JTC accepts supervisory responsibility for Kranji site

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JTC Corporation has acknowledged that as the site developer, it has overall responsibility for the Kranji Road and Kranji Close site, where a large portion of woodland was “erroneously” cleared by its contractor.

“We accept our supervisory responsibilities, and are currently in the process of investigating whether any parties in this incident have fallen short in their respective areas,” JTC said.

Tan Boon Khai, JTC’s chief executive officer (CEO), noted during a virtual press briefing on Monday that the state-owned industrial property developer will not “run away from this responsibility”. But he emphasised that investigations are ongoing, and “need to be given due process to take its course”.

There should not be speculation over the matter, including the reasons or intent behind the unauthorised clearing, he added.

Permanent Secretary (Defence Development) Joseph Leong will be appointed to lead a review of the lessons arising from this incident, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing announced on Monday.

The review by Mr Leong, who is not directly involved in the matter, will identify learning points for project management, supervision and execution as well as inter-agency coordination, Mr Chan said.

Mr Leong will have access to views from the private, public and people sectors. The duration of the review has not been set, though the usual timeline for such matters is about three months, Mr Chan added.

“It is clear to us there were gaps in the way the project was managed and supervised, and that we must do better,” Mr Chan said.

Mr Chan, who is also Minister-in-charge of the Public Service, has also instructed all relevant agencies involved in land clearance projects to conduct an immediate check to ensure their project supervision and implementation processes are in order.

The check, which does not entail a stop-work order, is meant to avoid a repeat of the mistakes made, he said, adding: “The public service will learn from this and improve.”

In addition, JTC and the National Parks Board (NParks) are conducting their respective investigations into the Kranji incident. JTC will subsequently decide whether further punitive measures are needed.

JTC is undertaking an internal review of some of its processes and procedures “to look at whether there are any shortcomings that could have resulted in some of these issues happening on the ground”, Mr Tan said.

NParks is looking into whether there were breaches to the Parks and Trees Act and the Wildlife Act. Leong Chee Chiew, NParks’ commissioner of parks and recreation, said that what JTC has uncovered will be referenced in NParks’ probe.

“I will not want to prejudice the outcome of the investigations by making any assumptions at this point in time. And this is important, because the penalties are not small,” Dr Leong said.

About 4.5 ha were mistakenly deforested by the contractor, Catalist-listed Huationg Global, from end-December 2020 to Jan 13, 2021, before a biodiversity study and an environmental monitoring plan were completed.

This included some parts of Plots 2, 6, 7, 10-2, 10-3, 10-4, 10-5, 10-6 and road 1. Last November, the project consultant, CPG Consultants, had asked for permission to clear Plots 1, 2, 10-5 and 10-6, but received the green light only for part of Plot 1.

Aside from the unauthorised clearing of 4.5 ha, work to deforest the other plots had begun after the authorities gave their permission and a written direction, JTC clarified.

In total, some 11.9 ha of the 25 ha site has been cleared, and 13.1 ha of greenery remains. As at Monday, all work on the site remain suspended since Jan 13, 2021, when JTC discovered the error.

The site is earmarked for the development of the Agri-Food Innovation Park (AFIP).

Minister for National Development, Desmond Lee, said the clearance error was “regrettable and deeply concerning”. Mr Lee also noted that such a large-scale development will have its fair share of complexities and involve many parties.

Huationg apologised last Tuesday and said it is working with JTC to determine the cause of the lapse and to prevent future occurrences.

A fauna baseline survey, an environmental monitoring and management plan (EMMP) and a sediment-load study were required in August 2020, after the project consultant resubmitted the building plan with a new drain that could discharge into Sungei Pang Sua. With the proposed drain, there was a risk of pollution caused by sediment runoff.

The fauna study and EMMP will be completed around April this year. Thereafter, JTC will engage key stakeholders including nature groups on the findings of the study, before the study results are shared publicly.


Site history

THE Kranji Road/Kranji Close site was originally disused scrubland with just a few scattered large trees, including non-native Albizia trees.

That was the state of the land when the former Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway line, which ran through the area, was returned to Singapore in July 2011.

The Albizia trees, which now dominate the forested area, then sprouted only in “the last few years” as the KTM line was no longer in use and the site was not managed pending upcoming redevelopment works, JTC said.

The Rail Corridor within the Kranji site was subsequently re-routed southwards along Woodlands Road instead, for greater public visibility and connectivity to Kranji MRT station, and to allow the Kranji site to be redeveloped for industrial use.

In 2019, JTC and NParks proposed to retain the former KTM railway line as a green corridor, with additional buffers, within AFIP.

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