Get ready for the massive Mandai makeover. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed last night that the leafy northern swathe of Singapore will be transformed with a "bigger, better zoo", and even Jurong Bird Park could migrate to Mandai.
The 41-year-old zoo will be overhauled and could expand to take up available land next to it. This will significantly enlarge its present 26ha plot, which is about the size of 23 football fields.
The neighbouring space now houses an old orchid plantation and an old fruit orchard.
The plans should start coming together soon and could be rolled out by as early as 2020.
"You want something which is green, you want something which improves on what is there, you want something which will enhance the nature reserves and not infringe into the nature reserves. And I think we have some interesting ideas," he said.
"By 2020, we should see something, and beyond that, we should have even more. This is not so complicated to do as moving Paya Lebar Airbase to Changi. So, within the next 10 years, we should have quite a lot to see."
He also said that the Bird Park could be moved from its current 20ha site to Mandai: "The Bird Park is all by itself down in Jurong. Why not move it to where the zoo is?"
Asked if its iconic waterfall would move too, he replied: "I think they (the planners) have something in mind which is even more spectacular than the waterfall," he said, without wanting to reveal more details.
He was speaking at a live television forum titled Ask the Prime Minister, in which he fielded wide-ranging questions, from hot-button issues on retirement adequacies and paper qualifications to light-hearted takes such as which superhero he would like to be. The answer: Superman.
On plans for Mandai, The Straits Times has learnt that a fifth zoo - on top of the current zoo, River Safari, Night Safari and Bird Park - is on the cards.
Among the ideas being considered for it: A jungle adventure theme and suspension bridges built through a tree canopy for visitors to enjoy.
The Mandai makeover is just one of several big redevelopment plans Mr Lee has announced over the past year, such as for Paya Lebar and Jurong.
He said that the new nature area in Mandai will also have areas for the public to relax for free, much like Marina Bay's Gardens by the Bay. "You also have public areas where you can wander around and you can go and take wedding pictures, and you can enjoy the waterfront and watch the sunset on Upper Seletar Reservoir. I think it can be a very beautiful, very nice place."
The redevelopment will be done in a way which preserves the environment and enhances the current nature reserve in the area, he said. The nature reserve itself - known as the Central Catchment Nature Reserve - is Singapore's largest, occupying over 2,000ha of forest cover.
Mr Lee added that the authorities have been talking to some nature groups: "I am sure that as they understand what is happening, they will help us to refine and to improve the scheme."
His announcement drew a cautious reaction from the green community, many of whom acknowledged that it was an "ambitious plan".
Some praised the move as one that would create an impressive nature hub, while others feared the loss of biodiversity.
Mr Jose Raymond, chief executive of the Singapore Environment Council, said: "The plan to create a nature reserve in the Mandai area... will definitely bring Singaporeans closer to nature and biodiversity."
But lobbyist groups, such as the Nature Society (Singapore), said existing biodiversity could be at stake, and called for a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment.
But Professor Leo Tan, director of special projects at the National University of Singapore's Science faculty, noted that the areas planned for redevelopment are on land already in use. He is confident that "care will be taken to ensure the green aura of the place is maintained".
This article was first published on September 05, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.