Keynote speech by Mr Mah Bow Tan Minister for National Developmnent at the URA Corporate Plan Seminar at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel on 4 April 2008 at 9.45am
Chairman, URA, Mr Alan Chan,
CEO, URA, Mrs Cheong Koon Hean,
Colleagues at URA,
The Annual URA Corporate Plan Seminar is an important platform for URA to present its vision and plans for the physical development of Singapore.
Last year, I shared with you the key directions for Singapore’s physical development, following the mid-term review of the Concept Plan. This year, I will speak on the Master Plan 2008, which will spell out in more detail what Singapore’s land use policies will be in the next 10-15 years.
SUSTAINING GROWTH INTO THE FUTURE
I often remind our planners that their job is to help ensure that we can sustain growth well into the future. To put it simply, it is to make sure that Singapore remains a good home for us and our children, a home which can provide a meaningful and rewarding life for our people, a home which provides hope for the future. To do this, planners must understand what makes Singapore tick and what it takes to keep it ticking, anticipate problems down the road and work with their partners and stakeholders to resolve these problems.
To sustain our economic growth, we need people in sufficient numbers and with the right talent, skills and experience at all levels. Many countries that face this shortage simply import the people. Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar are prime examples. But for us, this is not sustainable. We have decided that our first priority is our own people. We will invest heavily in educating and developing our people. We will do whatever is feasible and practical to encourage more marriages and babies, difficult though this may be. At the same time, to meet this demand for expertise and skills, we will supplement our population with foreigners where necessary. They come here to work in our offices, research institutes, universities, factories, hospitals, hotels, shipyards, and construction sites. Some of the foreigners and their families may sink roots here; become permanent residents and eventually, our new citizens. Others work for a few years or more. They then return home or go on to work in other places. Both groups contribute to Singapore’s development and growth.
Unfortunately, this influx of foreigners makes some Singaporeans uneasy. They find the competition for jobs and school places tough. They see themselves priced out of the housing of their choice. Sometimes, they just find the foreigners’ habits strange, unfamiliar or irritable. As a columnist in the New Paper said recently, “It is hard to live with them. But it is even harder to live without them.”
They are the ones who serve us in the restaurants, build our HDB flats, mind our children, and nurse our parents. They are also the researchers and scientists, the engineers and architects, the entrepreneurs and CEOs. All of them, in their own ways, generate growth and bring more buzz and vibrancy to our city, which in turn attract more talents who bring with them new economic opportunities. We must recognize these social issues and actively seek to manage them, and convince our people that at the end of the day, if we want to have a good life, we must learn to accept the foreigners in our midst. This is not a job for the planners; it is a mindset and societal norm, which each one of us can contribute to.
What the planners can do is to give the Government an idea as to how many people we can accommodate on this little island without making our life so miserable that it becomes self-defeating. When I briefed you on the Mid-Term Concept Plan Review last year, I reported that we had decided to revise our long-term population planning parameter to 6.5 m. I said, “ Bear in mind that this is not a target population figure. It is a planning parameter, which takes into account current demographic trends and population policy. It is a realistic number for the planners to base their projections and their planning methodology on, to ensure that we are ready for future growth opportunities”.
Prof Saw Swee Hock, a population expert with the Institute of South East Asian Studies (ISEAS), in an article in TODAY (March 23, 2007) spelt out what it means to have such a population. Essentially, it means having a much larger proportion of newcomers in our total population. He concludes by saying: “In reality, how many newcomers will pick Singapore as their home – whether for a year or for good -- will be dependent on economic conditions prevailing in the country and the world at large. It is almost impossible to ascertain the flow of newcomers for the next 40 to 50 years.”
I wrote to Prof Saw to tell him that I agreed with his conclusion, that it is almost impossible to predict the outcome 40 to 50 years down the road. I added that “if we do need to increase our population to 6.5 m in the future, and if our people are willing to accept, it is comforting to note that our physical resources, especially land, are able to support this.”
Ultimately, how large a population we should have is something that our society as a whole must decide. There are trade-offs. On the one hand, a larger population will help in sustaining economic dynamism that is critical to provide good jobs for our children and us. Many global cities like London, New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong have much larger populations than ours. On the other hand, more people here means that we will need to adapt to a more densely built environment. We will need to share our living spaces, our roads, our trains, even our parks with more people. More importantly, we have to decide what are the social stresses and strains we are prepared to accept, and how we are able to accommodate newcomers in our midst, and integrate them into Singapore society.
I believe Singaporeans are pragmatic and adaptable. In the old days, moving from a kampong to a walk-up SIT flat was considered moving into a high-density environment. Later, when we started putting lifts into the public housing flats, 12-storey blocks were considered high-density, high-rise. We have since moved on to 30 storeys, even 50 storeys. We have gradually accustomed ourselves to a more densely built environment, so much so that the higher floors in fact command higher values than lower ones. I recall that back in the 1980s, Singapore’s resident population was less than 3 million. At that time, some people were concerned about the continued growth of our population and how many more people Singapore could comfortably accommodate. Today, we have close to 4.6 million people – almost 2.2 million more than what we had back in 1980. Yet the quality of life here, and the overall living environment have not been compromised. On the contrary, the higher population has made possible greater variety and choices in jobs, in entertainment and leisure. It has made our city a vibrant and lively one. Mercer Human Resource Consulting rated us “Asia’s No. 1 place to live, work and play”, while the 2008 Hub Culture Zeitgeist Cities Ranking placed us among the top 20 global vibrant cities.
Our key challenge is not really about keeping population growth down. It is about the extent to which we can maintain our economic dynamism without affecting our quality of life, given the prevailing technology, lifestyle and the preference of our people. I believe this is a challenge where judicious, long term planning has a critical role to play.
Our long-term approach to planning –encompassing the Concept Plan and Master Plan process – is a fundamental part of Singapore’s sustainable development effort. Few cities in the world have an integrated planning framework like Singapore’s, where technical agencies come together to plan the long-term land use and infrastructure needs of our development. This allows us to grow the economy and sustain a high quality living environment at the same time. The video you just saw is a testament and a credit to our planning process – that most of what we plan for Singapore does get realised.
The Government remains committed to achieving a sustainable balance between economic growth and the quality of living environment. In this regard, the Master Plan 2008 has been developed with three key thrusts – firstly, to ensure that we have sufficient land to support economic growth; second, to reduce commuting by bringing jobs closer to home; and third, to provide greater greenery and leisure options for our people. In particular, the Master Plan will continue to provide a good quality of life for our people even as we capitalise on new economic opportunities. There will be more recreational choices island-wide to make Singapore a fun city, both day and night. There will be new parks and park connectors, new sports facilities, and more water-based recreation and lifestyle destinations. We will continue to safeguard our heritage by retaining elements of our home that form part of our social memories.
Decentralisation as a Key Planning Strategy
To maintain the balance between supporting economic growth and maintaining a high quality living environment, decentralisation is a key planning strategy. Hence, even as Marina Bay and the city centre continue to be the key commercial centre in Singapore, we plan to gradually move some economic activities away from the city centre to the outlying regions. Decentralisation brings jobs and recreational opportunities closer to home, reduces the need to commute and lightens the burden on our transportation infrastructure.
We started the decentralisation effort some years ago. Tampines in the eastern part of Singapore, and Novena to the north of the city centre, are already well developed vibrant office clusters supported by retail, F&B and entertainment amenities. These commercial centres outside the city are successful examples of decentralisation that have added vibrancy to our suburban landscape. Similarly, the Ophir-Rochor corridor, which URA presented to the public last month, will be a new commercial centre complementing the Marina Bay area.
In line with this decentralisation strategy, we will be developing two additional commercial centres over the next decade. Jurong East will be transformed into a business and leisure destination hub serving the west of Singapore, while Paya Lebar will serve as a suburban commercial node between Tampines and the city centre. These areas will be developed into new vibrant mixed-use destinations. They will provide highly attractive alternative locations for businesses that do not need to be located within the city centre.
The Jurong Lake District: Get set for transformation
Let me now elaborate on our plans for Jurong East. Many Singaporeans today perceive Jurong East as a suburban residential area located far away from the city centre. It is also largely seen as an industrial area. Although it is home to the Jurong Bird Park, the Chinese and Japanese Gardens and the Singapore Science Centre, it is rarely thought of as a major leisure destination.
However, Jurong is a gem that has yet to be uncovered and refined. Let me present you some facts about Jurong East that few are aware of.
Located near to established towns like Clementi, Bukit Batok and Jurong West with a large population catchment of more than a million residents, Jurong East has ready access to a large talent and labour pool.
Jurong East is already a thriving business hub today for knowledge-based activities, anchored by the International Business Park, which was completed in 1992. It is also near to high value businesses in Jurong and Tuas Industrial Estates. It is thus central to a huge cluster of multinational and global businesses, ranging from high-technology sector around the International Business Park, to biotechnology, pharmaceutical and chemical industries in Jurong and Tuas. There are more than 3,000 companies, comprising MNCs and SMEs, operating in these areas, presenting vast opportunities for business and commercial services to serve them.
Many tertiary institutions such as the universities and polytechnics, as well as research hubs such as One-North and Science Parks are also located just a short distance away, making Jurong East an ideal place for businesses dealing with research and cutting edge technology.
Jurong East is not as far away as most perceive. Connected to two major expressways and well-served by three MRT stations, two major MRT lines and a bus interchange, it is only a 20 to 25 minute drive or train ride away from the city. Jurong East is also conveniently connected to Malaysia via the Second Link, extending both leisure and economic opportunities beyond our immediate vicinity.
We plan to give the Jurong Regional Centre a complete makeover. It will be the biggest regional centre in Singapore occupying a total area of 360 ha, which is about the size of Marina Bay. Jurong East will reflect our commitment to achieve a sustainable balance between supporting economic needs and improving the living environment for our people. We will boost Jurong East’s positioning as a commercial centre, with new injection of office, retail and hotel quantum. At the same time, we will enhance the living environment by leveraging on the scenic greenery and waterfront access to the Jurong Lake. We will turn Jurong East into a unique lakeside and garden destination. It will be the only regional centre with a lakeside garden setting. To reflect this special character, we will transform Jurong Regional Centre and its surroundings into a new district - the Jurong Lake District. It will consist of two distinct but complementary precincts: Jurong Gateway and Lakeside.
Jurong Gateway: Singapore’s new commercial hub
Let me start with the Jurong Gateway. Centred around Jurong East MRT Station, the 70 ha Jurong Gateway will become a vibrant commercial hub, boasting an eclectic mix of office, retail, residential, hotel, entertainment, F&B and other complementary uses. With more than 50 ha of vacant land available for development, it will be an attractive location for company headquarters, especially those from the business services and science and technology sectors.
When fully developed, Jurong Gateway will provide about 750,000 sq m of office and retail space, more than two and a half times the size of Tampines today and more than three times the size of Novena. It will comprise half a million sq m of office space, and a quarter of a million sq m of retail, F&B and entertainment space. It will have a mix of large modern shopping complexes fully connected to the Jurong East MRT Station and to each other, as well as intimate low-rise retail shops in a village setting. Numerous attractions will also sprout up around the Jurong Lake and are anticipated to attract visitors and tourists. There is potential for 2,800 hotel rooms in Jurong Lake District, about the same number of rooms as the hotel belt along Singapore River, to serve the anticipated growth in tourist arrivals. Such developments will bring to this region the much needed amenities and vibrancy.
More than a thousand new homes will also be added around the MRT Station to complement the other uses. These will offer more opportunities for Singaporeans to live and work in the same vicinity, and reduce the need to commute to the city.
Jurong Gateway will see the integration of public transport facilities with pedestrian-friendly facilities, complemented by sky-rise and rooftop greenery on many buildings. All developments are also encouraged to incorporate eco-friendly designs and features. We will juxtapose the modern mix of large well-connected shopping complexes with intimate low-rise retail shops in a village setting.
Lakeside: Our new waterfront playground
While Jurong Gateway will be the commercial hub to support new business needs, just 10 minutes’ walk away, Lakeside will be a new waterfront playground offering leisure options and greenery. A new lakeside village will be developed next to the Jurong Lake, where the two precincts meet. The cluster, housing F&B, retail and entertainment uses and boutique hotels will provide a charming shopping and dining leisure experience by the lake. It will also offer great views of the lake.
Covering 220 ha of land and 70 ha of water, Lakeside has been earmarked to become a major leisure destination. There are plans to accommodate four or five new edutainment attractions targeted at families with young children, in addition to the existing attractions of the Jurong Bird Park, Chinese and Japanese Gardens. The URA will be working with STB to encourage investors to develop appropriate attractions in this area. It will also have a mix of complementary retail, F&B, hotel and other lifestyle developments. Blending in with the garden and lake settings, these new developments will offer many recreational opportunities at the waterfront.
The Science Centre will be redeveloped. It will move to a new location next to the Chinese Garden MRT Station. This will make it more accessible to visitors, and allow ample opportunities to extend learning experiences beyond the physical confines of the building to the lake and surrounding green spaces. There is great potential to consider more edutainment or research-based attractions here that will complement the new Science Centre.
Jurong Lake will continue to be accessible for public use. There will be improved connections linking the two island gardens within the lake. A new public park will be developed at western edge of Jurong Lake next to Lakeside MRT Station. The waterfront promenade along the Jurong Lake will also be enhanced with boardwalks and wetlands, making it easier and more pleasant for residents and their families, and visitors to stroll along and enjoy the beauty of the lake and serenity of the park. PUB is already carrying out works to deepen the lake to support a whole range of water-based recreation activities, such as kayaking and dragon-boating.
The two precincts will be seamlessly integrated. One idea is to create a new waterway to bring the experience of the lake closer to Jurong Gateway. Bridges will also be built to facilitate pedestrians’ crossing over to the Lakeside Village.
These exciting plans that we are unveiling today are jointly created by URA, other government agencies and the people and private sectors. Over the past six months, they conducted numerous feedback sessions with key stakeholders, such as local Advisors, private sector industry players, and professional groups, to seek their reactions and feedback to the proposed plans. Most of those whom we consulted were excited and supportive about the plans. They see the potential of establishing a new identity for Jurong East. They felt that some of the proposed themes, such as the edutainment attractions for families, the focus on research and technology for companies, and the green aspects were good ideas. Some have asked for better access to the waterfront, and to retain the public park spaces and have water activities in the lake. These views were taken into account in finalising the plans for the Jurong Lake District that you see today. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those who had contributed their time and ideas.
The Jurong Lake District will become a mini city that is distinctive in character. The District may take 10 to 15 years to be fully developed but we need not wait so long to see the transformation. Many new projects are already in the pipeline. For instance, by the end of this year, Jurong Lake will be enhanced to facilitate water-based activities such as kayaking and dragon-boating. We will also see new facilities such as a golf resort hotel, new hospital, boardwalks and wetlands being developed here.
A new Big Box development by TT International is currently under construction near the Jurong East MRT Station. This development will be similar to the Warehouse-Retail development cluster at Tampines. When ready by the end of 2009, this Big Box development will add approximately 34,000 sq m of new retail space, similar in size to the Tampines cluster. The Jurong Entertainment Centre will also be redeveloped by next year. It will be home to Singapore’s first Olympic-size ice skating rink.
The Science Centre will be redeveloped within the next few years. The development timeframe will be announced shortly. During the redevelopment period, the existing facility will continue to operate, ensuring that learning opportunities remain available to its visitors.
Key infrastructure such as roads and utility services will be put in place progressively over the next few years to support the development in Jurong Lake District.
These upcoming developments will significantly transform Jurong East. There is a lot to look forward to, not only for those living there now, but also for those who work there and for those looking for new places to visit. Jurong Lake District will become the next lifestyle and leisure destination in Singapore, a modern and attractive district in its own right. The efforts we are making to remake Jurong complement the other redevelopment and rejuvenation plans we have unveiled, from Marina Bay to Beach Road, from Punggol 21 to Yishun and Dawson HDB estates.
Let me quote from an article I wrote for Petir, the PAP magazine last year. “The Singapore of the future is an exciting one. I can see it in the eyes of the young people who work with me in putting these plans together. I can feel the enthusiasm in their voices as they talk about the future, their future. But plans are only as good as the paper they are written on, unless they can be made to happen. So long as we have a leadership that has the foresight to anticipate challenges, and the determination and political will to address them, and the ability to bring our people along to tackle these challenges together. And so long as we have a people who are willing to work hard, and work with one another and with their leaders, we can together create a truly global city, which we can call Home”.