Future Economy team looks for novel ways out of land shortage

Soon Weilun, The Straits Times AsiaOne 22 Jun 16;

A SUB-GROUP of the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) is looking at "innovative" approaches to overcome Singapore's land constraints as the economy is being restructured.

Not only is it considering new technologies to make better use of Singapore's road network, the group is also digging deep into solutions that involve putting utilities underground.

These approaches are crucial because Singapore's economy is maturing and constraints on resources, including land and energy, are "starting to bite", said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

He sits on the CFE, a high-level panel tasked to chart the direction of Singapore's economic restructuring.

He is co-chair of one of the CFE's sub-committees on Future City, which is concerned with the infrastructure needed for the future; Tan Chong Meng, group chief of PSA International, is the other chairman.

Speaking at the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting luncheon, Mr Wong said: "Underpinning all of these ideas is the consistent theme of innovation. That is the way we have to think about the economy going forward."

At the event, he shared "preliminary" recommendations in five areas that the group is looking at.

The first is infrastructure - that which is needed to enhance connectivity, brought about by better technologies.

Mr Wong said that for example, housing estates could be equipped with the necessary infrastructure to facilitate the movement of autonomous vehicles. Such vehicles, called "people mover systems", are already in use in Gardens by the Bay.

These vehicles can very well operate in Singapore's housing estates in 15 years, he said; it is already a work-in-progress.

The second area the Future City sub-committee is looking at lies in going underground to overcome land constraints.

Reclamation projects have helped Singapore expand land area, he said, but the country can do more to exploit the potential for underground developments; putting power stations underground is being considered.

"It costs more, but it will free up surface land for development, and potentially from a cost-benefit point of view, it will be worth doing in the longer term," he said.

The third area the group is looking at is enhancing Singapore's position as a global city. The central business district (CBD) will be expanded after the Pasir Panjang port facilities are moved to Tuas; a second CBD will come up in the Jurong Lake District.

The fourth area is the co-locating related industries. There is potential for Jurong to be a centre for clean technology companies, Woodlands to be the hub for advanced manufacturing, and Punggol, for creative industries, said Mr Wong.

The fifth area would be ensuring the security of key resources.

Singapore is already looking for a site for a second liquefied natural gas terminal, and will maximise space to harness alternative energy sources.

The Housing Development Board has already issued tenders for companies to deploy solar panels on rooftops of housing estates, he said.

Terming these plans as medium- to long-term ones that may not immediately address concerns, Mr Wong said they will take several terms of government to implement.

"These are not five-year plans, but that is a uniquely Singaporean competitive advantage ... We can plan long term and we have been doing so," he said.

'Many options' for future development of Singapore
Minister cites building underground facilities as one solution to overcome land constraints
Wong Wei Han, Straits Times AsiaOne 22 Jun 16;

Underground power substations? Underground reservoirs?

Singapore still has many options for development despite its physical constraints, and one way is to build more infrastructure underground.

This subterranean potential is among the plans the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) is studying to make Singapore a vibrant global city and competitive economy, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

"We're always looking at how we can expand our land and space options - and we have them. We have reclamation projects, indeed the Tuas mega port will be on reclaimed land. But we can also go underground," he said.

With projects like the Jurong Rock Caverns - a liquid hydrocarbon storage 150m below ground - Singapore is only "starting to scratch the surface of the potential for underground development".

"There is a lot more that we can do beyond Jurong Rock Caverns. For instance, the utility or power substations that you see around - a lot of them can go underground. It will cost more, but also free up surface land for development."

He cited national water agency PUB's interest in building an underground reservoir as an example.

Mr Wong, who co-chairs CFE's future city sub-committee, was speaking at the annual general meeting lunch of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce (SICC).

Building underground facilities has been in focus as the Government looks for long-term solutions to overcome land scarcity here. In March, an underground district cooling network - which produces chilled water for air-conditioning for nearby areas - was launched at Marina Bay.

The Government also hopes to deploy more innovative technologies, such as driverless vehicles to transport goods across industrial estates, replacing the huge fleets of trucks on the roads today, he said.

"We can go beyond that to people-mover systems. In 15 to 20 years' time, I think it's very possible to have housing estates with mover systems taking people from where they live to the nearest MRT station," he said, adding that these systems can also be built underground.

Other large-scale projects are under way. The consolidation of port facilities in Tuas will free up land to develop the Greater Southern Waterfront, a new central business district. Another new CBD, the Jurong Lake District, is also in the pipeline.

"These plans will take several terms of government to implement. These are not five-year plans. But this is also our competitive advantage, because we can plan long term. That's the way Singapore was built for the past 50 years."

For all these initiatives, a strong public-private partnership is important, he told around 260 guests attending the lunch yesterday.

SICC, celebrating its 179th anniversary this year, will focus on being relevant to member businesses amid the structural headwinds here, chief executive Victor Mills told reporters at the lunch.

Cost pressures have certainly taken a toll, he said, adding: "Anecdotally, for every one expatriate family being posted to Singapore for work, there are between seven and 12 leaving.

"But Singapore as a brand remains highly trusted for business services. We are still a hub for finance, for contracts, for arbitration. That element of Singapore brand will always be important."

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