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Land Law and the Environment - Re-examining the Concept of Ownership and Forging New Rights and Obligations in a Changed World

Lye Lin Heng

(2010) 22 SAcLJ 189

This paper seeks to re-examine the concept of ownership of land in the context of environmental concerns that are in the forefront today. It asserts that traditional absolutist perspectives of land ownership have led to its ecological impoverishment, as land is cleared and put to productive use, irregardless of ecological concerns. New scientific knowledge now compels us to understand the necessity for species and eco-system preservation even as we continue to develop our lands. New obligations must be imposed on landowners, to ensure that environmental considerations are applied before land is transformed for other uses. This paper calls for an ethical perspective on land law, based on respect for the land and its ecological functions. It advocates the imposition of a public trust on the private landowner as well as the State, in appropriate circumstances. These issues are analysed in the Singapore context, where conflicts have inevitably arisen in the struggle between development and conservation in this densely populated city-state, with very limited land space.