necessary action. Can I get clarification on the definition of this threat to life and property? Some of the issues that we tend we face on the ground may include: trees bearing fruits which drop and accidentally hit persons or even vehicles parked in the vicinity, to cracks and damages to paths and pavements due to the expanding root systems. Some clarification will be useful as this is a practical problem.
Fourthly, for trees found on our road sides within residential areas and estates, can I check if there are regular timeline or intervals for pruning and trimming? From the numerous observations I have made, it seems to be carried out only when we activate NParks or the relevant agencies or in situations when the trees are overgrown, are encasing street lamps, or are attracting numerous birds. Therefore, it will be good to also have some idea on the timeline for pruning.
Finally, on heritage roads, can I check with the Senior Minister of State if Upper Aljunied Road, running alongside the Bidadari vicinity, can be included and also designated as a Heritage Road with its numerous very large and mature trees flanking the roads on both sides, creating a pleasant green ambience and also a canopy? Barring all these, Madam, I will support the Bill.
Mr Leon Perera (Non-Constituency Member): Thank you, Mdm Speaker. The Parks and Trees (Amendment) Bill seeks to update the Parks and Trees Act to expand the powers of NParks to appoint park rangers, to increase penalties for nature-related offences, and to extend certain protections to marine parks, among other things.
I have no objections to the Bill, but I would like to speak about gaps in our current regime for managing trees and parks, as well as to raise some technical questions about certain provisions in the Bill.
In November last year, I asked the Minister for National Development what are the criteria that NParks uses to make decisions about tree-cutting, and/or replanting activities in residential estates, whether these criteria vary according to the location and nature of the residential estate, and if so, how? And how are residents consulted in the process?
The reply did not state if there was a process for consulting residents about decisions on replacing groups of trees near residential estates, or planting new clusters, in other words, for tree planting decisions that are not related to big projects. I can only assume that no such structured and regular process exist.
Madam, in my grassroots' work, residents have told me several times that they would like to have been consulted on what types of trees are replanted in place of removed trees, or what types of fresh trees are planted.
For example, one family living in a landed estate where trees line the path from the market to the house – and this is a group of people who clearly have a strong interest in flora, and in plants and trees, and have a great deal of knowledge about that subject – they shared with me that the group of trees that they had loved and which had afforded them good shade on hot days, had been replaced by a tree species which was less shady. I note that this wish to have some say over the types of trees planted in a particular area is also felt by some residents in the HDB estate where I live.
I would like to suggest a new model for making decisions about trees being planted in residential estates. Where a significant number of trees are to be removed and trees replanted, or where a new group or growth of trees that has to be planted, be it installation of tree samplings or planting of instant trees, NParks and HDB, where HDB manages the green areas, could initiate a consultation process with residents.
Some might argue that this is a trivial matter over which to have a consultation process. Some might argue that a matter such as this does not warrant such consultation and that it might overburden NParks to build this into NParks' regular procedures. However, efficient solutions can be found, that do not stretch the resources in manpower of NParks to conduct such consultations, and this solution can be deployed only when there is significant new planting or replanting, and not for the replacement of just a single tree.
For example, where such decisions need to be made, NParks could direct residents to a webpage that presents different tree options that they could vote on. Residents could submit a very simple online form with their NRIC to express support for one or another option. The residents could learn about the page through noticeboards in HDB estates, or by signboards placed strategically at landed estates.
One could argue against this by saying that if only certain people go online and express a preference, then the decision will be undemocratic. However, that is still better than no one being given a chance to express a preference. Moreover, more votes may be generated by individual residents urging their neighbours to go online and vote for their preferred option. It could be argued that this is giving residents too much choice
NParks could provide only certain options for tree choice based on local considerations, such as soil considerations and so on, and also based on national considerations, like the need to preserve a certain level of biodiversity in the national tree population which has broader ecological benefits for Singapore. In fact, if such a model of consultation can be piloted and run efficiently, it could serve as an inspiration for local consultation and empowerment on other matters that fall into the middle zone, where they are neither too big to warrant a formal vote, nor too small to ignore residents' feedback altogether.
I have suggested an online approach to consultation because this would seem to be efficient and scalable, but there could be other approaches to achieve the same result, bearing in mind that many Singaporeans are still not too IT savvy. What are the benefits of such consultation? There are many. Such exercises could inspire a greater sense of ownership over the local greenery and public park spaces. This, in turn, could enhance positive behaviours like anti-littering and that could have a knock-on effect of saving state expenditure in other areas. Such consultations could even stimulate interaction among residents as they lobby one another for their own preferred treescapes.
In past decades, there have been residential developments constructed at the margins of the Central Catchment in Bukit Timah Nature Reserves. Many of these are large-scale developments like condominiums and strata landed housing. This amendment regulating the release or abandonment of animals into reserves through waterways is a good one, but it does not address one major issue, which is the potential of invasive species entering the reserves, not by design or choice, but by random chance, such as nonindigenous declarative plants favoured by condominium developers re-producing in the reserves, or exotic pets owned by residents, escaping accidentally into the reserves without the conscious choice of the residents to release them. These incidents may disrupt the reserves' delicate eco-system and biodiversity. What measures are in place now or will be considered in the future to limit these possibilities, or limit the damage that might be caused from such possibilities?
Conversely, what happens when animals accidentally exit the reserves and are found by residents in these developments who may decide to capture and retain the animals, or even harm them? They should by right call NParks to return animals that are captured, but if they do not, what recourse does NParks have in such cases?
Next, I have a few questions that are more technical in nature. Firstly, the Bill stipulates a reduction in the area size of the Botanic Gardens protected by law. Clause 23 will result in a reduction of 151 sqm of land from the Botanic Gardens. It is a small reduction but I would just like to clarify what is the reason for this reduction.
I think this is a matter of public interest because if, for example, there has been a rise in offences that warrant this, it is a matter of public interest to understand what these offences are. For example, if there has been a spike in incidents of persons harming or poaching endangered species of animals or plants in our nature reserves, many concerned citizens and NGOs may want to know about this.
Separately, but related to the main point, to what extent does NParks envisage that it will induct more staff in this way to police nature reserves in parks. I ask this because I wonder if we have given due considerations in other ways to minimise offences occurring on NParks' land, such as CCTV cameras or apps that allow members of the public to photograph and report offences that they see. Thank you, Madam.
Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee): Mdm Speaker, if you are a visitor arriving in Singapore, the first sight that greets you as you leave Changi Airport is the calmness along the roads leading to our city – rain trees with their magnificent branches, palm trees spreading their arms in welcome and the colourful bougainvillea shrubs that calm your nerves after a long flight. It is a similar sight that greets Singaporeans returning home. It is a reassuring sight for many.
Since 1975, when the Parks and Trees Act replaced the then Botanical Gardens Act, the NParks has worked hard to ensure that this continues to grow from the vision of our founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew of having a "Garden City" or a "City within a Garden". In this new amendment, there is one area of focus under clause 5 which deals with the release or abandonment of animals into any river, stream, canal or watercourse, not just within, but now also outside of nature reserves.
For the existing fauna in our waterways, the introduction of new, perhaps invasive life could prove to be a major disruption. There is a real problem of having invasive aquatic species released into our nature reserves or other water sources leading to it.
The population of this invasive fish has grown at such a prolific rate that there have been reports of snakeheads, which can survive outside of water for a period of time, walking and crossing between waterways and even, anecdotally, having been reported of attacking humans!
In fact, even from a religious standpoint, major religious organisations have come together with NParks in the annual Operation No Release to encourage Singaporeans and clarify that the releasing of live animals is not to be encouraged if it causes greater suffering. To quote Mr Henry Baey, then-President of the Buddhist Fellowship, who said in 2010, “Compassion and wisdom are like two wings on the same bird. One without the other is only futile, it can even be dangerous. Releasing animals may seem like a beautiful, kind, meritorious thing to do. However if it upsets the ecosystem and causes harm, not only to the animals released, but to all living creatures in the area, can that then be called a genuine act of compassion?”
Operation No Release has been in effect for a number of years, and I understand that the number of cases in our nature reserves and our waterways has reduced. But the problem seems to have moved proverbially upstream to other waterways and canals that people may not be aware will lead into our nature reserves. So, the new amendment will be useful. But being a city that is very prone to rain and a very large network of drains and canals, perhaps what is more important is further education and public communications.
I welcome the added protection for trees especially in private estates and in private property, but I wish to clarify a point in clauses 14 and 18. Yesterday we debated and passed the Planning (Amendment) Bill. The hon Member for Nee Soon Er Dr Lee Bee Wah, in her clarification, had asked if URA, the lead agency for the Planning Bill, could be empowered to ensure that issues such as plastering works could be done. However, the explanation provided yesterday was that homeowners will need to have their premises and privacy respected.
Under clauses 14 and 18 of the Parks and Trees Act, NParks officers or their contractors are now empowered to enter to ascertain tree or plant conditions. I accept the explanation by Senior Minister of State earlier that this would be the last resort. However, I wish to ask if there is a slight disjoint in the implementation between these two different Bills. One where NParks public officers are allowed to enter and to make corrections whereas another agency, under the same Ministry, is not allowed to do so. Because at the end of the day, while a tree may fall and cause danger to the public, a non-plastered wall after some time of exposure can also potentially cause danger to the public as well.
In my constituency of Yew Tee, we are blessed to have the Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve and the Kranji Marshes at our doorstep. I understand that the Prime Minister came to jalan jalan at the Marshes last Sunday as well. These 50-plus hectares of protected marshes full of flora and an abundance of fauna is worth protecting. But I have a question for the Senior Minister of State because there is a cause for concern amongst nature lovers as major developments across the straits, in fact at the mouth of the straits, have long-term detrimental impact on the reserve. How then does NParks intend to address these concerns and mitigate any negative impact on this fragile nature spot?
My last point is in relation to clause 24 under the powers given to NParks. The new functions empower NParks to manage on behalf of the Government any state land used by the landscape industry. Feedback from the landscape industry has been that they feel very hard-pressed to develop further because of the short tenancies that they face. And previous arrangements have been such that they are very fearful as they come close to the renewal of their leases, whether they can continue or they will have to close their businesses. I would like to ask the Senior Minister of State if he can allay the fears of the landscaping industry. It is very land intensive and very capital intensive. What are the areas that NParks will be taking on to further develop the landscape industry in Singapore, so that we can continue to have a city in a garden.
Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio): Mdm Speaker, the transformation of Singapore into a Garden City began in the 1960s. Then-Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew envisioned Singapore to be a highly liveable city-state that not only provided economic opportunities to her residents, but would also have a high quality of life. People would be able to live in a beautiful environment where roads were tree-lined, and parks and green open spaces freely accessible to everyone.
Over the years, NParks has spearheaded the development of new parks and green recreational spaces. It has also continued to promote and develop research in botany, environmental biology and forestry management. To continue this work, I believe it is necessary to strengthen NParks' regulatory function and power, and would thus like to speak on three specific amendments of the Bill.
First of all, the designation of “marine park” as a type of “public park”. As we have already heard from Senior Minister of State Desmond Lee, the Straits of Singapore is one of the busiest commercial shipping routes in the world. In spite of this busy maritime traffic, the Straits has a remarkably diverse marine life. Some of the marine animals spotted in the Straits of Singapore include the Hawksbill Turtle, the Indo-Pacific Humpbacked Dolphin, and Black-tipped Reef sharks.
These animals and the marine biodiversity of the Straits of Singapore is part of our natural heritage and should be protected and preserved. I am thus glad that amendments made to the Bill in clause 2 will designate “marine park” as a type of “public park” and that NParks will have juridical control and enforcement rights over
A good example that illustrates this point is the recent 300 tonnes oil spill that occurred in the Straits of Johor when two ships collided Northeast of Singapore. Those responsible for the oil spill must be held accountable for the disaster and the amendments to the Bill will hopefully give NParks more authority to take the appropriate action.
On a more positive note, having greater regulatory and enforcement power may potentially allow Singapore to capitalise on our rich marine biodiversity to promote marine tourism and other marine leisure activities. Popular Singapore sites such as Pulau Hantu are overused and there are signs of coral damage. The designation of “marine parks” as “public parks” will thus potentially offer NParks a clearer channel to develop other dive sites, possibly in our southern waters.
While Singapore can never realistically compete with a place like the Maldives for marine tourism, it could be fruitful for NParks to work with operators to enhance more sea-sport and marine leisure offerings to feed domestic demand. In addition, a well-conserved marine park would also offer educational opportunities, especially for our youth, on the bio-riches of our waters and the importance of sustainable living.
Another of the proposed amendments to the Act I would like to speak on is the proposal to include non-NParks managed land under the Act as indicated in clauses 2 and 4. This is, in my opinion, a positive amendment as this would allow those who damage trees and plants in these areas to be prosecuted. I would, however, also like to suggest that NParks to eventually oversees the management of all trees and plants across the island. I believe that such a move will resolve the current slightly complex management system of trees and plants that is in place.
At the present moment, depending on the configuration and location, you could have trees and plants in the area of a few hundred square meters coming under the jurisdiction and management of various diverse agencies such as LTA, HDB, NParks and the Town Council.
While the public can call the MSO line to deal with any issue pertaining to the trees and plants concerned and their feedback will be re-routed to the appropriate agency, I feel that this might not be the most efficient and cost effective way to address such concerns.
Under the current system, I understand that each individual agency will need to call for its own tender for horticultural contracts and maintain its own horticultural team, even arborist, to deal with such exigencies and issues. This potentially leads to the duplication of contracts and manpower across agencies when what is needed is perhaps a singularly-managed horticultural team and few master contracts that cover the maintenance of plants and trees across the island.
Finally, Madam, residents in my constituency have previously made complaints about a row of tall trees that are in a school that is located right beside their block of flats. The complaints are about how insects and birds nesting in those trees are a nuisance and disturbance. Specifically, insects are flying into their homes and birds are defecating in their balconies. Our community leaders have raised the matter but little has been done to alleviate the situation so far.
The proposed changes to the Act in clauses 14 and 18 would give NParks officers the authority to enter various premises to issue maintenance notices. This would potentially help to alleviate the situation I have just highlighted, as well as other similar situations that I am sure my Parliamentary colleagues would face, as those responsible for the trees will now have to comply with maintenance notices issued by NParks.
I am glad that these issues will be given due attention. On the other hand, I am also concerned about the technical interpretation of the proposed changes, and whether these changes will lead to frequent situations where various parties expect NParks to step in to resolve minor issues that could be dealt with in other ways and using other channels.
Like my colleague, Er Dr Lee Bee Wah, I am also interested to know how NParks would interpret what constitutes “danger” under the amended clause. I believe that most of us would understand “danger” in the most obvious sense, such as when a branch or tree could potentially fall on someone. However, how else could the concept of “danger” be applied? For example, would the presence of a bee-hive, or toxic and poisonous sap from trees be regarded as “dangerous?” Would trees that regularly shed leaves that might be a hazard on a slippery floor during rainy days, be considered “dangerous?” The premise of what constitutes “danger” is therefore subjective and I believe greater clarity in the interpretation of what is “dangerous” is necessary in order for the law to have its full desired effect.
With that, Mdm Speaker, I conclude my speech in support of the Bill and look forward to NParks continuing to integrate more biodiversity and flora into our urban landscape, so that we are not only a Garden City but a City in a Garden.
Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh): Mdm Speaker, creating and maintaining green spaces in a densely built city state like Singapore has always been a challenge. I would like to applaud the NParks for the great job it has done in ensuring the accessibility and protection of green spaces. I am pleased to note that amendments to the Bill will give NParks more authority to perform its duties.
Prolific urban planning has led to a boom of construction projects around Singapore. Some of these projects would involve the removal and transplanting of trees. I understand that NParks takes a keen interest in heritage trees, as well as tree removal and transplantation. Extensive consultations would take place between the project management team of the construction projects and NParks with regards to these matters.
However, I have received feedback from residents in my constituency that the trees in the vicinity of construction works are sometimes not cared for properly by the respective construction teams, or even damaged. Examples include improper trimming and pruning, as well as defacement of trees. Perhaps NParks can step in to monitor the work of contractors and their appointed arborist, and be accorded the authority to take action when necessary.
Next, having a beautiful garden is an aspect that many landed property owners enjoy. And it is good that they would like to maintain a garden at their own expense, considering that it means additional green spaces as well as fresher air in the neighbourhood. However, some property owners lack consideration for their neighbours, and as a result, common disputes among neighbours living in the private property estates often involve inappropriate placement of trees.
The amendment has dictated that neighbourly disputes will be referred for mediation and community resolution. However, in cases where there is a clear violation of regulations stipulated by the Ministry of National Development, would it not be more appropriate for someone, such as NParks, to intervene? I would imagine that the regulations are in place for good reasons, mostly safety-related, and it would make more sense to deal with it as soon as possible, rather than using authoritative power as a last resort.
NParks' focus has been on trees but I believe they also look into other plants and assess how they affect the public. Some plants like cacti are top favourites in landscaping works because they are hardy and aesthetically pleasing. However, some species can grow very big and may cause safety hazards and obstruction. If a resident notices potential issues arising from a non-tree type of plant, can NParks be called upon for assistance?
Last but not least, many landed property owners hire private grass-cutters and tree-cutters to tend their garden. Some of these grass-cutters or tree-cutters come and do the work on a lovely Sunday morning and disrupt the peace with noise from their machines, when most residents would have liked to enjoy a peaceful morning jog or stroll, or even sleep in. The leaf blowers are the worst culprits. Their noise level goes up as high as 100 decibels (dBA), and then sometimes last half an hour or more. This exceeds the stipulated safety restrictions by MOM, which dictates that for the safety of workers, exposure to 100 decibels (dBA) should not exceed 15 minutes.
Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang (Nee Soon): Madam, I stand in full support of this Bill. I have spent the last 16 years of my life fighting to protect our wildlife here in Singapore. With ACRES, we have rescued thousands of animals, rehabilitated them and working with both NParks and AVA, released them back into the wild where they belong.
Singaporeans continue to be amazed when I tell them that we rescued over 1,000 wild animals in Singapore each year. ACRES alone rescued more than 3,000 wild animals just last year. The most common response I get is “Singapore got wild animals, meh?”
I have personally seen the amazing biodiversity we have on this island, I have seen how precious they are and perhaps most importantly, I have seen how fragile they are. We have much to lose if we our policies are not right and for all the harm that we humans have done to the animals and the environment, it is also only us who can right this wrong; only us who can protect our ecosystem.
A significant step forward is in the protection of our marine ecosystem. If it is hard to create awareness of and protect the biodiversity on land, protect our terrestrial ecosystem, then it is even harder when it come to our marine ecosystem. Simply because what goes on there literally goes on beneath the surface and most people have never seen or heard of the amazing marine life we have in our waters.
As such, I applaud the Bill for the inclusion of “marine parks” in the Parks and Trees Act (PTA), giving NParks – for the first time – jurisdiction over the seas. This will provide the Sisters’ Island Marine Park with greater protection against destructive behaviour.
There should be an equivalent to Part III of the PTA with regard to marine parks. There should be a section setting out the objectives of a marine park, similar to section 7 of the current Act. There should also be provisions setting out what acts are prohibited in a marine park, similar to sections 8 and 9 of the current Act. Can the Minister clarify specifically what acts are not allowed in the marine park?
It is noted as well that shellfish are protected, as “fish” includes shellfish in the definition. But this protection only applies to acts that are prohibited in sections 8 and 9 and these relate to National Parks and Nature Reserves, not to a Marine Park. Can the Minister clarify if the protection extends to the marine park as well?
What about shells that no longer have shellfish living in them? The giant clam shells, for example. These are also found in our waters. Are these protected? There was a recent controversy in over the giant clam shells collected by NUS students on a trip to the Riau Islands.
It is also unclear if corals are protected in a marine park. It may be argued that the definition of “animal” in the PTA is wide enough to encompass corals “or any other living creature, vertebrate or invertebrate”. While many are living organisms, some corals may be dead. Can these be collected?
Section 14 of the State Lands Encroachment Act makes it an offence to take “corals or shells” from state land but this only applies to taking from the “land”. What about taking from the sea bed? Is this to be considered “land” as well? It is best if the law clearly makes it an offence to take away shellfish, shells as well as corals. All these should be protected in a marine park, along with fish and other marine creatures.
Will there also be prohibitions on throwing down of anchors onto the seabed as these would damage the coral reefs, or throwing of garbage into the sea? I appreciate that the Minister had mentioned earlier that there would be subsidiary legislation enacted that will probably address majority of the concerns I have raised but I hope again that as we draft those regulations, the points I raise here are taken into consideration.
Next, in order for NParks to fully protect our marine biodiversity from destructive behaviours, could the Ministry look into making similar amendments to extend full jurisdiction by NParks to coastal Nature Reserves like the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Labrador Nature Reserve, as well as coastal parks such as the Changi Beach Park, Pasir Ris Park, East Coast Park and Chek Jawa.
I understand from the green community that NParks Notice 22.214.171.124 dated 24 September 2007 and Port Marine Notice No 126 of 2007 attempted to designate Chek Jawa Wetlands by demarcating points in the sea and declaring via the Notices that these points were under the PTA. Probably because there was no actual corresponding amendments to the PTA, in practice, even after the Notices, NParks still has to send all reported misdemeanours beyond the high water mark to MPA to enforce.
Lastly, on the amendments to section 9, which propose to prohibit the release or abandonment of animals into any river, stream or watercourse which flows into a nature reserve. I understand that NParks will be putting up "no-release" signs to inform the public of this change. However, it might be difficult to enforce this.
For example, if the public releases the animal further upstream, before the sign is sighted, how will this law still be enforced? How will we assess if the person "reasonably knows" that the body of water flows into or through the nature reserve? A person caught releasing the animal can simply say he or she does not know the river flows into the nature reserve. How will NParks be able to prove what he or she knows or does not know?
I foresee some technical difficulties with enforcement and thus propose an alternative solution, which is to prohibit the release of exotic species anywhere, on land or in water, in Singapore, and not simply to restrict this to certain areas. Animals are not stationary and have the freedom to travel from unrestricted areas to nature reserves. Hence, I see little rationale in creating demarcations when prohibiting the release of animals.
ACRES has seen first-hand the devastating impact invasive species can have on local ones. For example, the red-eared sliders which are native to North America, have caused numbers of our local Asian box turtles to drop significantly.
I had the privilege of experiencing the amazing biodiversity in Singapore and I hope my daughters will continue to have this privilege when they are older. I was in England recently and I watched a programme on TV about the challenges countries around the world faced in co-existing with their wild animals. The programme ended by showcasing Singapore and how we have succeeded in protecting our biodiversity and co-existing with our wild animals.
The ball is in our court and let us make sure we do what is right. After all, "If we pollute the air, water and soil that keep us alive and well, and destroy the biodiversity that allows natural systems to function, no amount of money will save us." Madam, I stand in full support of this Bill.
There is a beautiful Chinese saying, 钟灵毓秀. It means that Nature's beauty bring forth talent and character in people. Indeed, for those of us who have experience the joy of nature, we know intuitively that nature centres and nourishes the soul.
At the same time, most Singaporeans I meet hold NParks in high regards. In particular, my residents appreciate how NParks has tended to Bishan Park and Lower Pierce Reservoir Park, as well as the numerous neighbourhood parks nestled within Kebun Baru. My residents are also looking forward to the upcoming Upper Thomson Nature Park sited next to the Central Reserve.
Given the significant efforts we have invested in ensuring that nature is at our people's doorstep, we should strive to get as many Singaporeans to walk through that door and to enjoy the full extent of Singapore's beautiful nature.
NParks has done an excellent job to engage the public. Just to name a few, over the last year, NParks has done a comprehensive programme for interested schools and pre-schools to at partake in, developed apps such as the SG BioAtlas to help Singaporeans share and identify distinctive Singaporean plants and animals that they have spotted.
But while NParks is working hard to engage Singaporeans, it is going against the prevailing trend, where our children and youths are growing up in as fully-fledged digital natives, and emotionally disengaging with the physical world.
This trend is not just limited to Singapore. Last year, my wife and I hiked at a National Park in the United States for two days. We were surprised to encounter a slick advertising blitz targeting the youth, so as to encourage the youth to visit the parks. When we dig deeper, we realised that the park visitors in the US consist largely of baby-boomers and Gen X. So, basically, the millenniums are missing.
In fact, the US National Park has identified the lukewarm response from the millenniums as the single largest threat to public support for the country's National Park system. So, NParks is not just facing this trend alone.
As such, I would like to propose that we systematically incorporate nature into our children's curriculum. There are three reasons why we want to take this approach. One, existing, largely optional outreach efforts to our children will naturally attract those who are already pre-disposed to nature, or to children whose school leaders see the benefit of interacting with nature. As much as NParks endeavours, a significant number of children may not have a chance to develop a meaningful bond with nature.
Three, we have set up our education system to cover the fundamentals in life. For example, over the years, we have started teaching art, so as to imbue our children with a sense of aesthetic. And we have always taught our children physical education, so as to develop their motor skills and to teach the benefits of sports. And recently, we have started emphasising on values, so as to equip our children with the right moral compass in life.
In the same manner, especially since our children are raised as city-dwellers in the digital rage, I believe we must build a deep and intuitive connection between our children and nature. Perhaps a good way to start is to encourage our primary schools and secondary schools to have quarterly visits to our parks. Some of these parks can be the neighbourhood parks, the national parks or the park connectors. Others can be to iconic national parks such as Pulau Ubin, Chek Jawa or Sungei Buloh.
While the regular school trips take place, perhaps NParks can dedicate more resources to have park rangers to introduce the beauty of our animals and flora to our children, and to introduce them to our excellent SG BioAtlas and sParks apps. Not all our children will grow up to be passionate nature-lovers, but at least growing up, they will have a chance to understand its beauty.
Next, I would talk about funding for NParks. Over the last few years, I have gradually developed a deeper understanding on what NParks does. NParks continue to build more iconic park destinations, such as Gardens by the Bay, Palau Ubin and HortiPark. NParks continue to plant more trees as we build more housing estates, and many more trees in forested town like the upcoming Tengah town. NParks continue to build more park connectors.
Yet, against rising expectations of our residents and sharply increased manpower cost for maintenance and pruning, NParks receives a relatively modest operating grant of slightly over $200 million, annually. To put that in perspective, that is around 0.3% of our overall budget.
I have no doubt that NParks will effectively stretch every Government dollar it gets. In fact, NParks' strong corporate partnerships and its ability to attract top business leaders to its board, are testimony of NParks' entrepreneurial spirit. But at some point, we might approach a situation where the budget might not match NParks' enlarged mission.
With the economy where it is, resources across the Government are understandably tight. However, I do hope that when the opportunity arises, NParks will be allocating more funding to deliver its mission, and to strengthen outreach.
Mdm Speaker, let me conclude my speech. Recently, my grassroots members and I were invited to NParks' ground-breaking ceremony at Thomson Natural Park. We had to hike into the middle of the forest. And during that short journey, our NParks guides gave
Members have asked questions that broadly encompass two areas. First, the protection of greenery and biodiversity, and, second, the maintenance of such. So, let me try to address some of these questions.
Mr Saktiandi Supaat asked whether NParks could monitor construction damage to ensure that trees are not damaged in the course of works. There are existing legislative levers in the Act to ensure that trees are not indiscriminately damaged.
For trees that are specifically protected like those in heritage road green buffers and road verges, as well as mature trees in tree conservation areas and vacant lands, NParks works closely with site arborists, contractors and developers to ensure that no damage is caused. Residents can also inform NParks if they see trees being damaged during construction. The Helpline is 1800-4717300. So, please let the residents know.
Mr Darryl David, Mr Louis Ng, Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef and Assoc Prof Daniel Goh spoke about the Sisters' Islands Marine Park. I thank them for their support. But there were several questions about the definition, the scope, the scale and of how the Marine Park will be protected.
Mr Desmond Lee: To clarify, we are amending the Act to make clear that the marine and foreshore areas of the Sisters' Islands Marine Park are a type of "public park". Hence, they are under the jurisdiction of the Act. These areas are described in Part III of the revised Schedule.
The terrestrial areas of the Marine Park are already protected as public parks. The rules governing these public parks are laid out in the subsidiary legislation of the Parks and Trees Act, namely, the Parks and Trees Regulations.
NParks will make new rules that are specific to marine parks in due course. These will include restrictions on diving, movement of vessels, and the dropping of anchors. We will work closely with our marine conservation community, recreational fishing community, boat operators and other relevant stakeholders to develop these new rules.
Assoc Prof Daniel Goh spoke about the concern on the scope of protections offered to Sisters' Islands Marine Park. As I said earlier in my speech and as I just reiterated a moment ago, this Marine Park came into being in 2014. We have taken the last few years, NParks managing our Marine Park, and we have now the confidence to make these amendments, but given ourselves the flexibility to make comprehensive rules, made in consultation with the blue fraternity, the marine conservation fraternity ‒ and these members are the authors of the Blue Plan ‒ to come up with these rules, together with stakeholders like boat operators and our recreational fishing community. So, the protections will be there.
Mr Darryl David asked if the Marine Park could be developed into a leisure and education destination. While Sisters' Islands Marine Park is a marine sanctuary, we also want it to be a living classroom for marine conservation. NParks set up a public gallery on St John's Island in 2015, as an educational resource for visitors. It has also worked with marine nature groups on guided intertidal walks and dive trips at the Marine Park.
We have further plans to develop a boardwalk, intertidal pools and a floating pontoon at Big Sister's Island. These facilities will offer the public more opportunities for encounters with marine and terrestrial biodiversity. Small Sister's Island will serve as a dedicated site for marine conservation, promoting species recovery and habitat enhancement. Programmes will be conducted to facilitate visits for schools, institutions and organisations. Indeed, even as we want to confer protection on the Marine Park, make it a sanctuary, we also have to bring people to the Marine Park. Allow them opportunity to come up close with marine life, so they see how valuable and precious this biodiversity is; not only for them, but also for their children and grandchildren.
Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef asked about the criteria for an area to be considered a "marine park" and Mr Louis Ng asked if we could bring the coastal areas of nature reserves and parks under the Parks and Trees Act. Assoc Prof Daniel Goh asked about the scale of Sister's Islands Marine Park, asking why it does not compass all the areas covered under the Blue Plan.
Madam, the designation of a marine park is based on species richness and habitats at the site. The importance of the site as a source of coral larvae for dispersal is another important consideration. For example, the Sisters’ Islands are important natural refugia for corals, from which larvae are dispersed to enrich other sites in the southern islands.
In response to Mr Louis Ng's question, NParks' management currently covers the foreshore or intertidal areas at Chek Jawa, Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve and Labrador Nature Reserve. For the other coastal parks, for example, East Coast Park, NParks' management extends up to the high water mark, the high tide mark. Hence, the areas highlighted by Mr Louis Ng are already protected as nature reserves or public parks under the current Parks and Trees Act and Regulations.
Mr Louis Ng also mentioned that NParks has been reporting misdemeanours to Maritime Port Authority or MPA even though NParks issued a Notice stating that Chek Jawa is protected under the Parks and Trees Act. I would like to clarify that having checked with my NParks colleagues, NParks has not made any such report since the Notice was issued. NParks will stop unauthorised activities that it comes across, but will seek the assistance of the MPA where it is necessary to supplement its efforts in enforcement. We will look into stepping up enforcement at Chek Jawa. But simply relying on enforcement will not be 100% effective, as no one can be on patrol everywhere and all the time, even though opportunities for technology to come into play are being explored.
Public education is equally important. In this regard, we will work closely with our environmental community and our Friends of the Park Communities, including a soon-to-be established Friends of the Sisters' Islands Marine Park, and continue to share with the fishing and recreational boating communities on the Dos and Don’ts at Chek Jawa and other coastal areas.
On this note, I would like to address Mr Louis Ng’s query on whether we can restrict the release of animals everywhere, instead of just within the reserves and in watercourses leading to the reserves. Mr Alex Yam also spoke against the release of animals like terrapins into the wild, into the open.
Indeed, the release of such invasive species has adverse effects on our native ecosystems. For example, some Asian Arowana, which is an aquarium fish that is not native to Singapore, have been released by members of the public in very sensitive freshwater habitats like Nee Soon Swamp Forest. The Arowanas then gorge themselves on our highly threatened native fish and crustacean species and caused ecological damage.
And so that is why NParks will continue to work with relevant agencies and community groups on "Operation No Release", which spreads awareness on the harm caused by this behaviour. This year’s campaign is expected to take place in May.
Mr Alex Yam also asked about how we would mitigate any negative impact on the Kranji Marshes, or I believe Sungei Buloh arising from major developments across the Straits. We will certainly protect Sungei Buloh Wetlands Nature Reserve by continuing our efforts in habitat restoration/enhancement and we have a very active Friends of the Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve, comprising very passionate members of the nature fraternity and other stakeholders who help us keep an eye and continued to enhance the richness of Sungei Buloh.
Members also asked about how NParks would be able to distinguish between animals that have strayed and those that have been abandoned and also asked about measures taken to return stray animals to their owners. An animal that has been abandoned is one which the owner has deliberately and permanently given up care and control over and typically leaves it in a public place. An animal which has strayed is one that has wandered off or is lost, often due to the owner’s neglect. NParks will investigate and work with agencies like AVA to ascertain if there are any identifying factors, such as microchips, to trace the owners. NParks also works with relevant agencies to ensure that the welfare of the animal is not compromised.
Mr Saktiandi Supaat suggested that NParks intervene when trees are "inappropriately" located in private homes or when noisy grass-cutting occurs. He also asked whether residents can contact NParks for issues caused by plants such as large cacti. Mr Darryl David, Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef and Er Dr Lee Bee Wah asked what constitutes "danger" from trees.
Madam, let me clarify that the new power of entry in the Bill is intended for NParks to ensure that public safety is not compromised by potentially dangerous greenery that may fall. Such greenery, usually trees, often show signs of structural weakness or poor health. For example, they may have severe diseases or pest infestations, or bare crowns with branches overhanging property. To determine if the condition of a tree is dangerous, qualified arborists from NParks will use their technical expertise and judgement to assess the tree and its structural integrity.
As for noisy grass-cutting – regulation of noise technically comes under the National Environment Agency. But NParks does train workers to adhere to appropriate noise protection levels as required by the Workplace Safety and Health regime under MOM.
Assoc Prof Fatimah asked about the pruning schedules of trees. Trees are pruned regularly. The frequency varies according to location, the species, age, and the condition of the trees. But it generally ranges between 12 and 24 months. That said, there could be higher frequencies of six months in some localities, for instance where there is heavy pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
Mr Darryl David asked if NParks could manage more public greenery. MND, together with NParks, had conducted a centralisation of greenery maintenance exercise last year. Following this, the greenery in most State lands is now managed by NParks. But some areas are not managed by NParks. For example, Town Councils are responsible for managing common areas, such as parks, playgrounds and open spaces within public housing estates. But NParks shares its expertise and provides professional training in plant and maintenance topics for Town Councils or Managing Agents administering landscape contracts.
Regardless of which entity is responsible for the greenery, residents can easily report greenery matters through the Municipal Services Office’s OneService App. The feedback will be channelled to the appropriate entity. NParks works closely with the relevant entities to resolve greenery-related issues.
There were some other points that were raised. Mr Leon Perera asked about consultation and gave many ideas about how consultation could be weaved into planting programmes and schedules. I explained in my PQ reply not too long ago that in big projects, like in the Jurong Lake region, but also where there is opportunity to rejuvenate estates, NParks takes the opportunity to consult and get the community involved. Mr Leon Perera came up with many ideas about consultation. We are fully in support of consultation. We are fully in support of residents and members of the public taking a proactive part, being passionate about things like greenery. This is entirely consonant with our concept of City in a Garden and we will certainly look into how consultation can be enhanced at every stage where possible.
Mr Leon Perera also talked about land reduction at Singapore Botanic Gardens (SBG). He saw it in the Schedule. This is due to the MRT station opening at Bukit Timah. So, we took a bit of the frontage to have the opening for the MRT station that brings Singaporeans from around the island to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. In fact, SBG
Mr Leon Perera also asked about auxiliary police officers (APOs) and why they are needed. NParks, as with many agencies, will always have to prioritise manpower. Manpower is always a challenge with growing workload and increasing public expectation but tight constraints on manpower. Deployment of technology, but also maximising manpower by leveraging on trained professionals, such as APOs, such as private security, to help us at the penumbra of regulation, enforcement and monitoring, allows NParks officers to focus and use their deep knowledge in botany and their understanding of the biological sciences to enrich and enhance our parks, nature reserves and so on.
I missed this point: Assoc Prof Daniel Goh asked about whether this new clause in the Bill will be the harbinger of turning of the Marine Park into Disneyland or something like that. I think that is certainly not at all on the plans.
The formation of the Marine Park was not just formed by NParks. It was done in consultation with some of the authors of the Blue Plan and many members of the blue fraternity. I think they will be very distraught to hear any suggestion of that and I hope that Assoc Prof Daniel Goh will explain that this was just a concern and not cause alarm.
In fact, I said earlier that we are looking to form, very shortly, a Friends of the Sisters' Island Marine Park and just like the Friends of Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve, Chestnut Nature Park and elsewhere, we bring together the nature fraternity and those who love arts, music, exercise and sports, all the stakeholders, people who are passionate about our greenery to come together and to help us energise, activate and programme our parks including the Marine Park.
Mr Leon Perera also spoke about developments along the fringes of nature reserves such as Bukit Timah and Central Catchment Nature Reserves, and is concerned about whether invasive plant species as well as pets that are not native to Singapore might then enter our nature reserves and cause ecological damage.
We are always concerned about invasive species and that really is the genesis of that clause in the Bill that allows us to prohibit the release of animals into water bodies that lead to nature reserves.
But suffice to say that around our nature reserves, we have buffers. In addition to green buffers, we also have established buffer parks, like the soon to be established Thomson Nature Park that Mr Henry Kwek talked about and other buffer parks around nature reserves. These buffers, as well as buffer parks and nature parks, help to shield the core of the nature reserve from urban life. They help protect the nature reserve from the desiccating effects of buildings and concrete and traffic. But they also give NParks the opportunity to go into these buffers to remove alien plant species, conduct animal species surveys and to remove invasive species that have been deliberately or accidentally released from these developments into the nature reserves. So, we share Mr Leon Perera's concern about the integrity of the ecology of our nature reserves.
In Singapore, we are different. In other countries, the environment, the greenery and nature envelopes cities and their concern is about sprawl, it is about human intervention. In Singapore, it is the converse. We are a City in a Garden where our city envelopes our nature reserves, envelopes our nature parks, envelops our bio-diversity. And we have tremendous amount of bio-diversity in Singapore.
In 2004, Dr Geh Min, the former President of the Nature Society, at the Second Reading of the Parks and Trees (Amendment) Bill, apart from articulating a desire for a marine park – so, 10 years on, after that, we have established it – she also said that, in fact, some of our nature reserves have more species in plants and animals than, say, the whole of the North American continent. So, that is to be celebrated and that is to be cherished and education is critical.
In Singapore, we have to be biophilic and that means, communities. As stakeholders, we have to be good custodians and stewards of our bio-diversity. Not just keeping it away at arms' length through legislation and prohibitions, but to educate, to excite, to enthuse people about how to care for the plants and animal species that make us a very special place.
So, I think that approach should address Mr Leon Perera's concern about what if native animals escape from the nature reserves, what should people do. I think as custodians and stewards, we need to call NParks, we need to call the necessary authorities, call ACRES, and they will know how to re-introduce the animal, rehabilitate it and bring it back into the wild. Capturing of wild animals is an offence under the Wild Animals and Birds Act and appropriate action will be taken.
Lastly, I thank Mr Henry Kwek for his encouraging words for NParks officers. Many of them work silently in the background. They work assiduously and very hard, often behind the scenes. And your encouragement, I think, goes a long way to bring up their spirits. NParks works closely with MOE through its Community-in-Nature initiatives, as well as programmes such as Every Child A Seed and Nature Cares.
Information of our natural heritage has been incorporated into the curriculum, through textbooks and learning journeys to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, our nature reserves and parks. NParks organises around 2,400 educational programmes annually, including guided tours to the Botanic Gardens and nature reserves. These initiatives inculcate the love for nature.
And as suggested by Mr Kwek, we will continue to look at ways to engage the younger generation, including the use of digital platforms to reach out to the increasingly tech-savvy student population. This includes gamification, augmented reality and push notifications on flora and fauna.
I would also like to assure Members that NParks is adopting sustainable landscape practices to ensure that our greenery remains maintainable, such as through the use of drought tolerant native plants. NParks is leveraging on technology to enhance productivity, including increased mechanisation in maintenance operations, and the use of GIS-enabled mobile devices for tree inspections.
Mr Alex Yam also voiced concerns on behalf of nursery operators about their leases and about uncertainty of their leases. NParks has spent the last three years engaging and visiting nursery operators to understand their needs. Based on their feedback, NParks will be tendering out nursery lands on three plus three plus three leases since this model allows some nurseries to pay monthly rentals rather than upfront land premiums.
But we also recognise that a one-size-fits-all solution may not be applicable to all businesses, including some who have a model that involves more investment. Hence, NParks is also studying the feasibility of leasing selected areas for a much longer tenures, for example, 10 plus 10, or some other arrangement.
Mdm Speaker, our City in a Garden initiative is one that is well-supported by many Singaporeans. It is also internationally renowned. A recent study by MIT named Singapore as the world’s greenest city. The Government, the civil society and many members of the public are committed to ensuring that Singapore remains a lush and verdant City in a Garden.
Mdm Speaker, Members have provided useful suggestions for future reviews of our greenery legislation. As I said at the start, we will continually review and update the Act so that our City in a Garden endures. I thank all Members on both sides of the House for their support.
Er Dr Lee Bee Wah: Thank you, Mdm Speaker. I would like the Senior Minister of State where this nursery lease is concerned, will the Ministry consider giving the incumbent a chance to renew their lease at market rate? Because if they are not successful in tendering, it is very difficult for them to relocate their whole nursery. I know this I have a nursery in Bah Soon Pah which is in Nee Soon South. Thank you.
Mr Desmond Lee: Madam, I thank the Member for raising these concerns. We have taken all this feedback into consideration and will announce at an appropriate juncture. Having said that, land is scarce in Singapore. The overall land available for nurseries may not be as much as is available currently. Some areas may have to be used for other needs and therefore, we need to do a comprehensive study and will announce at the appropriate juncture.
Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong: Thank you. I have two clarifications for the Senior Minister of State. One is on scope and one on scale. And the first one is that I appreciate that a lot of protection will practically be there but there is also the signalling and symbolic function of legislating the marine park as nature reserve. So, would the Government be open to allowing the management of the marine park to evolve just as Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, and to be eventually be enshrined legislatively, in law, as a nature reserve in the future?
The second clarification is on scale. Are there plans to include the other Southern Islands into the marine park, especially if the marine bio-diversity improves precisely because of the existing gazetted marine park?
Mr Desmond Lee: I thank the Member for his suggestions on the scope of the protections. As I said earlier, we are but three years into managing a marine park. It involves protecting bio-diversity. It involves protecting different forms of habitats, both terrestrial, inter-tidal as well as marine. It involves managing the needs, wants and concerns of different stakeholders – people who go there for recreation, people who are boatmen, people who like to dive, people who are passionate about bio-diversity.
Putting it into a subsidiary legislation allows us to adjust along the way. As we encounter new situations, we can amend the legislation in order to quickly confer those protections that are necessary. As far as signalling is concerned, apart from this legislative amendment, in 2014, we emphasised the importance of the Marine Park, how valuable it is, the publicity, the outreach surrounding it, the developments, the investments on Sisters' Islands and St John's Island to create a living classroom, a research haven and a place for the conservation of marine bio-diversity. I think it is a tremendous signal in and of itself and I think we should celebrate that together.
As for the scale, as I have said earlier, using agent-based modelling but also through the assiduous work of our civil society, nature society and other marine groups such as Wild Singapore, confirming that the Sisters' Islands Marine Park, or the areas that we have gazetted, are the richest in terms of coral larvae. They are the source, so it has to be protected. That does not preclude us ‒ indeed, we are continuing to consult with the nature groups, we are using science and technology, to see whether other areas should also be included as national parks.