Forest City project sparks ecology fears

Romesh NavaratnarajahAugust 1, 2016

Artist’s impression of Forest City.

Targeting affluent Chinese buyers, a multi-billion-dollar reclamation project near Singapore faces questions over its future due to the economic woes in China and warnings of environmental catastrophe, AFP reported.

Comprising a futuristic “eco-city” of waterfront villas and high-rise residences, the US$42 billion (S$56 billion) Forest City will sit on four man-made islands in the Johor Strait, just an hour from Singapore.

The city will feature 700,000 residential units, hotels, convention venues, shopping malls, international schools and medical facilities. It will also have its own immigration centre.

It is being developed by a company partly owned by Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar and Hong Kong-listed property giant Country Garden.

“It is by far one of the most enthusiastic private land reclamation projects I have heard of around the South-east Asia region,” said Chua Yang Liang, Research Head for Southeast Asia at JLL.

Officials revealed that they have already moved 500 units in pre-selling, although the development is slated for completion only in 2035.

A two-bedroom unit at the project costs US$200,000 (S$268,104), while a seaside villa is going for US$1.6 million (S$2.1 million).

A mass market condominium in Singapore, on the other hand, costs around US$740,000 (S$991,951) – an amount that could buy a four-room seaside villa with a large garden, function hall and two parking lots in Forest City.

However, some analysts have expressed concerns over the long-term sales target of the project as China’s economic growth fell to 25-year lows, while authorities crack down on a flight of cash from the country.

Standard & Poor’s took a “cautious” stance on Forest City after it downgraded the long-term corporate rating of Country Garden from ‘BB+’ to ‘BB’ in March, citing risks from the company’s aggressive land acquisitions.

It also described the company’s sales targets as “somewhat ambitious given this is a new large-scale project and targets primarily mainland (Chinese) overseas buyers”.

Even if the project is a success, it could still spell disaster for the local ecology as well as the fishermen who suffer dwindling catches, said campaigners.

Although it is touted as a “liveable eco-city”, environmentalists noted that the dumping of sand – around 162 million cubic metres to build the city – could alter tides and eventually destroy marine life.

“It has the potential to change the ecology of the whole area in profound ways,” said Greenpeace scientist Paul Johnston. “It might change the things that are living there, it might change the vegetation that can grow there.”

At most risk of destruction is Malaysia’s biggest intertidal seagrass meadow found on Merambong shoal off Johor, said local activists.

Singapore has also voiced concerns over the reclamation project. In fact, the city-state’s environment ministry is “carefully” studying the impact assessment report provided by Malaysia and seeking further clarifications.

The environmental study commissioned by Country Garden Pacificview, the Forest City joint venture firm, acknowledged that the development may lead to a “permanent loss of traditional fishing ground” as well as damaged mangroves and meadows.

However, it believed this would be balanced by the economic benefits of the project, which include the creation of around 62,200 jobs.

To minimise the environmental impact, the developers strictly follow the guidelines laid down by the Malaysian government, said Country Garden Pacificview Executive Director Mohamad Othman Yusof.

He noted that at least 20 simulation studies were conducted prior to the approval of the project, while its original size of 5,000 acres was slashed by 30 percent. Moreover, “double silt curtains” were installed to prevent sediment and silt from polluting the waterway.

“No damage, no pollution has been exported to Singapore,” said Othman. “We don’t want to create any problems with anybody and we’re going to abide by the rules and regulations.”

 

Romesh Navaratnarajah, Senior Editor at PropertyGuru, edited this story. To contact him about this or other stories, email romesh@propertyguru.com.sg

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