Law does not prohibit activities under nature reserve, says NParks
Site investigation works, which involve drilling boreholes, being carried out in 2017 at the Central Catchment Nature Reserve for the Cross Island MRT line. Underground activities, at whatever depth, will be bound by regulations laid out in the Parks and Trees Act.
A law protecting nature reserves does not prevent underground activities from being carried out at one.
But it does require that such works be carried out at a depth that does not affect the wildlife in the reserve and people's enjoyment of nature there.
The scope of the law, known as the Parks and Trees Act, has been in the spotlight, following the Government's decision last December to route the upcoming Cross Island MRT line under, instead of around, the protected Central Catchment Nature Reserve.
"If the underground activities are carried out at a depth that does not affect the biodiversity and enjoyment of the nature reserve, the Act does not prevent such activities from being carried out," said a spokesman for the National Parks Board (NParks).
The Cross Island Line will be built 70m under the nature reserve, Singapore's largest.
Still, whatever the depth, underground activities will be bound by regulations laid out in the Act, NParks, the custodian of Singapore's biodiversity, said last Wednesday in response to queries from The Straits Times.
The Parks and Trees Act protects key green sites in Singapore, notably the nation's four nature reserves - treasure troves of biodiversity and spaces of scientific inquiry and recreation - by restricting the types of activities that take place there.
For example, the Act bars people from taking nets or hunting equipment into national parks or nature reserves without permission from the NParks' Commissioner of Parks and Recreation.
It also has provisions that prevent people from capturing, disturbing or feeding any animal, or removing any organism from areas protected under the Act.
After the Government's decision was announced last December, Adjunct Associate Professor Joseph Chun, who does research on environmental law at the National University of Singapore's law faculty, published an academic paper raising questions about the scope of activities permitted in a nature reserve, as well as the depth to which nature reserves are protected under the Parks and Trees Act.
"These are important questions because future subterranean developments in the nature reserves cannot be ruled out, and such developments must be guided by a clear understanding of what is and is not permitted under the Act," he noted.
NParks' spokesman said that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) had committed to implementing mitigation measures recommended by an earlier environmental impact assessment.
With the implementation, the assessment had shown that the impact to the ecology and biodiversity caused by the direct alignment under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve would range from negligible to minor.
NParks will continue to work with the LTA to minimise disturbance to flora and fauna, and on the development of a detailed environmental management and monitoring plan to reduce environmental impact, said the spokesman.
"Development works will be permitted to begin in the nature reserve only after the (plan) has been properly developed," she added.
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