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Land Shortage Solutions
Transcript of news report by Melissa Tan
First broadcast on Newsradio 93.8 on 2 Jan 02, 5.15pm

Using space above flyovers and building apartments over water could be among Singapore's solutions to the land shortage problem. With them, reclaiming land from Pulau Ubin may not be a necessity at all.

Mellissa Tan finds out how Singapore can avoid this costly exercise from two established architects.

Early last year, the National Development Ministry decided to reclaim the east coast of Pulau Ubin where a vibrant marine life exists. The decision sparked an outcry from many nature groups and enthusiasts.

After months of consultation, the ministry announced a few weeks ago it would defer its reclamation plans. It's looking into the possibility of reclaiming the southern part of Pulau Ubin instead.

But, even this may not be necessary, according to reknown architect Tay Kheng Soon.

The one-time Chairman of Singapore Planning and Urban Research Group and former President of the Singapore Institute of Architects, says Singapore's downtown area has enough land to house a million people.

"There is so much misconception. There is so much plots of land in the downtown area. The reclaimed land, marina east, marina south, the oil tank farms next to the railway station...kampong bugis...we examined all the possible pieces of land... And that would house a million people on the central planning region...that means there will be no more need for new towns and there would no need to develop pulau ubin for the purpose of housing...any comprehensive study of this kind will show that there is no need to reclaim pulau ubin."

So why haven't the vacant plots of land in the central district been used?

According to Mr Tay, the land had previously been reserved for commercial development

"But a change in mindset occurred about half a year ago. There is some change in the viewpoint since the last concept plan review because they have accepted that there should be a higher density of residential development in the downtown area. And this because of the demands made by the review committee."

Besides housing in the central area, the space above highways can be utilised.

Since highways take up about six percent of Singapore's total land area, why not have buildings made so that roads go under them?

Mr Tay explains the idea.

"If you build over highways, then you can have your factories and other commercial facilities and so one on top of the highway and therefore reduce the pressure of land demand on existing land...The current strategy of land use does not take into account multiply land use, such as building over high ways. ....If you do not factor in things like that, then your calculation for land for development taking into account what is now being build, you will have to extend into areas that are not developed like Pulau Ubin. So there is a methodological flaw in the process."

It might seem far-fetched, but building over roads and flyovers, has been done in major cities like New York and Paris to tackle the problem of land shortage.

But this strategy has not taken off here.

Mr Tay with his observation of the Urban Redevelopment Authority...

"the mindset has not explored things that they are not familiar. They are working only on familiar assumptions. The implication is that we will need more and more land. And that's the problem."

Apart from strategising better, innovative architectural concepts can also help ease the problem too.

Architect John Ting dreams of an entire housing estate over water, using the design of kelongs, but on a wider scale.

"One possibility is to imagine doing high rise buildings on stilts so to speak. In other words, you build buildings on columns that actually go up 6-10 stories above water. and only the columns that come down into the swamp or the mudflats, this way you have minimal impact on the exisiting natural grounds....It is an alternate to really to reclaim the whole land. Cos once you do that you will damage the swamp and natural habitat almost irreversibility."

These apartments blocks will be linked by elevated highways running through, around and to the mainland.

Being a nature lover himself, Mr Ting conceived his "kelong" idea when the issue of reclaiming Pulau Ubin arose some months ago.

This building-over-water concept is applicable to any coastal area.

"It is one way to handle the demand the immense demand for land for the various purposes. Imagine if you develop piers, you create a great lot of that. You can provide block and blocks of buildings with lagoons. And you dont have to reclaim land....It is a very workable idea, and I believe the enginnering and contruction solutions are all there."

According to Mr. Ting, this architectural housing concept will also be cheaper than reclaiming land.

"To reclaim an area the size of a soccer field can already cost more than seven hundred thousand dollars- - and this cost can still escalate, depending on the depth of the sea bed."

But biologist N. Sivasothi has his concerns.

"Kelongs themselves have some kind of impact, but because there are very few people, the impact is limited. But if you are talking about ten of thousands od pple living offshore, its impossible to comment until you see what they mean by its possible to co-exist. Architects in their field they have their own ways too... "

On the issue of sanitation and pollution, Architect Ting believes it depends on education.

"What we have in a landed situation is you have your utitilities - your water line coming in your sewer line going out. They could be done the same way. Except that this could be done underneath the flyovers or can have the tunnels or boxes where the services are run. The only thing would be people littering over the edge. That would require a little bit of education and discpline on the residents or homeowners part."

With creative ideas like these, the damage to Singapore's eco-system could be minimised and its residents' housing needs met at the same time.

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